There’s nothing worse than finally getting your drums set up and when hitting them they ring out forever, or the snare has buzz that’s so sensitive it seems to rattle away even when you breath near them.
When it comes to these problems, most people stuff their bass drum with pillows and blankets and they tack everything they can think of onto the drum heads to muffle the snare and toms. The problem with this is that it kills the tone and character of the drums, leaving them flat and devoid of life.
Let’s remedy this!
The first thing to check is to make sure your drums are properly tuned. This should take care of 95% of your problems. Muffling should be a last resort and should be used to slightly tame excess ringing, not to fix an unpleasant sound to begin with.
In this article I’ll cover how to properly tune your drums quickly and easily, share tips on how to reduce snare buzz, go over muffling options, and show how to reduce excess ringing on recorded drum tracks.
How To Tune Drums Properly
Tuning drums can be a very touchy subject. Some people swear by very involved methods that take long periods of time. I’m here to tell you that it’s actually very quick and easy to properly tune your drums to get the best possible tone out of them and control exactly how much resonance you want.
There’s an excellent video series on the matter of tuning drums, so I’ll describe the process first and then link to the video in each section so you can follow along and hear the results.
Toms are the quickest and easiest to tune between all the drum gear on your kit.
- After putting your drum heads on, make sure the lugs are on but completely loosened.
- You will want to press down in the center of the head firmly (but not too hard) and keep a constant pressure while you do the next step. You should see wrinkles around the outside of the drumhead at this point.
- Now go around and tighten each lug just until the wrinkles right in front of that lug disappear. You don’t have to criss-cross here - order does not matter.
- Do this for both sides of the drum.
- Done! You can of course tune the top head up or down in pitch to your liking, but following this method will ensure that your toms are tuned properly and can unleash their full potential. If they are a little too ringy for your tastes, check out the section down below on muffling options.
Tuning A Snare Drum
Unless you have a very cheap snare drum, most problems with unwanted ringing can be taken care of with proper tuning.
It’s greatly beneficial to use 2 tuning keys at the same time when tuning a snare drum (each on opposite lugs being turned at the same time). This will pretty much guarantee uniformity between all the lugs which is very important.
The reason for this is that there’s a harmonic in front of each tension rod, so with different tensions you'll get varying harmonics overlaying on top of one another and it leads to an unpleasant ringing metallic sound. That’s why you see drummers go around the outside of the drum tapping and listening with the snares off. They are making sure that the pitch being produced is even all the way around.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. If all the lugs are within about a quarter turn of the others it should be fine.
If after the following steps your snare still doesn't sound quite right, it might be time to invest in a quality snare drum.
- Place the heads on and make the lugs fingertight on the bottom head, and completely loose on the top head.
- Starting with the bottom head, go around and tighten the lugs using the 2 drum key approach. There isn’t a rule as to how much you should tighten it, but you want the bottom head to be pretty tight. You can turn them quite a bit, but go until common sense tells you to stop - you don’t want to choke it out completely. The tighter the bottom head is the more sensitive the snare will be for things like ghost notes.
- Flip the drum over and put it on a snare stand and try playing it. Even with the top head completely loose you should get a nice fat 70’s sounding snare sound if you tuned the bottom head correctly.
- Using the 2 drum key method, go around the start tightening the lugs on the top head. You will want the top head to be about half to one-third the tightness of the bottom head. Try giving it about 1-2 full turns of the drum key on each lug and then test it out and see if you need a tighter sound or not.
Tuning A Bass Drum
If you are one of those drummers that resorts to filling your bass drum with tons of pillows and blankets, you’ll soon find that you can get a nice punchy and tight tone with this method of tuning.
Bass drums sound their best when empty, so you definitely don’t want to fill it up with stuff.
Some big things to keep in mind before we get started are that the looser the batter head is (the head you strike) the more punch you’ll get, and the tighter it is the more tone you’ll get which is great for something like jazz or bebop.
As for the front head (the logo head), the tighter it is the more sustain and tone you’ll get, and the looser it is the less sustain you’ll get.
