About playing quietly ...

I'm trying to soften my playing. It's a chore because the kit I practice on has incredibly loose toms (the other drummers only play loud, pounding rock, and they like to really beat heck out of the drums). The floor tom is so loose it's like whacking a bed sheet.

Thing is, I know I can't rely on always having a perfectly tightened and tuned kit. I need to learn how to play soft in these situations. Are there any specific exercises I can work on to just play more softly? Should I spend more time working on singles & doubles on a pillow or other non-rebound surface? Should I focus more on using my fingers?


Gold Member
try using lighter sticks or even rods.
what size stick do you normally play with?

try choking up on your sticks. i play alot lighter when i have less weight on the end of the stick...


Try this exercise:
Get to your drumkit, any will do. Using cymbals and hi-hats as natural, play regular beats of 4/4 and 6/8 doing fills when you feel like it. Try to maintain steady pace, it should be reasonably fast. However, here's the catch: Make as little sound as possible. Try to feel each stroke instead of listening to it with your ear. Do this until you get real bored.
Thanks for the replies; I use 5A's exclusively and right now I'm using the Vater Stewart Copeland Rhythmatist SE's. They're pretty light for 5A's, particularly when compared to my old chunky Vic Firth's. Funny, though, it never occurred to me that drummers who are playing incredibly light might be using a specialty stick.

I've tried just playing light, it seemed the most obvious solution (the answer to 99 out of 100 drum questions is "do it until it's done" :p) but what throws me is how softly you have to toss the stick to get a light hit. I'm so used to getting the help of the rebound on a medium-to-hard stroke that when playing soft I feel like I'm choking the sticks. And it makes it hard to play fast strokes. Maybe I should just spend more time doing my 1" free stroke on the different drums?


Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I often have to play lightly, and using lighter sticks helps somewhat. The fact is, you just have to play lighter. And that's the key - approach the drums with a light touch. Don't think of it as playing quieter. There is a difference. I don't know if there are exercises for this, it's just a matter of pulling back a little, and being able to find that zone again - and stay there - when you need to.

Remember also that drums are unique among the electric guitars, bass & keys around you, in that to play quieter, you have to adjust the way you play. The drummer isn't allowed the same movements and pressure on the instrument, with the luxury of turning a knob to get less actual volume. Consequently, the resulting drum sound is also different than if they were played at a moderate volume, so tuning and padding may need to be adjusted in order to extract a more pleasing sound at 'lighter' volumes. I recommend less padding and generally higher tunings so that the drums speak a little more at lower volume. Lower tunings just don't translate well unless the drum is played a little harder.

What specific style/songs are you playing?

Specifically I'm trying to lighten up my jazz & Latin playing. I've been focused so much on coordination exercises and just getting up to speed that I didn't pay any attention to how I sound. My bossa nova, for example, sounds like an elephant stampede. And my jazz comping/fours are way too loud.

I think if I were able to tune the drums higher, everything would be easier. But they're not mine and in the past when I've toyed with the tension I've gotten some grief.

I guess I could spend some more time on my e-kit. One thing e-kits have going for them is crazy bounce from the mesh heads.

It's funny how much it complicates things to try to play with a gentle touch.

jay norem

For whatever it's worth I use 7A sticks. I play acoustic jazz but it isn't really all that quiet. Still, I have to keep it at a friendly volume for the other guys.
Playing quietly, to me, is doing wedding gigs while everyone's eating their dinner, before the dancing begins. That's when brushes are your best pal.
I don't know. Playing with a light touch is certainly something to work on, but I can't really give any advice except to say keep working at it. Play in acoustic settings, dial down the energy while keeping the groove going and eventually you'll get "it."
It's too bad that you can't tune the drums the way you want.

Pete Stoltman

Silver Member
As usual I find myself agreeing with our esteemed colleague Bermuda. You just need to work on it and still be able to play with feeling. I had a restaurant gig that I played for several years with an all acoustic band (no amps for guitar, bass, not even a mike for vocals). You really learn how to play quietly doing that for four hours a day. Brushes and rods etc. can help but the bottom line is you need to be able to play effectively with all the implements at any volume required. The benefit is that if you learn how to play well AND quietly people want to hire you because you are considered not just a drummer but a musician.


Senior Member
Yeah, try those rods. play without ear protection and try to do it so that your ears don't hurt. Then you are already going pretty quiet. it's veeery challenging to keep good time and feel with those rods, but it can be done, and will be rewarding.


Platinum Member
You just simply got to learn dynamics.you can use lighter sticks or rods or brushes but when you can get more dynamic I think it takes your drumming to a different level,plus I think it draws the crowd in more really opens their ears.

good luck,


Platinum Member
My opinion is; you should avoid relying (or thinking you can rely on) gear to change your dynamics when it's actually your playing that needs to change.

I went through this when I joined up w/ this electric jazz group I've been playing in...suddenly I had to really focus on dynamics instead of pounding out rock and funk beats.

I'd recommend just sitting down at the practice pad and pretending there's a 2" ceiling above the tips of your sticks, that you cannot break through. Run through your rudiments and hand technique stuff this way for a few weeks...and you'll see a huge difference. You'll discover that you're now able to play at any dynamic range instead of having one volume: LOUD.


Platinum Member
My opinion is; you should avoid relying (or thinking you can rely on) gear to change your dynamics when it's actually your playing that needs to change.
I totally agree. Playing quietly seems to be a lost art, but it's important to be able to play at ALL dynamic levels comfortably.

Imagine you're backing up a pin-drop solo. Someone is dropping pins, unmiked, and you are still providing the backbeat to their solo, which needs to be heard, obviously. How would you do that with your normal gear/sticks? Use your creativity and imagination. Don't use rods or brushes, unless you're looking for THAT particular sound.


"Uncle Larry"
I'd also have to say that if you can't groove, play figures and solo quietly, you don't have the control you need for this instrument

Pete Stoltman

Silver Member
I have to say I'm very impressed with some of the answers here. I'm not kidding when I say that a drummer who can master dynamics and play with taste at all volumes has the key to the door of respect from his fellow musicians. Chops will get you to the door but those other "intangibles" will get you in!


Senior Member
I also find traditional grip a little better for the small volumes. Of course it takes at least 2 years to master the grip so that you can actually groove with it, but still..