Common Drummer Mistakes: Part 2 – Playing Cymbals Too Loud

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2. Letting The Kit Play You Instead Of Playing The Kit. Playing cymbals too loud.

‘If all of a sudden, I play 4 or 5 db quieter in the song… if I’m floating like that, then it’ll be perceived that the time is moving.’ – Anecdote from Chris McHugh (advice from Larrie London).

‘Your velocity and your time… those are very connected things.’Chris McHugh (Nashville Session Ace)

‘The cymbal thing, i will say is a rule. No one should ever hit their cymbals hard. It’s just awful. That’s gotta go.’Chris McHugh (yet again).
All quotes pulled from his ‘I’d Hit That’ podcast episode. Preach it Chris!

‘When I notice the drums… 99.9% of the time it’s not a good thing.’David Goodstein (Session Drummer)

The Cymbals That Ate Manhattan!

It made sense to follow on from my previous post with this one. Both are inter related. We’re talking balance, tone. Your sound.

First up… Hitting crashes too hard. Yikes, where to start. I’ve yet to meet a young student who doesn’t love destroying crash cymbals. Sure, it may be fun, and it’s certainly loud. But you have to know the truth… It sounds absolutely terrible.

Playing cymbals in the studio can be a REAL art, especially when an expensive vintage mic is hotted up. But backing away from that for a moment, think about cymbals in a live setting. Think about a drum kit in the sense that a drum kit is a collection of instruments. Bass drum is an instrument. So is crash cymbal. So is snare drum. Take a look at any marching band. They divide the drum kit up, assigning one instrument to each person.
Not all elements of a drum kit are created equal. The kit doesn’t play itself. It requires someone with skill to ‘mix’ themselves.
Check out your local Symphony orchestra.

orchestra

There is a reason the violins are at the front and the percussion section is way back. It’s not because they smell funny or because they turned up late. The success of a Symphony Orchestra depends on quality of sound. I’ll say that again… Quality Of Sound. The violins need to speak evenly right along with the mighty Timpani.
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On a band recording or live performance we do this via ‘mixing’. Within that, the great drummers do it via internal dynamics.

Here’s a quick unscientific experiment: Grab a friend. Doesn’t matter if he/she is a musician.
Play your bass drum as loud as you can. Cool. FAT!
Now play your crash as loud as you can. Not cool. Not fat. And your friend just punched you.

I’ve been known to use the ‘high school drummer’ as an analogy a lot. I really just mean a drummer with no stick control or dynamic control. It’s an awful analogy/stereotype to use but it works. It’s also effective as a very politically incorrect term when dealing with cocky High School age drum students!
Me: ‘That’s it, but it sounds like high school drumming’.
High School Student: (shocked look).
I’m not an a**hole teacher! I’m really not. I’m very patient. But again, this is the truth with no sugar-coating.
At high school, when you start playing with some strength, knowledge and gusto you tend to muscle the kit. Effectively playing your right foot as loud as possible, and also your hands as loud as they’ll go. There are no internal dynamics happening.
It sounds very ‘High School’ to me. Again apologies to any High School age drummers. Honestly!

* Have you ever noticed when everything is kind of right and correct timing wise, but it sounds awful? Swap the seat out and put a pro on there, playing the same kit and groove will sound like a million dollars. At some point you have to ask yourself WHY? What is this voodoo that the pro is using to sound better?
It’s a weird thing. The pro applies his skill to the drum set, and doesn’t let the kit run away on him.

* Have you ever done a gig and sat there unsatisfied afterward just thinking ‘I played too hard’, or ‘damn, that whole last set was just open hi hats and crash’. I used to do this and i lost all accuracy. It’s hard to place your kick when you can’t hear it!
You are raising the noise floor and instead of making things sound bigger, you are making things sound smaller and thinner.

Trust me… speaking of acoustic drums, loud cymbals = weak kick. This means the kit is not in balance.
Again acoustically, loud snare = weak kick.
Also unless you are wailing/crashing your ride to match those out of control hats, the energy can appear to drop when changing from Hi Hats to Ride. This is a real concern, especially when ride is typically reserved for the chorus where you want MORE energy.
You end up holding on for dear life playing at FFF and you have nowhere to go.

DISCLAIMER: Of course there are drummers (famous ones) who play loud and put on a fantastic show while drumming. Huge moeller strokes and exaggerated movements. It looks great in a stadium where the drummer needs to reach the back of the auditorium. Just like actors performing to the back of a room.
In that case they will be engineered accordingly. More important to put on a show and fix it in the mix than play perfectly controlled and appear to not be moving 35 rows back.
There is a time and place for everything.

Become aware of dynamics and the characteristics of the instruments that make up a drum set. Record yourself and ask for feedback.
It’s a great feeling when you lay down a beat and the whole band just start smiling. They play better and everything goes better from there on out.
Around 10 years ago i was speaking with legendary local guitarist Dixon Nacey about a certain drummer. Dixon smiled and said something to the effect of ‘playing with him is like floating on a cloud’. He intimated how insanely good this player sounded and that it inspired and made it easy for him to play great guitar.

This is how we want fellow musicians to speak and feel about us. Trust me, if people ARE talking about you like this… the work will be rolling in! Word travels fast in the music community both good and bad.

Chris McHugh commented on ‘I’d Hit That’ podcast how hearing Larrie Londin play live was like getting punched. Not ‘OUCH’ where you rush to cover your ears. There’s a big difference!
Larrie was playing evenly through the kit. Adjusting internal dynamics to make things sound fat, full and balanced. I would call this ‘acoustically mixing’ yourself.

I have already used a bunch of quotes from Chris. This particular interview had a big effect on me, mainly because i was ready to hear it and i could relate. I was doing a bunch of sessions at the time (nothing on the level of Chris McHugh!). And i was learning hard lessons fast.
I screamed for joy hearing his ‘I’d Hit That’ episode. I agreed and had experienced so many points he raised. Do yourself a favour and listen to it.

Having engineers tell me ‘you are the easiest drummer to record/mix’, is so satisfying.
Another one is ‘I can’t believe i haven’t touched your drums here… i just bought up the faders’.
I’m not saying I’m cool and I’m the best. But those comments are appreciated after the work put into it.

Balancing yourself makes you a joy to play with or record. You sound like ‘the finished article’. Everything sits where it’s meant to be.

Take care!

See you on ‘Part 3’.
Chime

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