I personally like some tone in my bass drum - otherwise it’s completely flat sounding which isn’t very appealing. If you really want to take full advantage of this method and get a nice punchy tone that doesn’t resonate too much, get a good quality drum head with a built-in muffle ring.
- Put it on it’s end with the batter head facing up.
- Make it fingertight all the way around.
- Give it a couple good firm presses right in the middle for a few seconds to stretch it out.
- Just like the toms, you are going to press in the middle until you see wrinkles around the outside and then tighten until the wrinkle goes away. The only difference is now you will actually turn it BACK about a quarter-turn just until the wrinkle barely comes back. Do this all the way around the batter head. This head will be pretty loose but that’s exactly what we want for a nice thumpy sound.
- Flip the bass drum over and finger-tighten all the lugs.
- Just like the toms, press in the middle and turn the lugs until the wrinkles go away.
- Next you will go around and give each lug another 2-3 full turns to tighten it even further. Don’t worry about tuning it too tight.
- Done! Now you should have a super punchy sounding bass drum, especially in combination with a nice batter head with built in muffling. If it’s too dry for your tastes feel free to tighten the batter head a bit more to your liking.
How To Get Rid Of Snare Buzz
When it comes to snare buzz, you don't want to eliminate it because snare buzz it what makes snare drums what they are. However, there are steps you can take to tone it down if it’s excessive.
Frequency is essentially what causes snare buzz. Your snare is sitting at a specific frequency, so if something else enters that frequency it will cause your snares (the wires underneath) to go nuts.
You can do a frequency sweep with your voice to find where your snare is sitting, and then make sure none of your toms are sitting in that range. Simply put your face near the snare, and then make a low sound with your voice and slowly raise the pitch until you start to hear the snares rattle. Once you find this pitch make sure none of your toms are sitting in that zone.
You can tune your snare drum up or down, but ideally you don’t want to change your snare around since its the core of your drum set. It’s much better to change something else like toms to fix the issue.
This one is simple.
All you need to do is turn the snare drum over and find the 4 lugs that are closest to the snare wires. Now loosen them just a bit - maybe a quarter turn, and you should notice your snare buzz decrease quite dramatically.
Snare wires make a huge difference in both the sound of your drum and how sensitive the snare buzzing can be.
The more snare wires you have (something like 42 is on the high end), the more sensitive your snare drum will be and more potential problems you might encounter with snare buzzing at certain frequencies. There’s nothing wrong with a high snare count - it’s great for people who want all their ghost notes or brush strokes to come through, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.
You can try replacing your snare strings with a lower count (something like 16) for less snare buzzing problems. If you decide to install your own, you can either go the string or strap method. With strings, keep in mind that each string has to be 100% even or else it might cause a few snare wires to become loose and rattle.
Make sure your snare wires aren’t past their prime as well. If the dial is turned as tight as it can go but your snares are still loose, it might be time for some new snare wires.
Ways To Muffle Drums
If all else fails after following the above advice on how to stop drums from ringing STILL have a drum that’s ringing too much, there are a few easy solutions you can try.
Keep in mind that your drums should already sound good. These methods will not make your drums sound any better - they will only help reduce unwanted extra ringing.
Snare and Tom Muffling
The quickest and easiest way to muffle your snare drum and get a nice fat, dry tone is to detune the lugs. This is a very popular technique and it's been used over and over again with great success by some of the world's best drummers.
What you want to do is take the lug that's closest to you on the top head and actually loosen it all the way. Then you'll take the 2 lugs on each side of that one and make them about half as loose.
This should leave you with a dry, punchy, fat tone and you probably won't need to apply any more dampening at this point.
My go-to solution for quick muffling toms and snares is trusty gaff tape. All you need is either some paper towels, some toilet paper, or a very thin piece of cloth.
Create a little square from one of these materials and fold it over on itself 3 or 4 times until it’s about 2 or 3 inches in width and length. Then take the gaft tape and secure the little pad of material onto the head of your drum, creating a little band-aid essentially.
