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Kick Drum Tuning

Mike Radcliffe 

The same basic drum tuning principles apply to bass drums as any other. You can tune it any way you want.

To get a resonant sound, use the same techniques for two headed drum tuning. This is beneficial for styles like traditional jazz, where the bass drum is more of a melodic voice, tuned higher, like the toms. In this setting, a bass drum can sing and a skilled player can get many voices from it using exceptional foot control.

The bass drum sound most often associated with styles outside of traditional jazz, such as rock, funk, blues, R&B, etc., is a more dead, controlled sound. For that type of sound, try a combination of the following:

Head Tension

You want it pretty loose. Start out with the batter head just tight enough to take any wrinkles out of the head. If you get decent response from the head with the beater, go with that. It will be thick and phat, with that in-your-chest feeling. If you're not getting enough rebound from the beater, try tightening two or four tension rods. Sometimes that's all it takes. Tightening the front (resonant or audience) head can also give the batter head more rebound.


Hole in front head

Cut a hole in the front head. This allows air to escape the drum very quickly and drastically reduces resonance. Any hole in the head much bigger than six inches will yield the same result as having no front head-- almost no resonance at all! If that's what you want, go ahead and cut a big hole. It's much easier to move pillows and microphones around inside the drum with a big hole.
If you want to keep some resonance or at least have the option of keeping some resonance in the drum, make a hole about six inches. It's big enough to move small pillows in and out of, and big enough, through which, to place a microphone.

IMPORTANT: do not put this hole in the center of the head. That lets too much direct air out of the drum. Position the hole off to the side, about 2-3 inches from the hoop, and down low, so a microphone cord can escape.

Experiment with muffling. Usually, all it takes to deaden all the resonance of a bass drum, while still feeling that thump in your chest, is a decent sized pillow that touches both heads. Most drummers have steered away from putting any felt strips under the head, since in interferes with the head-to-bearing edge contact and is much harder to adjust. There are speciality pillow-like mufflers that work very well, but a heavy down pillow can do wonders. Folded up quilt or fuzzy blankets are great, too. A pillow or blanket that is just touching the bottom few inches of the batter head will control the sound well, while still allowing sort of a "puff" of resonance. The key here is, you don't need to stuff the bass drum to the top with a king sized comforter to muffle it.

Find that compromise between sound and feel-- you can have both. Experiment. Again, personal preference!

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