A super-common problem many drummers encounter is the dreaded “my kick drum sounds like I’m bouncing a basketball” issue. Here are a few different ideas on how to fix it…
Well hey there, welcome back or more Drummer Daily. I’m happy you’re here. My name’s Daniel, and I’m going to be your drum coach for at least the amount of time that you listen to this podcast. This past weekend, I got a question and I thought I’d share it with you and see if I could maybe help you out with something that you might be facing, which is this: I was doing one of my drum intensives, and the person that I was doing it with, one of his questions was, “Hey, I feel like a lot of times my kick drum sounds like a giant basketball when I hit it.”
That sound, if you don’t know what I mean then you probably don’t have this problem. If you relate at all then all of a sudden you’ll be like, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
And that is the kick drum sounding like a basketball, where it just has this really weird bouncy sound to it. It’s not a pleasing sound. That’s a common problem, and it’s a problem that I’ve had before. It’s definitely a problem that I had when I first started playing drums, and especially when I first started really paying attention to tuning drums, and the heads that I was using, things like that.
I thought I’d offer a little bit of advice on some places to kind of start looking, to kind of troubleshoot that. The real cause I think of that, and for me to explain this I don’t want to get too geeky, or too technical in a way that’s boring or hard to follow. In order to kind of really grasp what’s happening that causes a bass drum, or a kick drum to sound like a basketball bouncing, we have to think about how a drum creates sound. There’s a lot of stuff going on in a drum, and I don’t understand most of it. Let me just put that disclaimer out.
There’s the basics of you have a giant cylinder basically, with a couple of stretchy pieces of plastic on each side. You’re hitting one side of that, and there are sound waves being generated. They bounce around inside the drum until the sound waves and the air escape somehow. Either as energy back into one of those two heads, or through an air hole, or another hole in the drum, or the head itself.
What I think of is this. When your bass drum beater, when it hits the head, think of it this way. The energy obviously gets transferred from the bass drum beater into that head that it hits. Then that head moves, the whole surface of the head moves at some level, and all of this air and sound waves get pushed out of that head forward into the front head of the bass drum. Now, there’s sound waves which is energy, and there’s air all moving around. It kind of sends forth energy. I think of it like the energy coming out of the bass drum head that you hit, is kind of like a bunch of football players just running full speed ahead towards that front head.
Depending on what that front head is made of, they’re either going to bounce off of that head. Think about a bunch of football players running… big heavy football players running at a piece of paper stretched across the field. How easy it would be for them all as a group to just rip right through that, or at least move it a lot?
Versus if there was a giant 20 foot thick brick wall in front of them. No matter how hard they’re running, they’re going to not get very far, and probably not move anything at all.
To kind of step back from that a little bit before we even get to that point though, you have to think about, “All right, well the football players are running at the brick wall, but we don’t know …” I did say a lot of big football players, “But we don’t know how big they are. They could be big compared to little league football players, or they could be big compared to the NFL players we see, play here in the US on Sundays.” We don’t know really how big these people are. In this metaphor that I’m using here, the size of the football player is going to be determined by how hard and how large the impact is on the head that’s getting head by the bass drum beater, so the batter head as we call it.
What is happening when you get a basketball sound out of your kick drum is, there is a lot of energy and air that is either not escaping the drum, or most likely there’s not that much energy and air actually getting generated to begin with. To understand this I would just say this, if you’re hearing a basketball sound coming out of your bass drum, there’s a couple of things you can do to change. I hope that my metaphor, I didn’t want to go on and on about it. Hopefully it still makes sense. You’re trying to generate a lot of energy and air to move both bass drum heads to get a nice full, rich, bass drum sound. You’re not getting that when you hear that basketball sound.
A couple of places that I would look immediately to try to start remedying this.
The first thing I would do of course is looking at … The easiest solution I guess would be a lot of times when people have this problem, they are over tightening one or both of their kick drum heads. You’re getting that sharp attack, and a lot of tone, and a lot of maybe unpleasing sound because those bass drum heads are too tight.
Just remember that I always talk about every drum is different and needs to be tuned uniquely. We don’t kick drums the same way we tune toms. We don’t tune either of those the same way that we tune a snare drum. All of that to say, the kick drum is no exception. We have to tune it uniquely compared to other drums. I see a lot of people tuning their kick drum heads way too tight. That would be the first thing.
