Playing the drums has one major downside: they’re incredibly noisy instruments.
That’s great if you’re rocking a crowd. Not so much if you live in an apartment and you don’t want to catch hellfire from your neighbors.
Here’s an interesting fact: The average drummer playing an acoustic kit generates roughly 110–120dB of sound. If that same person hits a little bit softer (just 10dB less), to the innocent bystander they’ll appear to be playing half as loud. Pretty incredible, right.
Therefore, a slight dampening has a huge effect on the perceived sound that’s generated.
As you’re about to find out, with a few simple interventions you can reduce the volume and make your drum kit quieter. In this article, we share the best solutions – and some surprisingly easy (and free) ones – so you can practice in peace.
Here’s what we cover:
1. Mesh Heads
Most acoustic drum heads are made of mylar. A popular option for reducing volume is to simply switch them out for ones made of mesh (Incidentally, electronic drums use the mesh material).
Back in the day, mesh heads were only manufactured as single-ply units and many musicians found that they stretched and needed replacing frequently. Nowadays, tough 2-ply and ‘near-indestructible’ 3-ply versions are available and prove to be super hard-wearing.
You can loosen and tighten them to get the perfect level of stick bounce too. For example, if you’re a hard-hitter, you’ll probably need a looser setting, whereas if you play more gently you’ll want to tighten it up.
The verdict: If you want to retain the sound of your kit, but just play less loud, they’re a great option. The trade-off is you’ll have to live with switching them out for your mylar ones when you want to play loud.
2. Mute Pads
Drum mutes are soft rubber pads that you fit to the top of your heads and cymbals to give you a ‘manageable thud’. If you don’t want the pain of switching out your heads, try these.
The main benefit is convenience. You simply stick them on and voila! reduced sound. The downside is that mutes take away the natural tone of your kit and won’t feel as authentic as the mesh versions.
Mutes also take some extra effort to hit because the rubber itself is very dense, so you lose a fair amount of stick bounce and recoil. Playing them takes its toll too, increasing the likelihood you’ll experience aching wrists after playing them for a while.
The verdict: We love the fact that mutes can be lifted off your kit as soon as you feel like playing full blast and assembled much faster than mesh heads. They are relatively cheap too. The downside? The rumble from the rubber still produces a noticeable thud as you hit them.
3. Low Volume Cymbals
Cymbals, by their very nature, are noisy by design. Of course, you can muffle the sound with rubber mutes as we saw above, but that takes away a lot of the natural character of the sound.
The solution? Fit some proper low volume metal alloy cymbals that, according to the manufacturers, produce an 80% reduction in sound thanks to the tiny holes in their surface (which gives them a much smaller mass). They still feel pretty much the same to play and have a similar tone to a standard model.
Some manufacturers even make special pickups such as the GEN16 direct source pickup, designed to recognize the sound produced by these low volume cymbals.
The verdict: Because low volume cymbals are super responsive, unlike those that use mutes to reduce noise levels, they are a great choice for the serious musician who wants to develop their intricate playing technique.
Another way to reduce drum volume is simply to change the sticks you use. Larger, heavier sticks produce more force and vibration per hit than thinner, less weighty versions. If you’re using chunky sticks, purchasing a pair of Vic Firth 7A’s is a good place to start, or you could try swapping your sticks for a set of rods, brushes or ‘bundle sticks’.
However, remember that thinner sticks won’t last as long as a set of thick, tough sticks, so be prepared to have to replace whatever you choose more frequently.
You’re not only limited to sticks, either.
Rods: much quieter than sticks because they are mostly made of foam, with a thin wooden lining and therefore don’t apply as much impact per hit.
Brushes: techniques like rolls become a little trickier with brushes, but if you persist your technique will likely improve as you rely on your wrist and finger muscles to lift the brush, rather than the force of the rebound. If you choose to use brushes, go for a retractable set, as these are less flimsy and produce a little bit of recoil, to help you along the way.
Bundle sticks: literally a bundle of tightly held birch dowels sticks that offer a decent alternative when sticks are too loud and brushes too soft.
The verdict: Alternative sticks, rods, and brushes are worth experimenting with and will make you a more versatile player in the process.
5. Bass Drum
The bass drum is the loudest part of the kit and cuts through the most so its make sense to focus on reducing its volume over the rest. There are a few ways to do it.
For a start, you can deaden it by removing the resonant head.
Another obvious way to reduce volume is to use a fluffy beater (see above). Most often a full-size kit will use a plastic, wooden or metal beater. A fluffy beater will soften the blow.
