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Here’s part 3 in our ‘What to buy next’ series: Drumming Upgrades There are also quite a few other things drum related we could invest in. Things which aren’t necessarily part of our drum set, but which could have a profound impact on how we play. Or how we will be playing. Sounds interesting? Aight, keep reading then!

Click here if you want to know more about drum set additions – Part 1

Click here if you want to know more about drum set upgrades – Part 2

When we move our instruments to play gigs and rehearsals we need to protect them. I know, you would rather buy a new snare or a nice cymbal. You’ll do that next time, first things first. Look at the bright side. You just have to buy good protective gear once. After that you can buy as many snares and cymbals as you want. Let’s check them out one by one.

    1. Drums (including snare drum) – You have a five piece kit? Then you need a five piece protection set. There are basically two flavors.
      • Hard cases – These range from relatively inexpensive to pretty darn expensive. This depends on the quality of the material the cases are made of, how much time went into the process of creating a perfect fit for our drums, the way drum cases are customized etcetera. But they all pretty much get the job done.  
      • Soft bags – Soft bags are also a good option. Some even prefer them over hard cases. The padded ones with a thick layer of foam on the inside can stand quite some abuse. I personally prefer the hard case though.
    2. Cymbals – The same goes for the cymbals really. The difference is you don’t have to have a case for every cymbal you have. Just one large one will do. Or two if you carry and play a large collection of cymbals. Again, there are basically two options.
      • Hard case – A number of companies make these cases, including cymbal makers themselves. There’s not much to be said about these, other than this is an excellent solution to keep your cymbals safe.
      • Soft bag – There are some really heavily padded models on the market. In my experience these work really well too. I would not put too much cymbals into one bag, but that’s me. A dear friend of mine who drum teched for Simon Phillips was flabbergasted by how Simon treated his legendary 1979 24” Swish Knocker. I would put any China type cymbal into a padded cymbal bag because it needs special protection because of the shape. Not Simon. All of his cymbals (not too softly) go into two large soft bags. And he almost never breaks a cymbal. In fact, that 24” Swish has been travelling with him for almost four decades like this.
    3. Hardware Part 1 – First let’s take care of our cymbal and snare stands, tom holders, multi clamps etcetera. The sturdy portion of our hardware. This might not need too much protection. But the other gear needs to be protected from these. And it’s also a matter of convenience, you don’t want to be picking up each stand individually. Again we have a choice of hard cases or bags. I really like the hard cases for hardware, but they can get quite heavy really quickly. So if you’re going to be loading and unloading on your own you might want to opt for a couple of soft bags. Quick tip: Always divide the weight between two bags so you can walk balanced as much as possible.
    4. Hardware Part 2 – There are a few pieces in particular which need decent protection of some sorts.
      • Bass drum pedal – This really should be transported in a separate bag or case. There are many delicate parts on a bass drum pedal which need to stay in top shape so you can’t afford busting these up. Many pedals are sold including a case which will make sure you can enjoy them for decades to come.
      • Hihat stand – First of all, before transportation, always remove the rod. This is what’s the most delicate about the entire stand and which is most responsible for having a smooth action on your hihat stand. There are really two ways to protect your hihat stand. The first would be to get a separate case of bag. Some hihat stands come in their own soft bag which is fine if you can find a nice place in the van where it’s not buried underneath a pile of other hardware or large cases. The other one is to put it on top of the hardware case with your cymbal and snare stands. As long as this is kept horizontally nothing much can happen to it, so this is my preferred way of transportation.
    5. Stick bag – This is an indispensable piece of gear for drummers. Because you don’t want to be carrying your sticks around all day long. And you certainly don’t want them flying around in the back of the van either. So get a nice stick bag in which you can carry everything you might need at the gig you’re going to do. The cheaper ones are fine, but you can get some luxurious models as well.
    6. Flightcase(s) for the entire kit – A few of my friends have invested in a flightcase for their entire set. This way only the cymbals and cymbal arms or stands have to be taken down. This reduces setup and breakdown time dramatically. There are some minimum requirements though.
      • Steady gig – You have to play a minimum amount of gigs with one band and one crew.
      • Transportation – This only works if there’s a truck present for every gig. You typical band van won’t suffice here.
      • Venues – This only works if this band plays bigger clubs at least.

This is not the sexiest of categories. But all of these make you play better in some way so they are sound investments.

2.Earplugs

I don’t think the importance of having good quality earplugs can be overstated. Protecting your hearing is the single most important thing every drummer should be concerned with from the get go. And every teacher should point out the importance to every single student, period. But there’s much more to it than this. Earplugs don’t just reduce the noise coming into to ears. They also filter and color the sound. This is why it’s also important to get ear plugs which have good quality filters. Having said all of this I now realize this should be the next topic for the blog. I’ll start working on that right after this one 🙂 Let’s quickly examine the options based on budget.

