Thursday, February 19, 2015

How To "Voice" A Drum

Sounds exotic, but voicing is just a style of tuning a drum. Whenever we tune a drum, we try to get even tension at every tuning lug. Voicing -- a.k.a. ‘tap tuning’ -- goes a step further by micro-adjusting the tension.

Begin with an evenly tensioned drum tuned to your desired pitch. Then put the drum on a soft surface -- I'm assuming a double-headed drum here. (Your drum stool might be ideal for this, and if you loosen the seat mounting screw, it will serve as a swivel table). Putting the drum on a soft surface eliminates the bottom head from the process and brings out the overtones in the accessible head. For a single-headed drum, put it on a carpet.

Now the interesting bit. Place a fingertip lightly on the centre of the drum head and tap the head about 1 inch from one of the tension rods. You'll get something of a 'ping' sound. Then -- keeping that finger in the middle of the head -- tap the tension rod's neighbour. Is it the same pitch? If so you can move on. Otherwise tension the rods until both spots ring the same pitch. Continue around the drum, back and forth between lugs, until all the lugs are voiced correctly. You can then flip the drum over and repeat on the other head.

The voicing process is not always necessary, but for a temperamental drum it can be just the thing to tame the sound. The technique will work on any drum, and it’s easy to do and easy to replicate.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

On A Roll

How many types of drum roll are there? Most people would say 2 or 3, and for practical purposes this will work. But there are several distinct types of roll, all of which can be useful.

Single Stroke
This is not just a type of roll. Often it's the core of everything we do. Simple ‘RLRLRLRL’ can go a long way, but to technically be classed as a roll it's best played quickly on a single drum and drawn out for a bit.

Double Stroke
A.k.a. the long roll or ‘mama dada’ roll, this one calls for two distinct strokes from each stick. It’s also the basis of a host of short rolls. It sounds simple enough, but a good long roll is not that easy to find, though there's not much call for it in popular music.

French Roll
Whether of French origin or not, this one simply adds another stroke to the long roll, i.e.: Rrr Lll Rrr Lll. Playing three clear stroke with each hand takes some practice and, like the long roll, it’s not seen much outside of drum clinics and show-off moments.

Buzz Roll
There's some confusion over this one. The buzz roll is played by deftly pressing the tip of the stick into the head slightly and producing a smooth, clear, controlled buzz sound. So bzzz/bzzz/bzzz/buzz. There should be no gaps between the strokes, resulting in a continuous, even roll. Also called a press roll and, wrongly, a closed roll.

Scratch Roll
At best it's an interesting accent; at worst it's an unpleasant noise. In this case the sticks are forced into the head to produce an abrupt ‘bzzzt’. Depending on the context, it can be an indication of creativity or a sign of bad technique, and no way to do a buzz roll.

Whipped Cream Roll
My personal favourite (for the obvious gustatory reason) this is a standard buzz roll, but instead of moving the sticks up and down, you execute a circular motion as if whipping cream in a bowl. When well done, it produces a wonderfully clean and elegant roll. And it looks pretty cool.

Chatter Strokes
This is a specialized type of buzz, usually played with a single stick on the snare. The idea is to play a buzz, but with very distinct notes, perhaps 4 or 5. Very popular in New Orleans ‘second line’ drumming and blast beats.

These basic rolls require a lot of practice to master, and it will be time well spent. Well-executed rolls can really spice up your playing.