Sound Quality


Gold Member
This is the first thread I've posted in a long while. I hope it garners some attention.

A lot of percussionists I've been learning from mention quality of sound only when the group is getting to those finer points of playing drums. I feel like that does not do the subject justice. However, I am glad that these instructors stress that the quality of sound that you produce is a direct result of your technique - i.e., the way you play - but it sounds out touch when I hear these different techniques all attempting to achieve the same sound: that warm, singing tone.

When talking about sound quality, I hear one word repeated from teacher to teacher: Velocity.

A while ago it dawned on me that changing the quality of sound on the drums in a drum set yields much more interesting and diverse results than, say, in a marching context. My snare drum (tuned medium-low with a coated emperor) speaks in very different voices when hit with more energy in the wrist turn or when tapped with a lighter touch.

I don't really have any ideal sound quality in mind when playing, usually let my ears tell me if I'm doing something right or something wrong at any given moment. I strive for what I think sounds good.

What are your thoughts on this? What do you guys strive for in quality of sound? How do you go about achieving that sound quality and how do you think your technique effects it?


Platinum Member
I'm a sound freak. I'm into the sound of what I'm playing as much as the notes. Growing up poor, sound wasn't something I could buy. It was something I had to do with what I had.

Earlier this week a guitarist and teacher I know asked me about sound production on the drums. He remarked that he usually sees drummers hitting or laying into the drums, but that I seemed to be "pulling the sound out of the drums". I told him that yes, if you whack into the drum, the initial strike will be hard, but the head won't vibrate as much as when you get the stick off it. And the sound is different. It's like burying the kick beater vs. bouncing it off the drum. Both are valid techniques, but give different sounds. Then there are a million other things, the angle of the stick into the head, how tight you hold the stick, where on the head you're hitting it, the tension in your arms or body. All of it affects the sound you get. The idea is to work on each until it's automatic. And your body does what it needs to in order to produce the sound you hear in your head for that moment.
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Senior Member
Some things to think about concerning sound quality:

the poster ahead of me said it very well, I don't need to repeat, I will just add.

The concept is called "Touch". It is the ability to know what you want each instrument at the kit to sound like (Visualization) and the energy required to get that sound. Now, many things affect touch, but all things being equal, you get to the point where you can attain the sound on any percussion item with a little bit of time. That's the crux of learning touch, it takes time.

Example of how long a concept like touch becomes "learned" if at all possible:

I started playing drums at 12. Around 14, I was playing with a friend of mine who was playing a version more or less of "Jazz Fusion" with more emphasis on jazz. We hacked our way through a few standards. I learned the jazz ride pattern and thought "hey, I'm playing Jazz". Boy, was I wrong. To add to it, there is audio of these "jams" :-o

Long story short, though I learned the basics of jazz at that time, it wasn't until I was in college that I was developing a "swing" and was inherently developing my touch, though I didn't identify it as such at the time. From 14 to 20...six years..and even to this day I'm gaining new experiences in playing that affect my touch on the instrument. It's a lifelong pursuit.

The other concept involved in your sound quality on the drums is: having a reference point. Listening to a drummer, it could be your "hero", it could be a good friend up the street where you live, that has "that" sound. It turns on the light bulb. You find out how they make that sound, then you rush home to try and recreate it for yourself. You try it. EIther it's a dud and it won't work for you, or for the most part it's kind of there but needs tweaking. After a week or two, you decide either yes or no. Or you parse it. You say "I like A but what if I do C instead of so-and-so drummer that is doing B" etc.etc. the conversation never ends.

Obviously, money is a big factor in achieving your desired sound, but some things can be done that you dont, or rather can't, pay for. Technique, Feel, Touch, some of the concepts Aeolian mentioned in his post. Sometimes, you achieve it without even picking up a stick. It might be a change in thinking about a certain thing, perhaps. They key is to allow yourself to change if needed, in whatever form that manifests itself.

So, those are two concepts (of many) that affect sound quality on your instrument.


Senior Member
Hitting a drum a little lighter with a good rebound will give you a bigger sound/tone. But if you are in a killer room, sometimes whacking the drum to death will fill the room with awesome drum-ness. I saw Dave Grohl mess around with a kit, and he hits it so hard----the air particles explode. So that is another sound as well.

But it is all about touch and dynamics for me.


Platinum Member
A fun exercise is to take just one drum or instrument from your kit and play it by itself. A snare drum is good place to start, but a tom tom is just as cool. Get it away from all the other instruments so you can hear it all on its own. Don't wear ear plugs as you want to hear all the nuances of the instrument.

