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Your Drums Are Dead: This Is How To Revive Them

Ready to resurrect your lifeless drum kit and bring it back to life? Say goodbye to boring beats and hello to a rhythm that's alive and kicking with these expert tips!

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André Kirchner 09 Mar 2023

As a sound engineer, I've seen it all when it comes to drum sounds. From lifeless thuds to ear-piercing clangs, there's nothing worse than a dead drum sound. But fear not, my dear reader, for I'm here to help you revive your sound and turn those dull thuds into vibrant thumps. In this article, I'll break down the technical aspects of drum tuning and show you how to optimize your kit for maximum impact.

The Anatomy of a Drum

Before we dive into drum tuning, let's take a moment to understand the anatomy of a drum. You very well know: A drum consists of three parts: the shell, the drumheads, and the hardware. The shell is the wooden or metal frame of the drum - shaping the actual tone/sustain of the drum, while the drumheads are the skins that cover the top and bottom of the shell - responsible for most of the attack sound of the drum. The hardware includes the hoops, tension rods, and lugs that hold the drumheads in place and do have influence on the sound, too. 

Understanding the very anatomy of a drum is essential for tuning and optimizing its sound. Each component plays a crucial role in determining the final sound of the drum, and understanding how they interconnect acoustically can help you achieve the desired sound.

Why Your Drums Sound Dead

Really, they sound dead - don't check now. Here's why:

  • Cheap Set
  • Incorrect drumhead selection
  • Poor tuning technique
  • Damaged drumheads or hardware
  • Damaged sticks
  • Poor microphone placement
  • Very bad drumming
Understanding those reasons and developing an actual awareness (like a checklist that you are going through, whenever someone hits a snare) is crucial for identifying the problems with your own sound - and for finding a solution. By also addressing each of these issues within practicing sessions, you can optimize your drum sound and achieve the desired sound.

Cheap Set

It's as easy as this - You cannot achieve a high-end drum sound for your production, when the set does not fit at least the basic qualifications. Cheap instruments come with diseases such as poor sustain, poor transparency, poor overall sound. This comes naturally by the materials that have been utilized for constructing that piece of shell - so if you don't want to sound like trash or produce NuGrunge, better look up for some decent drum set on Craigslist or eBay. It is 110% worth it!

Incorrect Drumhead Selection

Drumheads come in various sizes and thicknesses, each with its unique sound characteristics. Choosing the right drumheads is interestingly important for achieving the sound you want. If your drums sound dead, it could be because you're using the wrong type of drumheads, cheap quality, or they are just overplayed. Drum heads do have an end of life - when you see that first bump its lifespan is technically over. Especially for recording purposes.
In regards of types: Thicker drumheads are better suited for heavy-hitting music, as the dampen the hit in balance to its power, while thinner drumheads produce a brighter, more lively sound with a full sustain. If you're unsure which drumheads to use, consult with a music store expert or friendly sound engineer for guidance. There is a trillion products - and the expensive stuff does really sound better. Sorry.

Poor Tuning Technique

Tuning your drums really is an art form. It requires patience, practice, and a keen ear. If your drums sound dead, it could be because you're not tuning them correctly. Poor tuning technique can lead to an uneven tension across the drumheads, resulting in unwanted overtones or buzzing.

To tune your drums correctly, use a drum key and tune each lug evenly. Start by tightening the drumheads until they are just snug and then work your way around the drum in a crossing manner - place your thumb in the middle and apply some pressure - there should not be any wavy pattern on the surface while tightening the screws. Give the heads tiny hits close to the lugs and compare the pitch (you want to go for an even pitch all around). Try to go by small adjustments to each lug until the drum is in tune.

Damaged Drumheads or Hardware

As mentioned: Damaged drumheads or hardware can also affect the sound of your drums. If your drumheads are dented or torn, they won't produce the right sound, no matter how well they are tuned. Similarly, if your hardware is loose or damaged, it can cause unwanted rattling or buzz. We have had racks breaking in the studio - power drummers with rusty hardware are not really promising.

Inspect your drumheads and hardware regularly, and replace any damaged parts as soon as possible. This will ensure that your drums sound their best and that you're getting the most out of your kit.

Dampening Your Drums

Sometimes, your drums may produce unwanted overtones or ringing, even when they're in tune. In these cases, dampening your drums can help to control the sound and produce a more focused sound.

There are several ways to dampen, including using specially designed drum rings or gels. You can also use household items, such as duct tape or cloth, to get rid of unwanted overtone. Experiment with different dampening techniques to find the one that works best for your sound.

Pro Tip: Try a newspaper - in fact any 3-4 layers of paper will do and place them on your snare drum, maybe fixate with some tape. Now experience the ultimate sound of the 70ies. Go disco or try some laid back soul tunes. Nice, huh?

Adjusting Your Drum Kit

The positioning of your shells and cymbals can indirectly also affect the sound of your kit. Experiment with different drum and cymbal placements to find the sound that works best for your playing style. This does also very much address the playing - drums need to be in line with the technical and anatomical capabilities of its player.
For example, moving your set closer to the body can create a tighter and more focused sound, while moving it farther apart can create a more open and airy sound - because the hit is just different in angle and power. Adjusting the height of your cymbals and drums can also affect the sound, so be sure to experiment with different heights to find your sound.

Experimenting with Drumsticks

The type of drumsticks you use can also affect the sound of your drums. Heavier drumsticks produce a fuller, more powerful sound, while lighter drumsticks produce a brighter, more delicate sound. Drumsticks with plastic tips might give you a little extra crisp or ping. Broken Drumsticks on the other hand sound numb and often produce tiny splinters that will drive you crazy when vacuuming that studio.

Experiment with different types of drumsticks to find the sound that best suits your playing style. Remember to consider the type of music you play and the sound you want to achieve when selecting drumsticks.

Recording Your Drums

If you're recording your drums, there are several things you can do to optimize your sound. Make sure your drum kit is set up correctly, and experiment with different microphone placements to capture the sound you want.

At least try to use high-quality microphones (maybe not the singers cheap vocal mic) and preamps to capture the full range of your drum sound, and sure consider adding compression or EQ to enhance the sound. Experiment with various miking techniques like the Decca Tree, AB stereo, Blumlein, or capturing each and every drum in various angles and from the top and bottom - start listening and identifying issues to the sound. E.g. Crosstalking is a matter of genre - while important to have clean, separated drums in a NuMetal production, it is not necessarily that good of a sound approach in Jazz music.

Remember to mix your drums in context with the rest of the music to achieve a balanced and cohesive sound.


In conclusion, reviving a dead drum sound requires a combination of technical knowledge, patience, and experimentation. By understanding the anatomy of your drum kit, identifying the causes of dead drum sound, and optimizing your drum sound through careful tuning, dampening, drumstick selection, etc. you can achieve a sound that truly reflects your idea of sound.

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