Drum Treatment

To achieve a good drum tone, the first step is to select the right drum heads and tune them correctly. After carefully tuning your drums, you can treat your drums in a number ways to subtly tweak their sound. Drum treatment hides undesirable sound qualities, adding the finishing touch to the drum tone you're looking for. Drum treatment is particularly useful when your drums are being miked, either in a live or a studio environment. Drum microphones act as sonic microscopes, magnifying the timbre of the drums and exaggerating any problems.

Snare Drum Treatment

The two common issues that plague snare drums are high pitched ring and buzzing snares. Ideally you want the ring of the snare drum to decay with the snares.

You can reduce snare drum ring by taping a folded tissue to the edge of the batter head with a piece of duct tape. This makes the head slightly heavier which dampens the vibration, stopping it from vibrating at high frequencies. This stifles the high frequency ring. The heavier membrane also reduces the sustain of the drum since it can’t vibrate for as long.

Depending on how much you want to reduce the ring and decay of the drum, you can dampen it by varying amounts. Instead of taping a tissue to the head, you can just stick a few pieces of duct tape on top of each other or on opposite sides of the head. Placing a business card, credit card or even a wallet on the head also dampens it. Since the snare drum is tuned higher than other drums, the head is much tighter. You will find that you need more dampening material for the snare drum than for the toms.

There are also some products available to dampen the snare drum, such as a clamp on muffler which presses a thick piece of felt against the head with adjustable pressure. Thin, plastic dampening rings that sit on the edge of the head are also available. You can make your own dampening ring by cutting a ring out of an old drum head.

Snare drum ring is also affected by the way the drum is tuned. Tuning the snare drum lower or using a thicker head will reduce the ring.

To prevent snares from buzzing too much, the first step is to make sure they are evenly attached. If one side is tighter than the other, there will be some loose snares that rattle. Remove the snares and re-attach them, ensuring that the plastic strips at each end are secured evenly. You can replace the plastic strips with string, or nylon fabric strips, which are less rigid. Their flexibility will allow the tension in the snares to even out naturally over the head.

Detuning the bottom head can also stop the snares from buzzing too much. You can also detune the lugs at each end of the snares on each side. This puts the snare head out of tune and stops it from resonating.

If a couple of snares are looser than the rest you will need to replace the snares with a new set. In the meantime, you can tighten the snares with the strainer to reduce the excess buzz. However this chokes the tone of the snare drum. You can also try sticking a strip of tape across the offending snares or cut them off with wire cutters.

Tom-tom Treatment

The two issues that affect tom-toms tend to be unwanted harmonics and “flutter” or "growl" in the drum sound. As with snare drum treatment, you can dampen the head to reduce unwanted harmonics. Since tom tom heads are tensioned looser than the snare drum, it won’t take as much dampening to reduce the harmonics. Tape a strip of duct tape to the edge of the head. If the unwanted overtones remain, tape a second piece to the opposite edge. If this is still not enough add more tape until you achieve the desired tone. Dampening rings can also be used. Tuning the tom toms lower or using a thicker head also reduces unwanted harmonics.

Unwanted flutter or growl in the tone usually means that the drum is tuned too low. Tune the drum higher until the fluttering stops. If you can't tune the drum higher without choking the tone, duct tape or dampening rings can help. In the area where the drum head is loosest, tape one end of duct tape to the head and stretch and stick the other to the rim. This will increase the tension in the loose area of the head and reduce the flutter sound.

Bass Drum Treatment

Two adjustments are often required to improve the bass drum sound: muffling the drum to reduce its pitch and sustain; and boosting the attack of the sound - the high frequency definition at the start of the note.

To muffle the bass drum, insert a pillow inside the drum, either through the hole in the front head if it has one, or by removing the front head and then replacing it with the pillow inside. You can also use a cushion, blanket, towel or sheet. Position the muffling material so that it's touching both heads of the bass drum. For lighter muffling, place it against batter head only. The bass drum usually sounds best with the muffling material pressed against the edge of the batter head. Placing the muffling material against the center of the head results in very aggressive muffling. A hole in the front head greatly assists with positioning the muffling material. The amount you use will depend on how much or how little you want to muffle the bass drum. Another option is to tape a rolled up towel or newspaper against the inside bottom edge of the batter head.

To increase the attack of the bass drum sound, change the beater from a felt beater to a plastic one. This will make the tone more “clicky”, helping the bass drum to stand out and cut through other bass instruments. Before plastic beaters became widely available, drummers would sometimes tape a coin to the beater. Wooden beaters were also used. Click pads can also be attached to the batter head. These are small, tough plastic pads that stick on to the centre of the batter head where the beater strikes it.

Cymbal Treatment

Cymbals are more limited than drums in how they can be treated. To reduce the sustain of the cymbal and make it dryer, you can stick some duct tape to the underside. To make a temporary sizzle cymbal, loop a small ball chain around the top of the cymbal stand. Tape one end to the cymbal and let the other end rest loosely. When you play the cymbal, the ball chain will rattle, creating the sizzle effect.