How to Play Drum Set Softer is a topic rarely discussed. But if you play drum set long enough, at some point you are going to hear: “You’re too loud – play softer”. Since you can’t just turn the amp volume down, you will need to be prepared for this inevitable situation. The ability to play soft and dynamically balance the ensemble is a must for a working drummer. I have gotten several gigs and call backs over the years primarily because I was able to play with taste and dynamic control. Here are some of the things I have incorporated into my drum set playing:
Set up equipment “tight” for easy – softer reach
Distance (stick height) is a major factor in determining velocity which is the major factor in determining volume. Set up so that there is minimal reach and arm movement. Just look at the drum set configurations of many of the great jazz drummers. Everything is “tight” with minimal distance between drums and cymbals. This allows for minimal movement which aids in controlling dynamics – especially softer.
Down size and select appropriate equipment
Go with smaller drum sizes. Go with smaller and thinner cymbals. This is why I have 4 different drum sets and different cymbal sets. See: Drum Set Cymbal Recommendations. It is easier to maintain articulation and clarity on smaller drums and thinner cymbals. Also, carefully select drum heads that you can control at soft dynamics. Generally, I use single ply heads but tone control and double ply heads also work to reduce resonance which is a factor in playing at a softer volume. See: Aquarian Drum Heads.
Simplify patterns and fills
There is a reason there is a “soft” pedal on the piano. Rapid passages are difficult to play at soft dynamics. “Less is more”. Simplify fills – sixteenth notes become eighth notes or quarter notes. Use less bass drum and simplify timekeeping patterns. Remember that “volume” – especially softer – just became more important than complex musical passages.
Sticks, rods or brushes
I have added a pair of Vater Bebop 525 sticks in each of my stick cases. See: Drum Set Stick Recommendations. It is easier to play softer with less stick weight. Consider using a smaller diameter and maple rather than hickory sticks. I never use rods as a substitute for sticks. Rods do not sound like sticks. If you want the sound of rods then use rods. But not as a substitute for sticks. Brushes are always an option. But again brushes do not sound like sticks. Use brushes if you want the sound of brushes. The challenge is to play softly with sticks.
Practice playing soft
This takes commitment and discipline. Rather than try to play patterns or fills faster and faster, spend some time trying to play them softer and softer. I think most drummers focus on tempo (speed) in their practice rather than dynamic (volume) control. I am guilty of that far more often that I care to admit. Consider devoting time to practicing all those exercises at soft dynamic levels. It just might get you a few more gigs.
You may also want to see: Drum Stand Memory Locks