One of the most common objections to buying a drum set is the volume of our instrument. There’s no doubt about it: drums are loud. Unless you have a sound proof room or an area where there is no one else in close proximity, it can become an issue. However; there are a number of practical solutions to this problem - it all depends on how far you want to go to address it.
Firstly, it should be pointed out that soundproofing a room is a costly exercise. Unless you have a budget of about $10-15K to do it properly, then it is probably not going to be effective. The reason for this is because to truly soundproof a room, you have to literally construct a room within a room - with a raised floor, lowered ceiling, and sound insulated walls. Aside from the floor, none of the walls or the ceiling should be touching the main structure of the room, to avoid vibrations.
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Add on to this the fact that you need a double door, and most likely some lighting, power and air conditioning, and you start to get an idea of why this is so costly. Unfortunately, if you do not follow these guidelines, you can spend a lot of money on a room that marginally reduces sound at best. There are companies that sell sound proof cabins for self assembly, but again, these are costly, and not always the most visually appealing solution.
Electronic drums are a great solution for aspiring drummers where the volume could be an issue. Plug in your headphones, and drum away to your heart’s content. And for times when you can let loose, you can use a powered monitor for external sound. This is a great solution for musicians living in apartments or in close proximity to neighbors. It is worth noting however, that striking the pads, regardless of whether they are rubber or mesh, still creates the sound of the stick striking a surface, which can still be audible in adjacent rooms, or rooms above or below. The sound of a bass drum beater playing a rubber or plastic bass drum post can also make quite a sound. So although it is much reduced, it should not be thought of as a completely volume-free solution.
For acoustic drums, one of the best options for sound control are drum pads. Our drum stick sponsor, Vic Firth, manufacture Drum Mutes that can come in box sets for complete drum sets, or individual pads for additional drums and cymbals. These pads attach to the top of the drum, or over the top of the cymbal, and reduce the volume significantly. While the drums are muted, you can still hear the tone of the drums, and the pads feel great to play too. Also, at less than $100 for a complete set of drum and cymbal pads, this is a great value solution to a problem that could otherwise cost significantly more to resolve. The great thing about these pads is that they are easy to remove for times when you want to play freely without them.
The acoustic bass drum, being the largest drum with the most low frequency sound, can produce a lot of volume. Some of the higher end drum sets come with a pillow inside the shell, often referred to as an EQ pillow. However, most drum sets do not, and it is always a good idea to add some dampening to this drum. You don’t have to be too scientific here. A regular household pillow, or even a blanket that touches both the resonant and batter head (that’s the back and front head of the drum) can be the best solution. You’ll actually find that the sound and feel of the drum can be improved with some well placed internal dampening.
You can also play acoustic drums with brushes or rods to further reduce sound. Brushes are sticks that have multiple strands of wire at the end. These strands can be metal or plastic, and can reduce the sound of the drums and cymbals significantly. They are usually employed in jazz and lighter playing, but there’s no reason why they can’t be used for general practice. Rods are made up of multiple dowels of wood, and are usually available in different weights. All are lighter than sticks, and give some more options to reduce volume.
Tone rings and gels/putty pads are also useful tools, although they mostly address the ringing of the drum and the tone, rather than volume. Tone rings are plastic rings that sit on top of the drum heads, and they are typically half an inch to two inches in diameter. One of the most popular gels is called “Moongel". This is a blue gel that sticks to the drum head and controls tone and ringing, and you'll see them in our videos. External mufflers can also be used to dampen volume. These attach to the side of the drum and press a felt muffler down on to the drum head. They are not as controllable as gels, but dampen the drums more.
Finally, you can also restrict your home practice to using practice pads and practice pad sets. These are rubber pads, normally mounted on a wood base, and suspended on a tabletop or, if size permits, a snare drum stand. It may not be as much fun as playing the drums, but these pads are extremely useful for practicing the drum set rudiments and building technique.
Volume control aside, I always stayed on the good side of my family and neighbors by having an agreed time for when I could, and could not play the drums. If you are considerate and mindful, then you may be able to limit the times where volume control is an issue. Don’t let volume issues get in the way of your practice time. There are solutions for all budgets, and playing the drums has never been more accessible.