I would also say that the muffling of the front head. For whatever reason a lot of times that basketball sound is generated by a strange kind of middle ground of energy hitting that front bass drum head. It’s not a lot of energy, it’s over resonating and sounding boomy. It’s not no energy, there’s something kind of in the middle, and it doesn’t really allow the drum to speak fully. If you don’t have the option of changing your front bass drum head, or you think that it’s fine. I understand a lot of guys have logos on their heads, things like that, that they’re proud of, so you don’t want to change that. What I would suggest is moving your muffling on your kick drum up to just the front head, and see I freeing up the batter head a little bit will help.
Then the last kind of tip that I give you, is the actual batter head itself. It’s so trendy right now, or I’ve seen it happen so much for people to have these really thick … My example would be like a head made by Aquarian, like the SuperKick II Heads. Those heads are just so thick. When you have a really thick head, you have to think about … To get back maybe to a different analogy for this. Think about how thick a head is, being like if you’re trying to bounce on a trampoline. If the trampoline is really, really, really thick it’s just not going to be stretchy. It’s probably really durable and strong, but it’s not going to be stretchy enough to really get you, let you jump down hard on it and move it, and also get bounced up in the air. Unless you’re like a sumo wrestler or something, and you weight a lot more. If you’re heavier, you can go on a tighter trampoline and still bounce more.
You have to think about, “Okay, the easiest solution to that problem would be getting a new trampoline, it’s thinner. Or getting a new kick drum head, that is thinner.” If you don’t have that option, I would say think about going back to the analogy. If you can’t make the trampoline thinner but you want to still bounce, you need to get some more weight to move that trampoline in order to get the bounce that you want. Maybe you hold a couple of barbells or whatever in your hand, to weigh you down so when you jump on the trampoline you can weight it down more, and bounce more.
That would be like what I would say is, maybe if you have the option, maybe you play harder with the kick drum. Maybe you get a bigger bass drum beater that impacts the head on a larger area, and is heavier. The thing about the trade off that you get when you switch heads, is that with a thinner bass drum head, it’s probably not going to sound as exciting in person as you expect. The head that I mentioned earlier, the Aquarian SuperKick heads, those got really popular because drummers who don’t mic their drums up and hear them come through speakers, they like the sound of those heads because they make you kick drum sound really low, and boomy, and sound like they’re mic’ed up, when they’re not.
Man, personally if I mic that SuperKick head, it sounds like a basketball mic’ed up because there’s just no way to move enough energy and air to get a real sound out of the kick drum. All of that just to say that I have, I’m actually sitting right now at my drum set, or sitting in front of it, I’m not actually sitting at it. I have on the batter head, I’m looking, what’s it? It’s a Remo PowerStroke P3 Clear, and then on the front head I believe it’s an Ambassador, a Coated Ambassador on the front. Those are both fairly thin heads. The Powerstroke P3 batter head is a little muffled, but it’s not a lot. It looks like a Pinstripe basically, if you’ve ever seen a Pinstripe drum head for a tom or whatever. It looks like that.
It’s not super thick, it’s pretty thin, and it’s muffled a little bit. Anyway, hopefully that just gives you a couple of places to start looking if you have this problem with your bass drum. I would also say as I always mention, listen to your drums from the perspective of whoever the person is that’s actually going to be listening to you play. Obviously if you’re practicing at home, that’s just you. Try to get the perspective of the in listener. If you’re playing at church, maybe you go out and listen to the drums in house, if you can have a friend maybe play the drums for a little bit. If you’re at a club, go out front, listen. Have one of the other band members play the drums a little bit. Even if it’s not great, you can get an idea of what it sounds like.
Try to get that perspective on your drum kit. It’ll really open your eyes to some areas for improvement. Or, you might actually find out that your drums sound better than you think they do to the people who are listening out front. Anyway, I hope this helps you today. I’ve got a lot more great content coming towards you very soon, and as always check back everyday because this is a daily podcast. I’m doing it because I want you to have as much free, awesome content as I possibly can make for you. Thank you for joining me, and we’ll talk again soon. Bye for now.