If you have not played a drum kit before, the biggest question is how do you know if it sounds any good?
Drum kits in the flesh may not sound anything like your preconception. What you hear on recordings, television and live concerts can be very misleading. The drums have been processed through all sorts of studio and PA gear. In any case, drums sound quite different from a distance than they do when you’re sitting right on top of them, behind the kit. This is especially true when you’re playing on your own and the ring and resonance of the drums is not being absorbed by the sound of the other instruments.
It also hasn’t helped that for the last two decades drummers have regularly mimed on TV to tracks that have never been near a real drum kit nor seen a drumstick. They’ve been programmed on a computer, more often than not by a producer or keyboard player. The bottom line is this: drums ring and resonate a lot more in the flesh than you may imagine. This is perplexing for new drummers. I remember a young drummer telling me he’d just bought some new drums and they were ringing and how could he stop it?
He was genuinely surprised when I told him that was the whole idea. If his drums resonated a long time it probably meant they were good drums and the heads were fresh. Drummers still regularly plaster their top heads with horrid strips of sticky tape to get a more controlled and shorter sound, which is what they know from their CDs. If they could go into the studio and isolate their favourite drum tracks on the mixing desk they would probably be dumbfounded to hear just how much ringing and ambience were present.
The thing to appreciate is that the ringing overtones of a drum are mostly lost in the overall sound when a band plays. But that ambience and long decay is the way the drums project. If you muffle too much of it, your sound will be dry and dead and you won’t cut through. Out front you’ll perhaps hear some impact, but no body and tone. There will be times, when you use close miking, when you will need a bit of damping. We’ll talk about that later. But for now, don’t worry too much about your drums ringing.