What's the first thing we hear when a drummer (or any musician) plays for us? We experience their sound, of course! Yet many teachers, myself included, do't talk about sound on the drum set very much. Why? Well, in a pedological environment, sound can be a tricky and subjective thing to evaluate. I also feel many people think that because sound production on a drum or cymbal is a relatively simple thing, (after, all, don't you just hit the thing?) that there's not much one can say about it. But say about it I will! Let's look at ways we as drummers can improve our sound.
This may seem pretty basic, but many drummers don't listen to the sounds they're making. That's why I don't recommend practice pads when an actual drum set is available and practical. It doesn't matter what fancy and impressive things are achieved on a pad because we don't play pads in performance! Also, only play the sounds you mean. Many "accidental" sounds on drum set can include:
- cymbals and/or drums hitting each other after we have played them.
-playing on an odd part of a cymbal or drum out of physical habit, rather than musical need or concept. This can include playing near the edge of the cymbal when riding it, playing toward the outer rim rather than the centre of a drum, hitting rims often, missing intended rimshots frequently, etc. Let me stress that ANY sound of a drum or cymbal is fair game and will be appropriate at times, it's just they have to be intentional!
Now, this will mean different things to different people. I would recommend listening to drums and cymbals of players you like and try to determine things you would want in your sound.. Does the player you like have theirs snares tight or loose? Do they tune high or low? What relationship between the top and bottom heads creates the sound you like? Do they even have bottom heads on their toms and bass drum? Are the drums muffled or ringy? Do you like the toms to dip in pitch? Cymbals bright or dark? Thin or thick? Do you like your drums sound with brushes but not with sticks and mallets? Some of these things will also depend on the type of music you're playing and the sonic environment the style tends to have. In all cases, don't be afraid to experiment with tuning, muffling, and cymbal choice, and if one plays a lot of different styles, they may need for more instruments to be purchased or compromises made. The more you listen and experiment, the more you will develop your personal appetites of what the drums should sound like.
3. Listen Part 2 (in context)
This is also style dependent. How loud of soft should you play with the band you're with? How does your sound mix with the rest of the ensemble? How does your sound change when you go from playing with a distorted guitar to a muted trumpet, for example?
In conclusion, developing own's sound is easily as important as anything else we practice on the instrument. We ignore it at our peril!
Now go develop your sound! :)