I was going to call this post “How, When & Why to Play the Drums Quietly,” but that’s too long a title, and it’s grammatically incorrect. But the How, When and Why are all important, and all related.
As a teenager, I was forbidden by my father to play the drums whenever he was home. He hated the noise. And, in many ways, I agreed with him. Drums are loud. Really loud.
Ever try to play the drums quietly? It’s not easy. It’s like riding a bike or ice skating really slowly. You don’t get the natural bounce-back from the drum heads that you get when you hit hard. And if you use lightweight sticks, you don’t get the same momentum or rebound.
So why do it? I’m getting to that, but first let’s start with the When.
When is it a good time to play the drums quietly? Any time it’s appropriate, I’d say. It’s a judgment call, and it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of quietness. It could be an unplugged rehearsal, an acoustic performance, a practice session, etc. Contrary to some people’s belief, music is not necessarily better just because it’s louder. In general, my rule of thumb is to approach a musical situation gently. You can always get louder if necessary.
So again, why do it? Because people will like you more if you can play at different volumes, depending on the situation and environment. Drums are a cool instrument, but many don’t seem to realize that they are a dynamic instrument. I often hear drummers who have two volumes: Loud and None. C’mon, can’t you hear that you’re way louder than everyone else? Can’t you hear that playing loudly in this glass-walled café sounds like crap? Play more quietly.
But, like I said before, it’s not that easy. You have to practice it. Playing quietly is harder than playing loudly, and I’m sure that’s why so many can’t seem to do it. Nowadays, there are innumerable alternatives to traditional drumsticks, like dowel rods, brushes, blasticks, brooms, chopsticks, etc. and it’s good to practice with all of these. You never know what might sound best at a particular gig. Rebound and sound vary tremendously with all these different mechanisms.
And they all require practice. I’ve had drummers try using my 0.475″ diameter lightweight sticks and exclaim angrily “I can’t use these things. There’s no rebound.” That makes me laugh. Of course there’s rebound, it’s just not as MUCH as with the big logs. Practice with BOTH lightweight and heavy sticks. And everything in between. Like different instruments. You might need one in one case, and another in another.
I’m not saying “Play Drums Quietly,” I’m saying “Be Able to Play Drums Quietly, Should the Situation Dictate.” Your band mates, venue managers and audience will thank you.