Drum volume is one of the biggest issues with bands, especially in church. The drummer’s job is particularly difficult because by nature drums are a loud instrument. We can’t just turn them down.
- The first solution is to use smaller drums and cymbals. I truly believe this helps. Even if it’s a slight improvement it’s worth the effort. You can switch to less resonant shells, smaller drum sizes, and even darker cymbals. But… you still have to control your dynamics.
This is the challenge. Without getting into the options of using a drum booth or switching to digital drums, let’s work on our technique. Remember, playing louder does NOT make you more spiritual or dramatic. What’s in your heart when you play is what matters. So, be able to play at whatever dynamic level is needed for the room and play passionately. Always!
- In your stick bag should be many different sizes of sticks, brushes, mallets, Hot Rods, etc. Your favorite standard size stick (5A) should be plentiful. Heavier sticks for big, loud situations, and very light sticks for smaller venues. Hot Rods by Pro Mark or Splashsticks by Vater are excellent for keeping your volume down. Even have lighter “Blasticks” or “Ultrflex” brushes for those super soft settings.
I always hear drummers say that it doesn’t sound as “cool” when they use smaller sticks or “rods.” Yes, the tone is different, but that’s the adjustment we have to make for the band to sound balanced in a difficult room. The key is to find the right technique when you use other “tools.” I’ll play with a little more snap when using brushes or rods. I also experiment with where I hit the drums to get the right sound. Approach this as a challenge, not as a handicap. It will add to your creativity if you choose to let it.
- It’s also very important to practice everything you do at a variety of dynamic levels. Use a metronome to play all of the songs and exercises you play. While you do that, switch to every type of stick, brush, and rod you have in your bag. Make it feel great with anything you pick up.
Adjusting the height of your stroke when you are playing will definitely affect your volume. Practice until you are comfortable playing very high strokes with a lot of wrist and arm action, as well as low strokes just barely raising the sticks off of the drums. At the softer dynamic levels use more finger control and less wrist action. It may take time to get your soft playing under control if you have been playing loud for a long time. Be patient and keep practicing.
Be aware of the dynamics of your feet as well. Your kick drum volume will have to be in balance with the rest of the kit. Although in most “popular” music the kick is played harder than when compared to jazz styles. The hi-hat foot will probably not be as critical, but be attentive to it as well. Listen carefully to the overall balance of your kit and adjust your playing to make every piece match dynamically, or according to the style you’re playing.
Remember, our job as drummers is to create a strong musical and spiritual foundation so everyone can enjoy what’s happening. Our focus is to serve the Lord and the people with the skills He has placed in us.
Now go play softly, and this time WITH FEELING!