Is there any rule / recommendation on how to play the notes dynamically, following the marks from ff to pp on a snare or other drums?

For example, if mf is hit from approximally 6 inches height, f would be at 8; ff would be the hardest stroke, and pp would be ghost notes, letting the stick drop from about 1 inch distance, etc.?

I'm currently following the Kleine Trommel (Snare Drum) book and am wondering how to approach the dynamics marks.

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    Drop height is irrelevant unless your sticks are in free-fall. One would hope they aren't! :-) Jun 7, 2017 at 12:21
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    @CarlWitthoft, would you mind to elaborate on that? I find the distance to be an important element. Still need to see a loud stroke from a 1 inch distance. :) Jun 7, 2017 at 13:45
  • Drop distance is probably a good way to "calibrate" your dynamics as well as meter. However, the stroke type as well as dynamic output depends on how much your muscles drive the stick and hold the contact time. As an extreme counterexample, I've seen some rock drummers in famous bands hold a stick above their head & bring it down in a slow, exaggerated movement -- clearly the 4-foot "drop" doesn't create an fffff in this case. Jun 7, 2017 at 14:11
  • @CarlWitthoft There is a dynamics technique for drums where the concept is that the sticks should be allowed to fall on the drums and the dynamics are controlled by how high you lift the stick before letting it fall. A positive consequence is you don't have to use muscles as much on the downstroke, a negative consequence is you have to predict/calculate the fall time so the stroke will land at the right time. It's not necessarily the right way to play but it's valuable to learn. Jun 7, 2017 at 18:15

4 Answers 4


Dynamic are relative, rather than absolute. Several past questions have revealed interesting answers.It couldn't be portrayed in inches! Sticks, drums and the player himself would make that subjective, let alone the room and its acoustics!

It is down to the player to decide and play accordingly, but it's really good that you are aware of dynamics; so many other drummers are too: fff...

  • The volume level of the drummer's playing should always reflect that of the other players. I think pp/mf/fff etc., are somewhat like the 'tempo' signs - lento/andante/allegretto etc. They're merely guidelines to give a feel. When you start playing with others, the academic side of volume will hardly be considered, you'll hopefully match your volume and dynamics to what's happening at the given moment - provided you're using that skill that not all drummers have - listening - and I'm not being funny.
    – Tim
    Jun 7, 2017 at 14:43
  • @Tim, I hope I get what you are saying. But to go a step further - if someone puts p on a sheet, then they expect you to play softly. But softly compared to what exactly? I'm pushing on a string here for the sake of getting that extra bit of knowledge and understanding. Jun 7, 2017 at 20:26

ƒƒƒn is as loud as you can go, pppn is as quiet as you can go.
The distance the stick needs to travel to achieve either of these is irrelevant.

If you can make the guitarist blink from 3" off the skin, you've got one end of the scale.
If the audience thinks you stopped hitting the skins you reached the other.

Everything else is in between.

If you're playing with a single acoustic guitarist singer/songwriter & no-one has a mic then everything you do is going to be compressed towards the ppp end of the scale.
If you join 'Ultra-Mega-Killer-Death' as their new time-keeper, you may never need a p again [I'm sure I could have phrased that better]

If you ever break a stick, you're playing too hard, which is not the same as loud. Loud is technique, not aggression. Aggression may form part of the musical style, but if you're playing with a 30-piece jazz orchestra rather than mega-ultra-whoever-they-were... then you need technique.

I had 20 years out from playing drums. When i came back to it I was rusty as all heck. Not a beginner, but I couldn't do half what I thought I ought to be able to.
I honed back in over about 3 months [many solo rehearsals, long hours] & I found the thing that got me best into the old feel was just playing along to 'records'... CD, cassette, iPod, take your pick - using 2 methods.

  1. With headphones - this way you can immerse yourself in the song you're playing & just enjoy it. If you crank the cans up loud enough to feel like a rock gig, you can hammer away to your heart's content.

  2. With speakers - you need a sizeable rig to overpower a drum kit in a rehearsal room, so this is your opportunity to drop the levels & work as though you're a member of a living orchestration. You have to control your levels so you can still hear what the others are doing. You're still playing the same part, but you have to control your dynamics & not overpower what you're playing along to, or you'll no longer be able to hear sufficient of it to keep in time with a track that won't wait for you.


There are certainly 'rules', as expounded in several methods such as the one @Alen Siljak quoted. They are a useful part of drum technique, but not the whole story. You 'bounce' the stick off the drumhead. But it's an 'assisted bounce', not just free-fall.


The answer I was looking for is more along the lines of what is described in Percussion Guide for the Beginning Band Student, Lesson Six: Dynamics / Height of Stick.

It states that there is a clear relationship between the stick height and dynamics. It is not the only method but it is the best one, and the easiest to start with.

Generally, playing forte is done from ~5 inches distance and piano from ~2 inches.

Another useful reference is John Riley's The Master Drummer, where he clearly states a relationship between the volume and the stick height.

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