I have a confession to make. The first thing I look at when I walk into a new church is their drums. You can tell a lot about a worship team by just looking at their drum set-up. What’s their style? How loud do they play? How current are they? How much does the church invest in gear? The drums can make a big difference.
The biggest complaint you hear about drums is that they are too loud, so what most churches do is put up a shield. Then they put a roof on top of that shield. Then they build a fully enclosed booth. Then comes the dreaded electronic kit. What they don’t realize is there is a reason the drums sound so obnoxious, and that there is a solution.
Check Your Cymbals
The number one thing that makes a drum kit sound loud are the cymbals. Cymbals have the potential to cut through the entire mix and drown out everything. The problem is a lot of churches don’t feel the need to invest in quality cymbals so they buy the cheapest ones they can find. Most inexpensive cymbals are loud and have a very unpleasing tone. Those two attributes together are what bothers people’s ears. The other problem is sometimes a church has invested in a quality cymbal pack but the cymbals are the wrong type of cymbals. Super thick and bright cymbals that are good for heavy metal concerts are not what you want in a church setting where volume is an issue. What you want to find are cymbals that are three things: Dark, Thin and Light. These types of cymbals are used mostly for jazz and recording. The most common brand for these are the “K” series by Zildjian. If you have a chance, go in to your local Guitar Center and test the difference between a Zildjian “K Light Hi-Hat” versus a Zildjian “Z Custom Hi-Hat”. You will hear a huge difference between the two sets. For crashes I like the Zildjian “K Dark Thin Crash” cymbal anywhere between 18” and 20”. For a ride I like the Zildjian “K Light Ride” or the “K Custom Dark Ride”. Almost all cymbal companies make jazz versions of their cymbals. There are also some new companies that are making really nice dark and thin hand-made cymbals such as Heartbeat Cymbals and Dream Cymbals. You don’t need a million cymbals. Just a crash, a ride, and a pair of hi-hats.
Change Your Heads
Another thing that churches are notorious for is not changing the drum heads. A new set of drum heads can make the difference between sounding like a musical instrument or sounding like a slamming car door. There are so many drum heads out there and everyone has different preferences but a good place to start would be coated Remo Emperors for snare and toms and a Remo Powerstroke 3 for your bass drum. The Emperors have a warm sound, and if you need to take care of unwanted overtones grab a pack of Moongel as well. I would much rather play on an inexpensive drum kit with new heads that are tuned properly than an expensive drum kit with old nasty heads that haven’t been tuned. You don’t need a bunch of toms either. All you need is one rack tom and one floor tom.
Swap Your Sticks
The third thing you can do to tame your drums is change your sticks. In general, the longer, thicker, and heavier the sticks; the louder you will play. Look for something thin and have a small tip. I like the Vic Firth Peter Erskine signature sticks with the round tip. Pretty much any sticks that are made for jazz would be what you want to try. This can help allow you or your drummer to still play confidently but not as loud. If this is still too loud you can try Promark Hot Rods. These are great for small acoustic worship sets.
Try investing in these things before caging up your drum kit. Maybe the problem wasn’t even volume and it was simply the quality of sound coming from your drum kit. If you are a drummer and your church doesn’t have a big budget, consider investing in a quality set of cymbals of your own. Stick with a small set-up more like what you would see a jazz drummer playing in a small club. Investing in your drum kit can make a huge difference in the overall quality of sound coming from your Worship Team.