Drummers have been seen to use water on their drums, but however, there is some debate on whether or not that has an actual purpose while playing the drums, other than aesthetics. The most logical thing is that it is done to get a dampened sound, but the water should be put on the drum head.
The other reason can be for effect or aesthetic as it simply looks awesome under the stage lights. Dampening the heads with water can be a good solution to make them sound nicer (especially if they are clearly coated). Learning about drums and how to set their tone is also important, which is why we will discuss the practicality and aesthetic on how to make even the cheapest drums look cool and performative.
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Budgeting can be a challenge
Many people find a solid investment of 1500 euros or more or the so-called ‘professional set’ way out of budget for someone who wants to play like an amateur. A large number of drummers will play in small clubs every other weekend. With such a rhythm they would have to invest the last penny to be able to buy even the cheapest professional set from a known brand.
The alternative? There is a way to make cheaper drums sound okay, especially for practicing and achieving results.
Now of course there are reasons why professional musicians play on drums that are entirely made from maple or bark. The top models of drums will sound awesome whatever you do to them. For those drummers who own a cheaper model of drums, they are faced with a proper challenge to make the sound flow. One of the first sets of people in the 90s’ had was a Yamaha DP set, for example, it was the cheapest Yamaha series, and with practice, it is possible to make a proper sound.
How to achieve that good sound
For starters, it is important to learn and accept some hard truths. We portray them as guidelines for all current and future drummers.
1. You will never have a sound identical to your favorite performance
Listening to a drummer on a tape, audio, video, etc. the sound of the drums and its quality highly depends on the technology of the recording. At least to the extent the drums themselves partake in the process.
While recording where the sound is being processed, equalizers, compressors, and other tools are being used that alternate the authentic sound of the drums and cymbals. Also, take into consideration that albums are recorded in a controlled ambiance that was pre-designed to optimize sound. Different rehearsal rooms, garages, bars, and clubs that most of us play at are far away from such a controlled environment.
2. How the drum sounds to you is not the most important thing in the world.
In the case that you are partially or completely dependent on the sound of your acoustic drums and cymbals, you will most probably need to adapt their sound depending on the space you are playing at. The size of the space, the height of the ceiling, the material the walls are made from, is there insulation like a carpet or not are all parameters that will affect the sound.
3. Never settle with ‘good enough’
Your drums can always sound better. People every day find out about new ways to impact the sound of our drums. More models, leather, membranes are made available by many manufacturers. There are also more products with the demphagne elements, as well as choices when it comes to electronics. There is always something you can seek out and try to apply to your own sound of drums.
Analyze the sound of your drums
You first need to define how your drums really sound to the people you play for. There are several ways you can do this:
- Record your band from the audience, with the help of the best possible recording equipment. Today, it is enough to have a slightly better smartphone. It would be good to insert a couple of microphones that will be positioned where the majority of the audience is.
- Ask a drummer’s friend to play on your drums, with your band, while you listen in the audience space.
Here it is better to go with the first suggested option, as it is the only way to find out how your instrument sounds to the audience when YOU play it. Be sure to remember to record while playing with the band, as the drum will sound different if you play alone, compared to playing with other musicians.
- Study how your drums sound in a normal musical context. You don’t have to go for studio quality recordings for that. Simply make the best shot you can with the recording equipment you own (or borrow).
There is a possibility that while listening to this recording, you will notice that your volumes sound, for example, too blurry and too low frequencies, which is most likely due to the distance between your instrument and the audience. This can have the effect that each volume sounds completely identical to the audience. Other side effects can also be identified. A great example is that the drum sounds “too thin”, and that the bass drum is almost inaudible, and the like.
Improve the tone
Once you’ve listened to a recording of your gig and the sound of your drums, it’s time to decide what kind of sound you really want. Once you make that decision, don’t stop experimenting until you achieve that goal.
In the age of the Internet, there is an inexhaustible number of sources of information on how drums can be tuned. Be sure to study this topic, since – combined with choosing skins for the elements of your drums – tuning will do a big part in achieving the good sound of your drums. While experimenting with drum tuning, a great choice is to always tune each of the elements to make them sound great separately. Finally, make small adjustments to make the whole set sound pleasing
You’ll notice that – if your volumes sound too congested and blurry by then – if you tune them to a slightly higher register, there will be several consequential benefits: you’ll probably lose any need to dampen volumes, and you’ll hear them much more clearly during gigs.
The desired type of sound
If you have problems with the drum sound, we need to go back to the question: what kind of drum sound do you want?
Regardless of what your instrument is like, assuming that it is technically correct – that its mesh is working properly, that the hoops are not distorted, that all the screws for tuning are on the drum, etc. You will definitely want to experiment with the skin you are hitting. The brand and model of the resonant / lower skin are not so important, so you are free to leave the factory one to use, as long as it is intact.
If you’re chasing the crackling drum sound of your drummer-hero, get one of the skins that have a factory-mounted damping ring (eg Remo Powerstroke 3) and tighten it quite strongly, as well as resonant skin. You will get a dry, crackling sound that will penetrate the sound of your colleagues’ amps, no matter how loud it is.
If you are looking for that ‘fat’ powerful drum sound, with a long essence, a sound perfect for those memorable pieces from the 80s’, it would be good not to try it with a shallow drum at the beginning. But if you have a cheap set of drums, it is to be assumed that your drum is either 6.5 ″ or 5.5 ″ deep, with which you will definitely be able to get what you are looking for. Adjust the lower skin to the medium tightness of the screws, and adjust the upper skin so relaxed that the skin does not wrinkle anywhere.
Of course, then make sure that the sound of the skin is evenly spaced at the same distance from each tuning screw. Then, even though you are using some factory-damping leather, you will probably have to glue one extra tissue with the help of an “insulator” since the low drum tune often carries a long “overtone” with it. These tones are sometimes not easy to control, so they are often the easiest to eliminate.
Finally, for the “greasy” sound of the drum, relax the mesh in such a way that – when you tap the batter skin lightly – you feel that the mesh is almost never activated. Then hit the batter skin hard, in the center of the skin (not a rimshot), and you’ll get your fat sound.
Finally, why do drummers put water on their drums?
While researching how to adjust the technique of a cheaper set of drums, it is evident that there are many ways that musicians can plan out and adapt their modest instruments in order to change, or even better, enhance the sound they are producing.
Researching on the idea that professionals use water on their drums for a specific purpose, it is safe to come to the conclusion that it is only for effect only. Some people growing up see the water on the drums and may even consider that it can be sweat from the drummer under the stage light, but it is a personal aesthetic and has nothing to do with the practicality of the sound.