  1. $15 – $40 – Universal earplugs. These used to be okay for beginners. In recent years they’ve become a lot better and some are actually quite good and when treated well will last for a few years. So protecting your ears well doesn’t have to be really expensive anymore.
  2. $40 – $150 – Custom made earplugs. These are made by making a mold of your ears so they fit your ears perfectly. Because our ears keep growing our entire life, these have to be replaced every five years or so. I’ve actually been using mine for about eleven years now so I guess this depends on your experience. The price range can be explained by a few things.
    • The material of which the plugs are made. Wax, silicone, foam, plastic, even metal is used to create earplugs these days. You basically want to make a choice between hard or soft. The hard ones seem to be comfortable once they’re in, the soft ones cause less friction when you have to remove them and put them back in more regularly. In my experience you want to stay away from hard acrylic ones as they cause irritation to the ear canal. This may lead to an inflammation also known as the (auditory) meatus inflammation. Nothing to be too worried about because it passes from just stop doing the thing which caused it. But you won’t be able to wear earplugs for a week or so and you may want to start looking for different ones after that..
    • The types (quality) of filters being used. As musicians we need to have a balanced reduction of air pressure. Meaning we still have to hear the whole spectrum of frequencies as they are produced. So the quality and sort of filters being used is absolutely crucial. Don’t simply trust the manufacturer’s word, ask fellow musicians which they prefer and why.

If you’re not ready to spend serious money on earplugs just opt for a decent set of (half) closed headphones. Pay close attention to how your ears react to the sound though. If you experience a ringing noise afterwards you’ve not protected your ears. Do this better next time before it’s too late and you start suffering from hearing loss (tinnitus).

3.Recording equipment

Recording gear can be the best thing you’ve ever added to your drum set. I think this can actually be viewed as an addition as well as upgrade. But I guess it’s more of an upgrade because it doesn’t actually add sounds. What this does for you is give you a very good understanding of how others perceive your playing. You’ll be recording your playing and listening back so you have a more objective image of what it you sound like in reality. As a bonus, because you’re getting into this side of playing and producing yourself you become much more aware of how your playing affects everything else in the music. Drummers such as Dave Weckl, Simon Phillips and Gavin Harrison have become both excellent mixers and very well seasoned session players because the two roles can elevate each other. Let’s look at the list of equipment you would need in order to start recording yourself more professionally.

  1. Mics – It starts with getting at least decent quality microphones or mics. Good overhead microphones used to cost a grand a pop, but these days you can get a pretty decent pair for under $100. Don’t expect to be recording Grammy winning performances with them, but they’ll get you going.You don’t have to start with getting them all at once either. If you just start with getting a decent pair of overheads you can start recording yourself. Many famous recordings of the fifties and sixties had just two mics for the entire set of drums. Heck, some had only a pair to record the entire and at once!
    • Set of good quality mics. If you want to close-mic every instrument you would need the following:
      1. Bass drum mic – The Shure B52, or AKG D112 will do just fine.
      2. Snare drum mic, or ideally two snare mics – One to record the top head (the attack and body of the sound) and one to record the bottom head and snares (ghost notes, snare sound). The Shure SM 57 is the industry standard.
      3. Tom mics – You’ll need as many tom mics as you have toms in your setup. Shure Beta 98 are expensive but excellent in quality and very easy to use. Audix D2’s are great as well and there are many more choices.
      4. Hihat mic – In my opinion you don’t necessarily need one of these. Dave Weckl has done many great sessions without using one. The hihat will get picked up by the snare mics and by the overheads so it’s a little redundant. You will have a little added control but this would be my first pick to save money or to save a channel. If you do want one a Shure SM81 is a good choice and also the SM57 gets used a lot for this as well.
      5. Overhead mics – You’ll need a pair of good overhead mics to record the overall sound of the kit and the cymbals nicely. This is what will tie everything together and create a large portion of the sound as a whole. Most actually start with the stereo image of the overhead mics and dial in the individual mics to add punch, clarity and tone where needed. There are a lot of god ones out there, but they’ll set you back $1500 for the pair easily. I don’t know about you but I buy sets of drums for these prices. That’s why in our studio we just use a couple of decent sounding budget overheads. They won’t sound like a $20000 pair of Schoeps Frank Zappa used to record orchestras with but these don’t break the bank either.  
      6. Subkick – These are low frequency mics used on bass drums to pull out – you guessed it – the low frequencies. Yamaha started making these after someone noticed an NS10 speaker used as a microphone picked up frequencies between 100 and 2000 Hz beautifully. I personally don’t use them but I’ve great things about them so you might want to give them a try.
    • Microphone stands, cables, mounts etcetera – Very important to have good quality stands, mounts and cables as well so you don’t degrade the quality of your mics, drums, cymbal, heads, sticks and ultimately your playing.
  2. Monitors – If you want to make good quality drum recordings which can be used in high quality projects you’ll need to check your output on speakers which give you a very realistic, clean idea of how things sound. The industry standard are a pair of Yamaha NS10’s which are famous for not sounding great, and therefore get the job done. If you get it sounding good on a pair of NS10’s it’ll sound good anywhere.

