by Cary Nasatir
I am often asked at my school clinics "how does one control the dynamics in the percussion section?" The answer is not easy but here are some actions you can take right now to bring down the volume.
First let me say it is my belief that the percussion section is no louder than the trumpet section of a concert band. Now let me acknowledge that I hold a minority view! Much of the clatter and volume excesses can be handled by simple adjustments to the equipment in the section. The snare stand for instance is often a hidden culprit. If you are using a stand designed for a drum set, it is too short. When a stand is too short, this often forces the percussionist to play with the sticks higher off of the drum. This can be as much as 15" or more, which you have to admit, is pretty darned hard to play ppp passages. Use an extended concert stand such as a Ludwig LM923SSC or Pearl S-1000LS and raise the snare to the player’s waist. Position the drum flat. This should bring the sticks within a playing range of about four inches for perfect dynamic control.
Next, check the snare drum itself. Is the drum head the correct model for your ensemble? Double plied tom tom or marching heads are too heavy and not correct for band or orchestral use. Use a medium coated single ply batter head such as an Aquarian Satin Finish, an Evans Genera G1, or a Remo Ambassador. These heads are the correct weight and thickness to give you a perfect timbre at any dynamic level. Make sure the head is tuned fairly tight and responsive. A saggy head does not activate the wire snares which makes the drummer instinctively hit harder to get the snares to "speak." By the same token, over-tightening chokes the sound and creates a weak response, with no depth or darkness to the tone. In a school environment, I suggest changing the head at least twice a year. Heads should be changed immediately when dimples, cuts, or pin holes appear, as they can
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