Some things to try/listen out for:

1. How is the sound altered by the velocity of the stroke? Does the pitch go up or down? Does the sustain change?

2. How is the sound altered by the grip? (French, German, thumb/index, thumb/middle, Hinger Timpani/Tony Williams grip, etc.) For instance, you may note that the sound of a thumbs-up grip is "brighter" than that of a full palms-down German grip.

3. How is the sound altered by the firmness of the grip? Does it change the pitch? The duration?

4. How is the sound altered by hitting the instrument in different places? Note that there may be particularly "live" and "dead" places on a drum as far as overtones are concerned. And not just the edge and center.

5. How is the sound altered by allowing the stick to remain against or near the drum head to varying degrees vs. allowing it to rebound fully?

6. How is the sound altered by the tempo of my strokes - do slower strokes illicit a different sound than faster ones at the same dynamic?

6. How is the sound altered by using different kinds of sticks - i.e. different sizes, maple or hickory, bead shapes, etc.

7. How does the sound change when you concentrate on note duration rather than note placement - i.e. try listening for the sustain and decay of the instrument.

How can you apply this stuff musically?

If you've got a good recorder, set it up in the room when you do this. You may hear some things on playback that you didn't pick up from directly over the instrument. It's also fun to do this with a partner or group, so you can experiment with listening for the differences from the perspective of an audience member.


Staff member
How do you go about achieving that sound quality and how do you think your technique effects it?
Of course, it varies from instrument to instrument, but I always use the term "tease" when referring to extracting sounds from a drum. Like anything else, you need to experiment with each kit element. Once you have it's setup dialled in, it's then a case of toying with the drum to see what it has to offer. Taking a mental note of the sweet stuff, & how you made it happen.

Sure, velocity is one variable, & probably the main one, but stick angle, stick tip, how quickly or assertively you pull the stick back after the stroke, burying the stick, where you hit the drum head/hoop/combination, a swipe or straight strike. An almost endless list. Great fun eh?

One gear note, this is where an expressive instrument comes into it's own, especially in it's ability to deliver tone at very low dynamics.


Senior Member
Great fun indeed (as Origin reminds us).

Lots of good info in previous posts that help refine our sensibilities regarding "sound". This we all need in spades. It starts with listening. Listening carries us from being average musicians to good, and beyond.

Even as a novice drummer, I get compliments on my playing from regular folks. I believe its less for the chops and more for the gestalt of the tunes. What the hell does that mean?

I played guitar for 30 years. I learned to listen actively to several other musicians/instruments simultaneously and adjust accordingly Some of this has translated to drumming even this early on my learning curve.

From my previous band experience I observed that the same guys with the same gear playing the same material had this RANGE of tone/sounds that we had to learn to deal with. Different rooms, stage configurations/gear placement, crowd sizes, hell, even humidity levels, begged for alterations to our extraction of appropriate tonality to be at our best (serving the songs I mean).

I'm working on ownership of a functional skillset as a kit player, and I have a journey, no doubt. I have purchased a variety of sticks to prop up my developing touch. I spent a fair amount of time learning effective and musical tuning of the kit, though I don't mess with that or head changes to suit any particular musical opportunity. (Maybe some day). I seek out different ways to change my practice time around to keep is fresh, even serendipitous, and to avoid a rut at the very least.

Through it all, I must listen. Listen. And, listen even more.




Silver Member
Don't forget about consistency. With pop and rock it is important to hit that snare in the same spot at the same volume for a nice consistent back beat. Dynamics are also very important, not only accents but how loud you hit the drums in relation to hats and cymbals.


Silver Member
Good topic guys....

my experience is that playing into rack toms is much easier than playing out of them and I see a benefit to both. I love how the toms sound when you play out of them they just sound so damn big and sound like drums should sound.

Working on pulling sound out of the drums is just a whole different process and it seems so tiring at times to work on this but I know eventually it will be an added skill that I will love to have.

I work on pulling sound out of the toms with helps to not over do things with the neighbors and it actually works when I grab a pair of sticks and play.

I work on this for a couple of hours and I'm good to go till the next practice...then i need another hour or two of warm up. Would like to one day sit down and play out of the drums or into them at will.


Senior Member
I'm an electronic drummer so this is harder for me to hear obviously. I've only recently started to play acoustics.

If you play say a single stroke roll with the correct technique on a pad which means letting the stick bounce back without stopping it making a fine "arch" up and down, won't that automatically be what you guys are talking about? You can hear this on a pad as well, the sick is resonating when you do it this way.

Also when accenting and ghosting, stopping the stick AFTER the impact without muting it.

I mean there is really only one way to do this without getting pain in your fingers.

Is this what you are talking about?