I own a pair of KRK Rokit 6’s which I’m very content with.

  1. Recording Software/Hardware/Sound card/Interface – This is an important decision to make as this will determine which way all other choices about sound card/interface and computer will go. Let’s start with Pro Tools. This is the industry standard so you really can’t go wrong with it, but it doesn’t come cheap as a software and hardware combo. You also have other top notch software like Cakewalk’s Sonar which I’ve personally been using for years to create MIDI ‘music’ with. There are even some free solutions like Garage Band and Audacity you could try. Something to keep in mind is that while the software may come cheap or even free you still have to get a decent interface to get the audio of the mics into your computer. Try to tackle all of this at once.   
  2. Computer – Once you’ve figured out which program you want to use you should opt for a computer which can safely and securely record your tracks. It’s always nice to have lots of reserve but not absolutely necessary. In our studio we’re currently using a 2007 Powermac. It doesn’t have to do anything besides record eight tracks of drums at once and bounce it as an mp3 while I do other things. So there’s no necessity to upgrade it at this point in time.
  3. External hard drive for backup – It’s a good idea to integrate backing up material into your workflow from the start so you don’t have to worry about hard disk failures. If you make this an external drive you can store it at a safe place when you’re not working so you’re safe from all sorts of harm such as fires, robbery etcetera. I keep a 16GB flash drive with all of my music in MIDI, my books and my lessons at a safe place so if my house was to burn down to the ground and the internet would cease to exist I still wouldn’t be losing almost twenty years of work. A bit paranoid perhaps, but I sleep like a baby!   
  4. Dropbox account – You may also need an additional online storage facility if you plan on doing lots of recordings and over the air collaborations.

So this is one of the most expensive additions to your drum set. But it certainly doesn’t have to be top of the bill all at once. I know plenty of people who get really good results with relatively modest equipment so be sure to invest your time and money wisely. This would be my personal advice to you if you’re new to recording drums. Get some relatively inexpensive decent equipment first and learn how to work with this. Practice both playing and recording as well as monitoring your playing and recording. Oh and don’t be afraid to ask more seasoned players for their opinions and their advice.  

4.Monitoring

Monitoring is (again) another article in itself. I’ll quickly go over some basics so you can figure out if this is interesting for you at this point in time or not (yet). This is about monitoring what we play while we’re playing it. For studio monitoring see item 3.2. When performing live it imperative to hear all the musicians while we play. Therefore we need some form of monitoring. When he was coming up, Dave Weckl used to bring his own monitor to gigs. Simply because he played better it. Nowadays it has become pretty normal for a drummer to not only setup his or her instrument, but also completely mic it, and create his or her own monitor mix to be used while playing.   We used to have lots of monitors on stage so every musician could determine what to add to his or her personal mix of instruments and vocals. There were two significant problems with this way of working:

  1. The musicians had to stay in one place to have their preferred mix audible to them.
  2. The overall volume on stage became unmanageable by the front of house mixer really soon. The louder the band is on stage the less the sound can be balanced, enhanced and colored by the front of house mixer.

In ear monitoring Then in ear monitors or IEM’s were invented. These are quickly becoming the industry standard because of the advantages described earlier. But this means we have yet another gimmick to add to our already quite extensive list of gear. And we have to learn how to play with these as well so practicing with in ears is imperative. The huge advantage to owning a pair is we get to record as well as play live with them. So we can get used to them really quickly. As a bonus we learn more about what we need to hear in order to play as well as we can. Unfortunately these are quite expensive as well. The custom made in ears with one driver per side start at about $500. But if you want wireless in ears with five drivers per side with some manufacturers you can easily hit the $1000 mark. And because our ears never stop growing they’ll need replacing in about five to seven years. Throne thumper or Buttkicker A throne thumper or buttkicker is in essence a speaker which makes your drum stool vibrate. It transforms low frequencies of the bass drum to the drum stool, so you feel what you play, hence the term buttkicker. This is especially nice when playing venues where you don’t hear your bass drum the way you want to. There are a few options out there but if you want the best this is another $1000+ product you will need to buy.

