Common Drummer Mistakes: Part 1 – Poor Tuning/Over Muting

After more than 20 years drumming, 12 years of being a private drum set instructor and 1000’s of gigs…
I have narrowed down what I think are the key and fundamental errors many drummers make. These simple and often overlooked elements can mean the difference between progress or a constant plateau, a successful audition or frustration at inability to execute a favourite lick, groove, song.
They can also get you fired (guilty), kicked off a studio session or tour (guilty), or just stone cold humiliated (guilty).

* It is also totally unreasonable to expect a beginner drummer to ace everything straight away! The idea with this article isn’t to intimidate a new player. The idea is to help someone avoid unnecessary pain/wasted time, answer a question or give direction. I wish i had been told some of these home truths 20 years ago… oh wait… I WAS! I wish i had listened.

Oh well, sometimes we aren’t ready to hear certain things…
But anyway, this is (in my eyes) is the honest truth. Let’s go. In no particular order of importance, here is my first common drummer problem.

1. Over Muting/Muffling Drums. Inability To Tune. Tuning Too Low.
You could have saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars by grabbing some cardboard boxes from the local supermarket and playing those!
It is okay for drums to resonate. It really is. That’s how they’re built… to resonate!
Check this out: The more you mute your drums, the quieter they get.
Now check this out: The lower you tune your drums, the quieter they get.

Toilet paper is useful in the bathroom, just remember every square you use on a drum kit is killing resonance, volume AND tone.
Duct tape, very useful around the house. But again, use sparingly.

Years ago I worked away in my bedroom for hours, going for the gorgeous Gadd, Porcaro, Fleetwood Mac pillow tom sound. I achieved this with low tuning and a tonne of muting.
Unfortunately I’d show up to the gig and my toms weren’t even there! I’d lay down a nice beat, cool. Fill on the toms… no resonance, no volume, drop in energy, waste of time.

* The drum sound you hear on your favourite recording. That is NOT how those drums sounded acoustically in the room, on the day.

Note: I did say OVER muting. Mutes can be a god send, especially in the studio.
We’ve all used ‘Moongel’, ‘Buzz Kills’, Pillow in the bass drum etc.
BUT… If you find the only way to achieve your desired sound on drums is by making it look like the maths teachers TP’d front door on graduation day…
Houston, we have a tuning problem.

DISCLAIMER: I have used heavy muting in the studio like the wallet/snare trick, and tea towels on the toms. It’s okay to do those things if it’s working on a recording. It can work great on some things.

‘I tune a little higher than what most people are used to… drums are a mid range instrument, you have the bass guitar for the low end…’
– Jeremy Berman, (Q Drum Co. Founder & Chief Builder) speaking on 180 Drums Podcast.

Some things i have learnt over the years with tuning and muting.
* Tune higher than you think, especially live.
* Limit muting to what’s necessary.
* A little ring, resonance and snare buzz is okay.

I have been in studio and live and seen the Engineer literally drop his head into his hands at the first sound of a tom hit. They know they are in for a ambulance at the bottom of the cliff session. If an experienced Engineer is sound checking you for hours, frantically trying EQ and the like, your drums aren’t cutting it. They may end up giving you a trusted house kit or tune the kit for you. You HAVE to be better than this. Take pride in your sound.

– If your tuning really isn’t happening, grab a tune bot. They actually work great.

Just like amateur singers and guitarists sound check at half their performing volume… amateur drummers aren’t preparing their drums to be played in a live band setting.
You want your kick and toms to project live. You want your snare in the pocket feeling great.
You have to give that kick and toms a chance against the acoustically dominant snare.
Time & Tone. Tune your gear up and project! People will remember a big confident and defined sound.

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