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How to Make Drums Quieter (without a drum cage)

Kade Young
Kade Young
Chief Audio Guru
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Bonus: Drum EQ Cheat Sheet

Drummers are a wild bunch. And for the safety of everyone in the church, we put them in a cage.

Okay, so maybe this isn't the real reason. But a majority of churches who use acoustic drums put them behind a cage (aka shield) to dampen the sound.

Is there a better way to lower drum noise?

My church was renting a facility that changed ownership and the new owners told us it was time to move out. Our only choice was to go mobile and meet in a hotel conference room until we found a new space.

Up until this point, our drummer was behind a 6-foot plexiglass shield with sound absorption panels behind the drums.

When preparing to go mobile, my goal was to simplify and make setup as easy as possible. The last thing I wanted to do was haul a huge plexiglass fort in and out every week.

So, we ditched the drum cage.

But, we were in a small room and had to do something to lower the sound of the drums. I headed off on a Google expedition and began the trial-and-error process of finding a new solution.

Step 1: Use different drum sticks.

The best sticks if you need things super-quiet.

I came across Lidwish Solutions Classic Ultra-Tones Sticks, thought they were weird, but decided to give them a shot.

When handing them to my drummer, she wasn't impressed. But I talked her into using them anyways. Here's what happened:

  1. They cut the acoustical volume more than half
  2. They bounce almost as good as regular drum sticks
  3. The drums sound just as good mic'd as they do with regular drum sticks (after adjusting the gain, of course)

But, there were several things we didn't like about them.

First, it's tough to get used to how light they are. Secondly, cymbal hits don't sound very good. On top of this, they come from Hawaii and it takes several weeks to get them. And they are quite easy to break, so you better order 2-3 at a time.

Even so, if you need super-quiet drums, these sticks might just be the best solution for you.

Here’s where to buy them →

The best-of-both-worlds sticks.

On my Google adventure, I also stumbled upon drum sticks that use multiple wooden dowels grouped together. My drummer was a bit more open to these and here's what we found.

  1. They don't quite cut the volume in half, but there is still a significant drop
  2. They bounce almost as good as regular drum sticks
  3. The drums still sound good mic'd
  4. They feel pretty close to regular drum sticks

Really, the only downside is that they don't last near as long as a regular drum stick. Considering the wooden dowels are fairly small, it is easy to beat them up. Just plan on replacing them every 1-2 months.

Our favorite is the Vic Firth Steve Smith Tala Wand (Sweetwater).

Another good option is the Promark Hot Rods (Sweetwater).

Step 2: Dampen cymbals with a bit of gaffer tape.

While mobile, our drummer behaved well uncaged. So when moving to our new facility, we decided to keep it that way.

We are still using the Tala Wand, but because every room is different, we ran into an issue with the cymbals being too loud. Now, moving is expensive, so there was no budget to try new cymbals.

Instead, we purchased several types of tape and let the testing begin. Under the cymbals we tried balls of tape, long lines of tape, different kinds of tape.

The best sounding dampening came from using a one-inch piece of gaffer tape under the cymbal near the bell.

Here's the gaffer tape we use

cymbal with gaffer tape

Step 3: Use sound absorption panels when possible.

The last step is to put sound absorption panels near the drums where it makes sense.

We have sound absorption panels behind the drums that blend in with the black wall. We also plan to hang them on the ceiling over the drums.

This helps capture any excess drum energy before it leaves the stage.

You might also be interested in: DIY Sound Absorbing Panels for Churches

Step 4: Communicate with your drummer.

Even with all this in place, you need to communicate with your drummer if things get too loud.

If you have ever been behind a drum set, you know how easy it is to get excited and start over-playing. Most times, you don't even realize you are doing it.

That's why communication needs to be open between the sound tech and the drummer. No hard feelings, just open, honest and specific communication.

For example, "Hey drummer, love the energy! Just need you to be a bit lighter on the crash cymbals."

Things to Consider

If you are not using in-ear monitoring, uncaging the drums may not work.

For example, although the solutions above dampen the sound significantly, the drums still may be too loud for a nearby vocalist who is using a floor wedge for monitoring.

In this case, you can always upgrade to in-ears, and here's how to do it on a budget.

Don't forget to adjust your drum mix.

When using different sticks, your drum mix will change significantly. You'll need to readjust the gain and maybe even change up EQ and other audio processing.

Here are my best tips for creating a great drum mix

Bonus: Drum EQ Cheat Sheet

21 Comments

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21 comments on “How to Make Drums Quieter (without a drum cage)”

  1. The root of the problem is lack of skill. Drummers need to learn how to play with dynamic control; how to play to the room, environment that they're in; being a part of the band, which they can never achieve if they are in isolation. Everything else, screens, iso rooms, and "less noisy" accessories, are all band-aids and don't cure the problem.

    1. I totally get what you are saying, Doug (most drummers do need to learn control). But, I currently have one of the most controlled drummers I have ever had the opportunity to play with. Problem is, our room is small, and even when control is used, drums are too loud. Of course, until we employed the techniques outlined in this post.