The low-tech solution is simply to fill the drum cavity with a couple of beach towels. This somewhat crude solution will give you a punchy thud (see pic below in soundproofing section).
6. Toms and Snare
First up, use your wallet. Yes, the thing you carry in your back pocket may be used to lessen the overtones on snare and toms – though it’s a good idea to use a bit of duct tape stop it bouncing around. You might not, however, want your wallet on full display at gigs, or may find it difficult to keep it from moving about.
For a relatively cheap price, you can pick up one designed for the job which lets you go from muffled to wide open with a flick of your stick, even during playing.
Second up, you can buy a substance called ‘moongel’ that you put on lay on the surface of your heads (at 12 ‘clock at about 1/2 inch from the hoop) which helps you control overtones and resonance. You can also put this stuff on cymbals and resonant heads.
Another low-tech solution: Beatles rhythm man Ringo Starr used towels for muffling drums, especially over the top of toms as you see below.
Another obvious solution to noise reduction is to soundproof the room your drum kit lives in.
Kit location: First up, make sure your kit is somewhere away from any windows, as glass does next to nothing when it comes to prevent sound leakage.
Room furnishings: furnish the room with thick carpets (or a rug designed for the purpose) as well as curtains, and add plenty of sound-absorbing furniture such as sofas to absorb the vibrations. Buy specialist sound-isolating curtains and for the walls, use sound-absorbing material as well as door seals you plugging every little gap.
Inner room: if you’re playing in a large room, build a separate ‘inner room’ and use soundproof panels as you see in the pic above.
Riser: to deal with vibrations traveling from the kick pedals, bass, and floor toms consider investing in or making your own drum platform riser with blocks of neoprene rubber or similar material. Risers are raised areas of flooring that diffuse the noise that travels downwards through the floor.
Suspended ceiling: If you really want to go the extra mile, soundproof the space above you by building a suspended ceiling.
The mattress trick: Sound travels through closed doors too, hence why many practice studios have extra thick doors to trap the noise inside. That probably isn’t an option at home, so to get around it, stick a spare mattress behind the door and attach some rubber or foam door seal material around the edge of the frame. Not a particularly aesthetic solution, but effective nonetheless.
8. Practice Pads
If you’re fed up with trying to tweak your acoustic kit to make less sound, you could just get some practice pads. Practice pads are made from rubber and designed to feel and play like the real thing, but not make any sound. Single pads or sets arranged on stands to imitate a full kit are available.
Single pads are super convenient and great for travel, as you can practice your ‘stick dynamics’ absolutely anywhere.
Pads arranged on stands, on the other hand, will help you develop limb independence, which you can then apply whilst playing live. They can be folded away after a practice session, so will save tons of space (versus ‘normal’ drums).
The downsides? Well, in terms of playability pads have less bounce than a set of standard mylar skins so will feel harder to work on at first. However, with time and practice your technique should improve as your muscles compensate by getting stronger and more agile.
The verdict: Great if you want to practice technique and willing to compromise on sound and playability (but won’t give you the true ‘feel’ that a full volume kit does). Brilliant if you live in tight spaces thanks to their collapsibility too.
Have a listen:
9. Electronic Drums
The final option is to just bite the bullet and buy from electronic drums (EDs). You get all the benefits of practice pads (EDs are hardly audible and great for small spaces) but you can hook them up to an amp or plug in headphones to hear what you’re playing.
ED’s are not completely silent, and produce a small thud. To remedy this, place thick, foam floor mats under your kit to stop the sound traveling through the floor. Or use special, sound isolation mats or isolation feet on your drum and cymbal stands that help to absorb the instrument’s vibration.
Some manufacturers such as Yamaha make silent kick pedals that use a digital algorithm to recreate the ‘bass drum boom’, which really help reduce your kit’s sound (especially the vibration to downstairs spaces when you are playing above others), without sacrificing the tone you hear in your headphones.
The verdict: EDs are really the ultimate solution: you get to play full blast at 3 in the morning without annoying anyone. The downside is the price. They’re not cheap – but have shot down in price over the last few years.
We’ve covered a lot of techniques here. I recommend starting with the free options such as using a wallet and towels to quiet things down.
Also, improve the environment with the simple soundproofing techniques we show you. If that’s still not cutting it, try switching out your heads with mesh ones, or try some mutes if you really can’t be bothered with the faff of changing them over all the time.
If you’re really sick of trying to mute your kit, just opt for practice pads or go for the creme de la creme solution – a set of electronic drums.
Either way, good luck and make sweet (quiet) music!