Percussion Clinic Adelaide
Concert BassDrum Tips
by Jim McCarthy

A concert bass-drum behaves in much the same way as timpani do, and similar hand technique applies. The only real difference, is that everything is bigger, and of course - assuming the drum is mounted vertically - our hands are held sideways.

Despite the large mallets used, finger-control is often applied as it is frequently appropriate to let the skin tension determine the mallet's bounce. Like timpani, the mallets required are usually harder than we imagine when the bass drum is to be played loudly. Unlike timpani however, with softer dynamics the reverse is often true, the drum requiring softer mallets than that which sounds appropriate to the performer.

There seems to be some difference of opinion as to the benefits of mounting a bass drum so it lays flat. Quite simply, a bass drum will not ring for as long, or sound as resonant if it is mounted horizontally. With vertical mounting, gravity does not interrupt the vibration of the drum head. So if you never want a long resonant sound from your bass drum, mount it flat by all means - or simply buy a cheaper, lesser quality bass drum. If you need a variety of note qualities and lengths however, mount the drum vertically so you can achieve long resonant tones, and practise dampening so you can achieve short sounds.

Many people believe that it is easier to roll on a horizontal bass drum, although I have found that the sound achieved using both drum heads on a vertical drum is rounder than that achieved using both hands on one head. The sideways action does require strong wrists and fingers, so some hard workouts may be in order for players with less chops.

Like timpani, the best tone is achieved on a bass drum by striking halfway between the edge and the center of the skin. This is particularly true of larger drums and softer dynamics. By playing the drum in the centre, a sharper "crack" can be achieved. By playing close to the edge of the drum, the lower body of the note is lost, and a more "pingy" sound is achieved.

It is often hard to obtain a tuning of the drum as low as we would like, without getting a really big drum. If the screws are too loose, a nice low sound is achieved at softer dynamics, but the skin flaps too much at louder volumes giving a "crack" sound. If the skin is tightened so this problem is solved, the pitch is often higher than we would really like.

To a certain extent this dilemma can be beaten by using heavier skins. If this is not possible or effective enough, use the tighter tuning, and lower the pitch by adding mass to the centre of the skins. This can be done using gaffa tape or something similar. The effect is to make the skin vibrate more slowly and increase the ratio of the lower frequencies coming from the drum.

Try using gaffa tape to actually tape a dinnerplate sized piece of cloth to the centre of the heads, but make sure that it is as tightly stretched as you can make it.

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Download Instructions for Making Mallets for Timpani And Bass Drum

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