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In college we had a conductor who really like deep, resonant bass drum sounds (think movie explosions). What are some ways to get more oomph out of a concert bass in a live setting?

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  • There is a story of noted British percussionist Gary Kettel being asked by a conductor how to get more tone out of a bass drum. He scratched his head and finally said: "Well, maestro, you could tell 'im to 'it it 'arder".
    – Laurence
    Apr 8, 2015 at 10:47
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    Get a bigger, more resonant drum?
    – phoog
    Aug 10, 2022 at 6:58

3 Answers 3

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You need to measure the primary frequency your drum puts out, convert that to a wavelength, then set your drums that distance or half that distance from a sound-reflective back wall. Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-20 or 5-10 feet for the half distance. A fourth of that distance (which is unfortunately a more likely location) will actually create corresponding anti-noise, the opposite of what you are hoping for.

Lets say the primary frequency of your decay is 52hz or Ab. That gives us a wavelength of 6.555m or 21.5 feet. Setting your kick drum 10'9" away from the back wall will double your resonant volume, and provide some nice phasey reverb for the shorter and longer frequencies. Sit 5'5" from the wall, as drummers often do, and you're cancelling your own volume with the sound reflections.

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Do you want more ring or oomph?

If you want more dark, deep, resonant, legato, ringing sounds.

  • Make sure you're just off center (just 1-2 inches from center).
  • Use a softer, larger beater.
  • Use a glancing blow. (Using a lot of arm and playing THROUGH the head. Don't bounce off the head like timpani or snare drum.)
  • Use a calf head on the bass drum as opposed to a synthetic head.

If you want more OOMPH, staccato, marccato, short sounds.

  • Perhaps play directly in the center (with CAUTION. It is possible to break a calf head like this.)
  • Use a harder, smaller beater.
  • Keep using a glancing blow.
  • Use a good amount of muffling with a towel on the knee and perhaps your left hand on the non batter-side head.
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One technique my college band used, since we were using electronics anyway, was to mike the drum and play it with an extremely soft beater so as to minimize the ictus. Then, with amplification, you can adjust the volume up very high so that the resonant boom caries well.

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