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I've seen quite a few drummers put (duct) tape on their snare drums. Why do they do it? Does it reduce volume or change the tone? Can you use it for other drums, eg toms, as well?

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It's because duck (not duct) tape is like the Force: it's got a light side and a dark side, and it holds the Universe together. As to whether drummers use the Force for good or evil I leave to the listener. – Carl Witthoft May 15 '14 at 11:46
6 Interestingly, it started as duck tape, became known as duct tape due to its use in assembling and repairing ducts, which led to the generic name falling out of use and allowing someone to trademark Duck tape for a particular brand of duct tape. – chepner May 15 '14 at 15:01
up vote 27 down vote accepted

It reduces volume, but usually the desired effect is to remove excessive ringing. If you listen to the snare on the St. Anger record by Metallica, you'll hear the type of sounds some drummers want to mitigate with the use of tape or other dampers.

This technique can be used on toms too. There it's usually not the high pitched ring of the snare, but lower frequencies that cause problems. There are damper rings and special gel manufactured for this purpose too.

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+1 for the St.Anger reference (it sounds like a trashcan!) – Benjamin Todts May 14 '14 at 14:39
If you listen to the snare on the St. Anger record by Metallica you'll hear exactly the sound that Lars and the rest of Metallica wanted to achieve ;-) – noonand May 14 '14 at 16:48
While I don't see evidence in the video of actual dampening, a lot of drummers prefer the sound of these toms (SOAD, Toxicity) to these toms (Bastille, Pompeii) - notice how much ring there is to the toms in Pompeii in the chorus, and especailly at 1:02. They don't even ring out by the time he gets to hitting them again sometimes... – corsiKa May 16 '14 at 19:09

I'll add pictures to precise the answer of Meaningful Username ;)

This is more for sound mitigation :


This is more for tone control (to reduce some harmonies) :

Tone control

Since this answer is appreciated, I'll add that some drummers prefer (and advise) to use gaffer instead of duct tape to avoid adhesive residues. Duct tape uses natural adhesive where gaffer tape uses synthetic adhesive.

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They have rings that you can just set inside the snare rim that achieve similar results. – Robert Harvey May 14 '14 at 20:28
True: gels, rings, patches, internal or external... Lot of possibilities, I'am not enough experienced to make a difference though. I think it is especially important for recording. Tapes were used by old drummer (like Alex Van Halen) and are still used for two reasons I think : it's cheap, and you can tune your snare/toms just by adding/moving pieces of tapes. – JoeBilly May 14 '14 at 21:20

It is an attempt to control the ring or sustain of the drum. However, this can be accomplished with proper tuning techniques as well. Bob Gatzen did some fairly creepy yet informative videos on the subject. Play with your tunings! It's amazing what different sounds you can get from a drum with proper tuning.

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Short answer: Lessen sustain and rid overtones.

Two of my friends add duct tape on their drums to shape the tone of the toms (for a mellow sound), but never on the snare (poppy sound). Without the tape, the sustain of the toms was way too long for the small area we record in. The duct tape acted as a cheap damper. However, I personally like the sound of Evans E-Rings more than duct tape.

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