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I am gonna play a gig with an acoustic band (flute, saxophone, cello and digital piano) without any mics or speakers. I will be drumming along with them. The idea is that we play smooth jazz and instrumental covers of pop songs. The latter will involve quite a lot of drums and I am wondering for ways to make my drums more silent but I want to be able still to put lots of energy in my playing, to get the right feel. I am especially worried about the loudness of my hihat. Any ideas? Would a digital drumkit solve this problem? Or should the speaker be too loud for overpowering the sound of hitting the digital drums?

Thx a lot!

  • "to make my drums more silent but I want to be able still to put lots of energy in my playing, to get the right feel" - how exactly do you envision that?! Patrick has a good answer below in regards to energy. That is what you project. If, on the other hand, you want to play strong/powerful but have low volume, that just makes no sense. You can still have a decent dynamic range even if playing pp to mf. – Alen Siljak Feb 5 '19 at 10:10
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Using Hot Rods would help a lot:

enter image description here

They feel a lot more like using drum sticks, than using brushes, but are much quieter. (I'm a big fan of getting "enthusiastic" young drummers I work with to use them, especially in small rehearsal spaces!)

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  • But that leaves the kick drum as another problem – Stijn Janssens Mar 15 '16 at 13:30
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    Put a couple of large pillows in it. – Bob Broadley Mar 15 '16 at 14:37
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I'm just going to add on to some of the already decent answers here. In your head you need to separate the idea that playing with energy means playing loud. Intensity and energy can happen even at very soft dynamics. But most importantly, I'm not sure you're asking the right question, it sounds like you want to find sticks or techniques that allow you to play your default heights and bring the volume down mechanically through implements. I think what you need to do is adjust your mentality and decide that you can continue to use whatever implements you have and just play softer with the lighter accompaniment. Just keep in mind that while you're playing the gig, if you can't hear them you're not balanced. You should be able to easily take musical cues from them while they listen back to you for tempo.

All your drums and cymbals are able to to be played at softer dynamics through deliberate choice, not only through different drumming techniques, tunings, or stick choices. So play softer with any amount of energy you choose and you'll be fine.

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With smooth jazz drumming the key is to play silent but technical. If you are worried about overpowering the band, try using sticks that are lighter, it makes the cymbals have less sustain.

I would suggest some 8A sticks, regal tip or nylon tip. As you can see the 8A series are practically made for jazz. They are a significantly lighter stick and are practically made for drummers in the same situation as you.

enter image description here

In reference to the kick drum issue, try to play heel down technique. Alot of drummers are taught to play heel up due to making a better and more sustainable sound to get more tone. When you play heel down it gives less power to the pedal thus giving the illusion that you are playing quieter but yet you are putting the same amount of pressure on just with less power and drive into the pedal.

enter image description here

With the high hat problem, keep it closed and refrain from opening it up as much as you usually would. It will get rid of the sustaining of the sizzling issue and it will not be as loud.

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There are some good answers for managing volume if you must use an acoustic kit. However in your question you also asked about an electronic kit (I'm not sure why they don't call them digital). I know you mentioned the absence of mic or speakers, but also mentioned a digital piano which means you will have speakers for the piano.

I have a band that plays classic rock, pop, and country music in small venues. I have used four different drummers and all of them used an electronic kit. For whatever it's worth, all the kits were made by Roland, but I understand Simmons makes some really good electronic kits as well. The venues we play (resturants and bars seating less than 100 people) require relatively low volumes. Whenever I watch other bands in these same venues that have an acoustic drum kit, folks complain that the volume is too loud because the rest of the musicians have to turn up their volume to be heard above the drummer.

The technology in electronic kits is continuing to evolve and drummers tell me the makers of these kits are getting better at replicating the feel of an acoustic kit. The main advantage for a drummer using an electronic kit is that you don't have to hold back and can put your full energy and velocity into your drumming - while controlling the volume with a volume control knob. I can tell that when a drummer tries to play softly on an acoustic kit, it seems to interrupt their rhythm or impede there technique and they are not as smooth on the fills and transitions and faster runs.

For amplification you can use a specialized electronic drum monitor. These are tuned and designed specifically to accurately reproduce the full range of sounds found in a full drum kit. Many have separately amplified woofers for the kick drum plus high range tweeters for the cymbals as well as mid range for the toms. You can position one of these so that the audience can hear it as well as you do. Most also have headphone jacks.

Depending on how your digital piano is amplified, you may be able to input your drum kit into that system. My drummers plug into my PA system and we EQ their channel for optimal sound of their kit and adjust the volume so that it can be heard in the overall mix without overpowering. One of my drummers brings his own drum monitor as well - and in other bands he plays in sometimes uses it as a standalone amp for his drums and does not go into the PA at all.

It might take getting used to the feel of an electronic kit (or V kit as they are sometimes called), but it is certainly an option for managing and fine tuning the volume without having to hold back your energy. Plus you can plug in the headphones and practice at home while others are sleeping or watching TV.

They work great for recording too - you don't have to worry about getting multiple mics positioned just right. You have individual volume control over every drum in the kit. One more nice feature - you can literally have 100 different sounding kits in one. Need congas or timpanis - no problem - just select them on the console.

I have included a picture of a monitor specifically made for V drums below.

Simmons Electronic Drum Monitor

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  • The reason that we don’t call electronic drum kits “digital drum kits” is that the first electronic drumkits were not digital — they were analog synths. – Simon White Mar 18 '16 at 5:32
  • @SimonWhite Ahhhh - that's the reason. Thanks for enlightening me. I have noticed that many of these electronic kits are now being called V-Drums I guess short for Virtual Drums. – Rockin Cowboy Mar 18 '16 at 8:12
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A common way to solve this is to have a drum shield (often made of plexi glass) in front of the set to stop some of the sound from reaching out.

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  • I have thought about this too, but I fear that due to sound reflection on one hand and sound blocking on the other hand, I will not hear other band members and hear myself really loud :/ – Stijn Janssens Mar 15 '16 at 10:53
  • Sound reflection could be reduced by putting up some woolly blankets or something at the lower part in front of the set. As for you hearing the others, maybe you could sit on the side of the others, so that the shield only stops sound out to the audience. – awe Mar 15 '16 at 11:03
  • So you're saying the plexi around the kit, blanckets inside the plexi and open to the side. Seems legit, but the flutist or the cellist will complain about not hearing themselves probably... – Stijn Janssens Mar 15 '16 at 11:08
  • I think you just have to try out, and see what works best for you. The ideal would be to mic up the others and have a monitor for you, but I guess that is not an option since you said "without mics and speakers"? – awe Mar 15 '16 at 11:30
  • I am afraid already of the price for plexiglas haha we are amateurs and we do the concert by ourselves. Sadly but nope thats not an option – Stijn Janssens Mar 15 '16 at 11:31
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The items in the previous post I call bundle sticks, which is a good option, but I think they are still pretty loud. How about regular jazz brushes? These are VERY quiet. I have also put masking tape on the cymbals and the hi-hat cymbals as well. Using a pillow for the bass drum is a good idea.

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