5.Educational material

This is probably the single most important thing you can get to elevate your drumming. I know because when I thought I was playing quite well at age eighteen I entered a drum school which seriously redefined my playing. So basically you can think of drum lessons in two ways:

  1. Studying with one or more teachers either through private lessons or in a music school.
  2. Studying with educational material on your own

Educational material can also be divided into a few categories.

  1. Notes and text a.k.a. Books – I prefer our digital ones as these have many advantages over old physical ones. Just think of items being linked instead of having to flip through pages, or links to audio, MIDI and/or video. But also the option of being updated and upgraded so you never feel you’re studying from an old, possibly little bit outdated book.
  2. Video – DVDs or video courses on the web. There is a lot of great educational material out there. I really like the way we have ours structured for everyone to have a bird’s eye view and never lose perspective right from the start.
  3. Audio – This can be music to accompany exercises or systems, music minus drums or music with drums as a reference to learn from.

Ideally I think this should all go hand in hand. That’s what we have in mind first when designing a new book. This should be (or become via updates in the future) the be all end all educational material on the subject. This is similar to what Jojo Mayer did with his encyclopedia on hand technique. I don’t and probably won’t ever again feel the urge to buy another educational product about hand technique, et alone create one, because this is the definitive work as far as I’m concerned.

6.Computer

This is by far my favorite addition to a drum set. Here’s a quick list of things we as drummers can use a computer for from the day we start.

  1. Listen and play along to music
  2. Watch live music, documentaries or drum lessons
  3. Practice and play to a metronome
  4. Play to or create MIDI loops
  5. Display digital drum books
  6. Email other musicians to start bands, join bands, or enter auditions.
  7. Read the drumming blog on Skillz Drum Lessons – some computers let you read other blogs as well..
  8. Ask questions about anything related to drums and drumming

You can get a computer in the following formats.

  1. Desktop – My absolute favorite to use in the practice shed and studio. This is the most sturdy, and cheapest solution to do anything we need as drummers.  
  2. Laptop – This is a convenient solution to be used in a live situation where you need to do more than just display the set list and tablature. Think of recording something for practicing purposes, or some advanced click track options etcetera. A laptop is also quite convenient because it allows you to write articles while the rest of your family is still sound asleep.
  3. Tablet – This is my least prefered computer because of the limited size and functionality. Some musicians almost can’t live without them anymore though and I guess we’re able to do any of the things mentioned above with it. Just a little less convenient I think so not (yet) for me.

Too many times I have to tell students and particularly parents of younger drummers to set this up correctly right away. This has become such an indispensable tool in music education we are truly robbing ourselves of many, many great possibilities when we don’t make this an integral part of our practice setup.

7.Music

We can divide music into a few categories from an educational point of view.

  1. Recorded music
    • Good quality music to listen to, get inspired and motivated by, and practice and play to.
    • Drumless or minus drums music – Music where the drum tracks have been removed and a click track has possibly been added so we can play the drums ourselves. This way you’ll be actually playing the music as if you were on stage as the drummer of the band. One of the best practicing methods for drummers for sure.
  2. Live music
    • Shows and festivals we can attend to hear the music, see the artists perform it, and feel the vibe and the reaction of the crowd to what’s being played.
    • Recorded live performances. Some of the most informative and influential moments to me have been to watch many, many live performances on television – WDR Rocknacht anyone? Now with YouTube we have clips of virtually everyone right at our fingertips but that’s not the same as watching an entire concert front to back. The same goes for recorded music or albums by the way. There may be some added brilliance to the performance in the dynamics of the song order.

Music is the reason we play drums. Don’t ever forget that. If you want to learn how to play an instrument well, learn how to listen and truly appreciate music.

8.Other instrument(s)

Of course this is a separate topic as well but one of the best things to do for your drumming later on is to start playing another instrument right now. Your technical side of drumming won’t improve from being able to play the piano or guitar. But all musical and/or conceptual aspects will improve drastically without so much as holding a stick. Which instrument should you choose This all depends on taste really. Piano and guitar seem to be really popular side instruments amongst drummers, and of course bass guitar is because of the obvious link to the drums. My personal favorite is the piano as it allows me to do compose quite easily. I also like the idea of doing harmony and melody while playing a rhythm at the same time. But any other instrument will do really.

9.Conclusion

 

This turned out to be quite heavy on words again and I still feel like I haven’t said much yet about any of the topics in here. So I guess I’ll write some more about these in particular. For now I hope you have learned a little about where your focus should be. The main thing is once you have a good sounding drum set and cymbals there are probably other things you could invest in to elevate your drumming.    What are your thought on the subject? Any ideas on the subject? Questions? Experience with IEM or Buttkickers catching fire on stage while robots take over the universe? Let’s hear it!

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