The Volume Wars
There’s a war being waged on Sunday mornings. We’re not necessarily talking about an eternal battle between good and evil … although that may depend on who you ask! We’re talking about the battle between drummers, sound techs, and the congregation. As if drummers don’t already have it tough — what with all the gear we have to lug around and set up — we also have to deal with the constant flak we get for playing too loud. Churches across the world have long been a training ground (and a battleground) for drummers, so how do we navigate these treacherous waters while keeping everyone happy?
While the source of all the noise may seem to be obvious — and most would point to cymbals as the culprit — the solution is not so simple. Thus we often see drums shoved into back corners of the stage, placed inside plastic boxes, plastered with goofy sticks or dampeners, or worse, churches going fully electronic!
Don’t let it get you down. There are ways to tame the volume beast and win the war of the faders. This coming Sunday, consider the following options, so you can get back to concentrating on playing the music rather than worrying about your cymbal volume.
“The power to keep the peace between you, the sound tech and the congregation is quite literally in your hands! Yes, it’s true: stick size — and what you do with those sticks — definitely matters.”
(Stick) Size Matters
The power to keep the peace between you, the sound tech and the congregation is quite literally in your hands! Yes, it’s true: stick size — and what you do with those sticks — definitely matters. First and foremost: we cannot emphasize enough that the best tool to help control the volume of your cymbals is you. No matter what kind of cymbals you play, they don’t make any sound until you hit them. We’re not suggesting radical changes in your stick size or playing style, but simple tweaks like keeping your elbows in and using more of your wrists will not only help keep the volume in check, they’re also fundamentally sound.
And while we are big fans of using smaller sticks in challenging situations, we’re certainly not suggesting you go out and buy toothpicks. If the sticks you’re using are TOO small and light, the reduced weight may cause you to overcompensate and overswing. So if you normally play with a 5B, try using a 5A when cymbal volume is an issue. You’ll soon find that the combination of improved technique with smaller stick size is a powerful one in winning the volume battle, and will set you on the righteous path to healing a multitude of self-induced dB sins.
“…if you use in-ear monitors, make sure you add some room mics to your mix so you can get a better feel for the overall room sound. If your cymbals drown out everything else, it may be time to tone it down.”
Turn up the Feedback
One of the best ways to determine how your cymbal volume is perceived in the hall is simply to ask. After all, it’s the sound engineer’s job to make sure the sound in the room is well balanced, so maintaining a clear line of communication between the two of you is crucial. And bonus if you know other drummers or musicians who attend your church. They’re also a great reference source for how your cymbals fit into the overall sound. We guarantee they’ll be only too happy to help you out. In truth, between the sound tech, other musicians in attendance, and even the pastor or choir members, there is no shortage of qualified people you can ask. The only catch is, you must be willing to LISTEN, and more importantly, you must be willing to make adjustments.
One last point: if you use in-ear monitors, make sure you add some room mics to your mix so you can get a better feel for the overall room sound. If your cymbals drown out everything else, it may be time to tone it down.
Turn down the Frequency
Ultimately, the challenge with cymbal volume in smaller venues comes down to frequency. This is a fact that has not been lost on the mad scientists at SABIAN. It’s the reason that thin, dry cymbals with fast decay and low pitch don’t produce loud, harsh high-frequency sound, even when you hit them harder. And so, because most of the issues with cymbals in small venues come down to frequency, the mad scientists at SABIAN set out to find a solution.
Eventually, their spirit of innovation led to a manufacturing technique that enabled them to cut certain frequencies – specifically those frequencies that result in the perception of volume and attack. Once those frequencies were cut, the new cymbals sat perfectly in the mix, no matter how hard they were played. In fact, listening to a set of FRX being played in a band situation – whether you stand in front or behind the kit – you get a sense they’ve been perfectly pre-EQ-ed.
One last point about frequency: it’s important to understand the distinction between FRX and low-volume practice cymbals. FRX are not designed to be practice cymbals – they are intended for professional playing situations where cymbal volume can be a challenge. In fact, they are almost custom-tailored to fit the needs of church and house of worship drummers!
As most church drummers know, we devote a great deal of time and energy taming our kits. But all that damping-masking-gelling-muffling-taping only takes us away from what we love to do best: playing the drums! Use these 3 techniques to get back to PLAYING your drums and worrying less about cymbal volume!
Sound-sensitive venues and cymbals don’t always play nicely together. Before you start messing with your kit, try these three key techniques:
- Use smaller sticks with better form
- Read the room, ask for feedback
- Try SABIAN FRX frequency reduced cymbals
Now get off the internet and back on your kit!
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