The closer to the edge of the drum you place this the less muffling you’ll get, and the closer to the middle you place it the more muffling you’ll get.
Just make sure not to use duct tape since it will leave a sticky residue all over your drum gear which you definitely don't want, especially on a high-quality drum set.
An O-Ring is basically a 1-2 inch wide circular strip of plastic that sits on the outer section of the drum head. You just need to buy one for your drum head size, and you can buy these on Amazon or at any music store.
It’s great for muffling the ringing of drums although you don’t have many options when it comes to how much you want to muffle. It’s either on or off, which can be a problem if it deadens the sound too much for your liking.
There are a few workarounds to this problem though. You can try cutting the O-Ring in half to get half the amount of muffling, or if you still want less you can try cutting that in half again so you are left with a quarter piece.
If you don’t have an O-Ring handy you can actually use the plastic insert that comes in the collar of most dress shirts you buy. Just cut a little section and stick it on the outer section of your drum head and you should notice much less ringing.
Moon gel is great for being able to get in there and fine tune the resonance to your exact liking.
They are basically little sticky gel pads that you stick right onto your drum head. Like the gaff tape method, the closer to the center the more muffling you’ll get, plus it won’t leave any residue behind.
It’s pretty cheap since you can pick up a pack of them for between $10-$15, and the ability to easily take them off and move them around means you can get the perfect amount of muffling.
Bass Drum Muffling
There are a few different ways you can muffle your bass drum, but PLEASE don’t fill it to the brim with pillows and blankets. This will absolutely kill any tone and character your bass drum has. You can absolutely get a tight punch with the tuning method listed above and some of these muffling methods.
Loose Drum Head
Mentioned above in the tuning section of this article, the more loose you can make the batter head on your bass drum, the more punchy and less resonant it will be.
If you can manage to find the right balance of tightness/looseness between the front and back heads and not resort to other muffling methods, you’ll have the best tone possible for your bass drum and sound guys will love you for it.
Follow along with the tuning section above as it’s geared toward getting a short punchy tone perfect for a huge variety of styles.
Drum Head With Built-In Muffling
The next step up in bass drum muffling is to buy a batter head with built-in muffling capabilities.
Something like the Powerstroke 3 Pro drum head has a coating which will reduce ringing and it comes with a built-in foam ring. There are a huge variety of drum heads with muffling options so be sure to shop around and find one perfect for you.
What To Put In The Bass Drum
Proper tuning paired with a muffled drum head should be all you need, but if your kick drum is still ringing too much, you can resort to putting stuff in the bass drum in a smart manner.
Evans sells a product called the EQ Bass Pad which is a little dampening pad that you can velcro to the bottom of the bass drum. It has a part of the pad that sticks up and rests against the batter head just below the beater. How it works is that when you strike the drum, the pad rebounds off and then comes back to rest against the head killing any extra vibrations. This way to still get some good tone and resonance, but it will cut it a bit shorter.
As a last ditch resort or if you can’t get your hands on the Evans EQ Pad, stick 2 thin sheets folded over on themselves a bunch into your bass drum. The idea is that they will sit along the bottom half of the drum where the head meets the shell - one for each head. Make sure that the sheets do not come up any higher than the beater head and you should be fine.
How To Fix A Ringing Snare Drum In A Recording
You should definitely be recording drums that already sound good and not rely on post-production to save the sound, but sometimes you just have to use what you have.
If you have drums that are ringing too much in your recording you can use the Parametric EQ to tame it.
Let’s say for example your snare drum is ringing. Take the snare solo track and apply a Parametric EQ. Next, make a large very narrow boost and then sweep it through the frequencies until you can really hear the ringing that you want to get rid of, or any other unwanted annoying tone for that matter.
Once you find this sweet spot, make the band as narrow as you can while still hearing that unwanted tone and then lower it by a few decibels.
Don’t overuse it since this will kill the character of the drum completely, but make a few cuts here and there to get rid of nasty sounding tones and increase the quality of your recordings.