Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How To Tune A Snare Drum

I’m surprised at how many fellow drummers ask me the following question: How do you tune a snare drum? I don’t like it when I see someone playing a $500 snare drum that sounds like complete crap, so I am more than happy to help, when asked. Where do you start? I start at bottom and work my way up.
I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your heads fresh. I know that many musicians are “starving artists,” but the $30 you invest in heads for your snare is crucial for a good snare sound.

How To Tune A Snare Drum

  • Carefully flip your drum over, and place it on the snare stand. Put your strainer into the “loose” position and slide a stick under the wires so they do not touch the resonant head. Now you have freed up both hands to do the work of tuning.

  • Tap the head in a circular motion, one inch from the edge, just inside of each lug. That will give you an idea of which specific lugs are tuned higher then the others. Working your way up to a nice, tight resonant head is your goal.

  • Don’t be afraid to give that tuning key a ½ turn, after you find the lower tuned lugs. The goal is to get the entire “round” of lugs to sound the same. I like my bottom head tuned pretty tight. So do most other drummers.

  • Once you get the lugs to sound in tune with each other, turn the drum over, and turn the snare back on. Give your drum a few taps. Is it time to tune the top head? Most likely, you need to do the same steps on your top head. It doesn’t need to be tuned as high as the bottom head, and most good sounding snare drums have a tighter bottom head.

  • Tap the head one inch from the outer edge of the snare at each lug. Do the same tuning that you did for the bottom head. Try to get the “notes” to match each other. Most drummers like their snares to be tuned high enough to sound much like a timbale. Some drummers, such as Billy Ward, tune their snare pretty darn low. If you are a beginner, I would advise against that. Billy is so talented, that he can make just about any drum sound like gold.

  • Once you find a sweet sound from the top head, play the drum without the snare turned on. Do you like that sound? If yes, then we move on to the snare wires.

  • Start with loosened wires, engage the snare strainer and give the drum some taps. Work the strainer into a tighter position, test the sound. If the strainer seems to be double slapping, or buzzing too long after you hit it, keep turning that strainer until you hit the sweet spot.

  • Moon Gel and muffle rings are certainly something that may help you in reducing overtones. Start with the Moon Gel fully on the top head. If that’s too much, apply the Moon Gel to the edge of the skin, with part of it resting on the drum rim. Muffle rings are either on or off the drum. I love the Yamaha ring, as it’s not quite as wide as the Remo ring. Sometimes I make my own rings out of old skins. That way I can decide on the size, and thus muffle ability.

Lastly, try to take some time to tune your drums before the rest of the band arrives at your practice space, or before you leave for a gig. You are fooling yourself if you think that you can get a great sound while the guitar player is doing a screaming pre-show solo through the PA system. Nobody likes to hear a drummer tune his kit at the club. It’s very annoying.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Milwaukee Metal Scene and Midwest Heshfest 2

Milwaukee does have a metal scene. So many post industrial, somewhat rust belt, Midwestern American cities do. That's not to say that the coastal cities don't also have a metal music scene. They do. In a few weeks J Rileys Bar will play host to an eleven hour stretch of what I can assume is cookie monster vocals, double bass pedal blast beats, and precision guitar playing. It's called Midwest Heshfest 2, and it starts at 3pm on Sept. 4.

16 bands are scheduled to perform. There has to be a back line for an event like this. Ain't no way the drummers will be hauling their crap in and out, one after the other. There will be two stages, so that the music never stops. As soon as one band is done, the next stage will be alive. Okay, there are some breaks between the music, but in order to keep the level of insanity at the highest point, the bands will have to stay on a super tight schedule.

Perhaps these bands are not all from Milwaukee, but I'm confident that the bulk are from the region. And what's up with the 30 minute sets. Nobody gets an hour?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Four Drumsets on Stage At Once | No Cymbals No Snare Drums Allowed

four drummers on stage at once
It was like a three day seminar on how to set up a drum set. I was the guy who had to supply three drum sets for the performance. No snare drums, no cymbals. There would be four drum kits on stage at one tour stop, and on the club floor for another. On top of that, the metal percussionist needed a place to work his magic. First thing we noticed, we didn't have enough carpeting.
The band played their warm up show in Chicago. We played on tiny carpets in front of the state. We moved around on the floor of the club like that old time electric vibrating football game. The string and metal section was safe on the stage. Drummers had their backs turned. We did okay. Glad it was a warm up gig.

Still, the circle of fans, now three deep, watched us from the start. There were sceptical faces to be sure. We started with an open jam. You know what that means if you are a musician: Good luck with the next five minutes. I truly believe that our lousy, mish-mosh of an opening jam helped make the first real song sound that much tighter. The smiles came out in the first minute. People were enjoying this, I was enjoying this! The sweaty percussion section was attracting to men for its power drumming, and perhaps the women liked to watch four drummers hammering the shit out of their drums, in precision, out in front, no apologies.

The drums were set in a semi circle. Anyone dare walk into that sonic booth? One person. She was in a trance. I felt like keeping my head down. I can't make eye contact with anyone just 12 inches from my drums. Man or woman, that close is associated with too much scrutiny. I hope to pull them off with just as much power as I have for the last four months, but do it with my head down, or eyes closes, sometimes looking to the left or right. I won't give that up. Finally, the trance dancing woman was pulled back by her boyfriend. I could look up again.

Sadly, we couldn't hear our singer. The p.a. was too small. It was impossible to play on top of four drummers, two guitar players, a bass player, singer, and the aforementioned metal percussionist. It was a test of knowing cues and measures. It worked out just fine. We got home to Milwaukee as the sun was just starting to come up.