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Help! Our Drums are Too Loud!

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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.

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21 Responses to “Help! Our Drums are Too Loud!”

  1. I also believe a lot of it can also come down to the way the drummer plays. If you have a drummer who plays hard rock at home, that’s going to come through on Sunday morning. Communicating to the drummer how you need them to play can help.

    • This. At the end of the day, it might come down to more disciplined and controlled playing. A heavy-handed drummer will make even a quiet setup seem loud and out of control. That’s something that the worship director, sound engineer, and drummer need to work on together.

    • Lots of young untrained drummers seem to listen only to Grunge music and replicate it on every Sunday morning. They keep hitting the cymbals and drown others every half-a- beat and trying to make as much noise as possible as in a 3-man grunge band. They do not understand the concept of “playing to the room size” and they play as if they are in a big stadium and not in a small hall. Solution – send them for formal from lessons.

  2. Dynamics! If a drummer has no concept of what that means, he (or she) needs to learn about it and control it.

  3. As a worship drummer for many years, percussion instructor for over 25, and degree in Worship Ministry, I have several suggestions to try:
    1. Don’t use sticks at all. I prefer Vic Firth Tala Wands in Bamboo (purple ones). Keep sticks for only certain sounds. My bag also includes Vic Firth Steve Gadd brushes, Vic Firth AJ5 sticks, Vic Firth Rute 505, and Promark Broomsticks.
    2. Churches can get a huge discount on cymbals from Heartbeat Percussion. Great sounding cymbals that can meet and exceed the expectations from the “K” series above (Though the “K” series is the best choice as well.)
    3. Drum Dial to tune those new drum heads. PLEASE.

  4. The one thing missed is tuning the drums. Just like a stringed instrument proper timing will completely change how some drummers play. We have a drummer who is self taught and has actually broken a bass drum and snare head. He beats the devil out is them (pun intended). We spent time tuning the drums with a free phone app. I knew about tuning because of the drummer in my band who is highly trained and educated in percussion. I knew that the deymmee was trying to get that top down sound but wasn’t because the toms and bass were so far off.

  5. If the volume of the kit is not an issue is there an advantage to having a drum screen when trying to achieve great tone from your drum mic’s?

    • Great question, Dan! From an audio standpoint, having drums inside of a cage or screen is detrimental. There are so many reflections happening all at once, that it’s difficult to effectively solo or isolate one particular instrument on the kit (even moreso than usual, because noise gates and compressors get thrown all out of whack). It also doesn’t allow for the space we audio engineers want in our mix. Everything is so tight because of the reflections that we sometimes have a really hard time finding the right balance of instruments for the overall drum mix.

      Hope this helps!

      –Fox

  6. For portable churches using school gyms. Don’t put them up on the stage. The space underneath acts as a resonator and makes
    them louder. Put them on a rug on the floor. The drummer and how they play makes all the difference. Drums are musical instruments. Play them like they are.

  7. totally agree with most of your points. For the snare, i do stick with them emperor, but i like the controlled sound emperor with the dot on the bottom,it’s a bit fatter sounding than the standard emperor. For me, when i use thin sticks, i feel like i can’t get a big sound out of the drums. I don’t know how to explain it, but i play dynamically in the sense that in quite sections of songs, I play soft, but then when the song gets to the peak, if i’m not hitting pretty hard i feel like there is no energy.

  8. If your standing back away from a set of drums, no drummer there Do you think the drums are loud? course not, its silly asking. I once played a room that was almost impossible to control, ok, I switched to hot rods and worked my brushes more…. C’mon drummers … EGO .. Edging God out ~ be humble,practice with a metronome at low volumes. Do record the band during rehearsals, you will hear where the groove crashes with the spirit. JT

  9. I like how you think Christopher. I’ve been able to decrease the volume on most of the drums without compromising the tonal quality. However the bass drum is still a little loud to my satisfaction, we have a 22′ bass drum.

    We still want the drum to sound good for rock music, will an 18′ bass drum help in decreasing the volume without loosing too much punch? What size would you recommend?

  10. Any thought to wrapping the snare and padding the kick? In my old band, we sometimes had to wrap the snare body (draping down a foot or so) with a small – but thick plush carpet or in a pinch, a couple sweat shirts. Our kick has always been padded with a pillow. I’m not a drummer, but as a soundman, it’s helped. I’ve also seen that 95% of the low-end feedback has come from the floor tom (mic). Has this been anyone else’s experience?

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