    2. I have a jazz background in drums, I was taught at an early age to play soft with dynamics. And that is fine for jazz ballads. But when you play with an electric guitarist who is playing contemporary rock sounding tunes, the drums don’t have the punch and the tone, especially the crash cymbals. You hit a crash with those sticks and it’s “ Ding” very frustrating to have to play like that. I did it for years. The drum booth is the best way to get full tone out of the drums and cymbals. But that doesn’t mean you still don’t play with dynamics. Why don’t you put foam tips on your guitar players fingers too. Lol

  2. We had the same problem in our church. My drummer is very good but very loud. We had a cage for the longest time and it just never sounded right. Micing drums and then processing that energy is a skill in of itself. I found it very difficult to get a balanced sound from the drums. There always seems to be one part that is either too loud or too soft, or too boxy, etc. I never thought I would consider electronic drums. Our church decided to take the plunge and I did my due diligence. I originally was looking at the Roland TD series but the one we liked and demoed was out of the budget. I stumbled on the Alesis Strike Pro that came out a year or so ago and that one was more feasible. I called like 50 drum places close to me to try and demo one but no one had it. We just decided to order it and see how it went with the ability to return it if needed. I have to say I am blown away with the quality and the ability to customize every little thing. These drums have changed the entire sound of our worship. You can hear every part of the set and its pleasing to the ear. This also helps to run a quiet stage. Almost everyone has in ears so we can control how much drum we want. Electronic drums have come a long way and after a few weeks of tweaking settings I can’t tell the difference between an acoustic drum set and this electronic one. I would highly recommend electronic drums.

  3. Hello!

    We recently uncaged our drums as well, and with lots of tweaking things are going great. We switched to a DW acrylic drum set, and it cut the sound significantly INCLUDING the snare, and still has a great tonal quality. It actually sounds better than the custom Risen kit we had. We did something similar on the cymbals but muted the top with moon gels.

    My question: Can you please either post or send pics of where you put the gaff tape on the cymbals? I want to try that, too.

    Thanks! - Winter!

    P.S. I agree that drummer control is important, but I also think they're high yield for a reason. Just like how tube amps really sing when you're pushing the tubes, your drummer needs freedom to have a dynamic range.
    I think too often we look at the old-school jazz drummer as an example of how to be quiet, when that's not always the style we're looking for. Quiet rock drums are almost an oxymoron.
    But I'm sure someone out there is the exception to that.
    This concludes my 2 cents 🙂

  4. Thanks for putting these articles together Kade! I’ve been the staff guy trying to corral the volunteer drummers, and also been the drummer behind (or not behind) the shield, so I definitely identify with both positions.

    The steps and ideas you laid out are absolutely some great ones (and in most people’s grasp since buying new cymbal kits or special heads is often out of budget).

    Thanks again for loving your team and the broader church community by sharing in these ways!

  5. Hi, Cade! Appreciate your posts! I agree with Doug...I've been teaching drums/percussion for over 40 yrs now and play with my church's worship team. There's no replacement for learning one's craft (of course, I say this with extreme predjudice!). When you take into consideration all the points Doug made, it all comes down to personally controlling your instrument, not having it controlled artifically with electronics (except, of course, setting the overall volume level of the entire group in a larger setting).

  6. I have played acoustic and electronic drums for decades and currently use a Roland TD10/50 hybrid and love it as does my praise and worship team. However, I often use a hybrid of acoustic and electronic drums when playing in musicals. Of course, dynamic control is important, but being able to let loose without worrying about overpowering the group is equally important. If you are not receptive to playing on an electronic set, consider using acoustic drums and Zildjian electronic cymbals since most of the annoying excess stage noise comes from live cymbals. I have used Hot rods and similar sticks and they really do cut down on the volume but the cost can add up fast. Consider making them yourself with appropriate sized dowels found at your local hardware store.

  7. FYI, Many years ago, Im old, we had the pleasure of hosting a worship seminar at our church. Mike and Terry Kinard put on the seminar. Mike was a former drummer for the Imperials., along with being a session drummer. This should tell you how old I am. On Sunday morning Mike played drums for our worship service. He was right behind me on stage. I was leading worship. I was 6’ in front of the drum set. Mike showed us the a drummer can play with dynamics while still holding back a bit. But the one thing that made a huge, and I mean huge difference was the cymbals that he was using. They were thin. Very thin. The level difference was….huge. Our drummer, an 80s rock drummer was so impressed he went out and bought all new cymbals. If there is a drawback to thin cymbals, you cannot whale on them. They will crack. But with a little self control they will do the job.

  8. I'd held the drum chair in our Praise Band since 96. We started out with putting my drums behind a shield and playing with hot rods. It was not a great solution for tone quality but it controlled volume. Then in 2005 we decided to bite the bullet and move to electronic drums. The big advantage was the ability to control volume. I gave up a lot in playabiity (the ability to use ghost notes effectively and subtleties like nice cymbal swells). We're now on our third E-kit and with each iteration the kits and modules have gotten exponentially better. We're now using a Roland TD-50 which offers me the same articulation and playability as my acoustic kit while still giving us the sound control.

    When we first moved to e-drums I was not particularly happy but I had to keep in mind it's not about me, its' about leading worship. And if something I'm doing (or not doing) is distracting the congregation from worship then I'm doing something wrong and better change.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ron! You are right, it is not about us but about leading worship. I can definitely see how electronic drums would be the best solution in certain case scenarios.

  9. Kade, thanks for all the knowledge and wisdom you share! I've gained many things from your posts.
    I actually lead from drums, so I've spent many years overcoming these issues because being in a cage or even behind a shield was simply not an option for me. My goal is to create a youtube series discussing what I've learned, but here are a few big things.
    #1: IT DOESN'T HAVE TO SOUND LIKE THE ALBUM. What we listen to on the radio was recorded in a studio where playing volume was basically not even a consideration. Tone was the number one goal. So translate that to fit your setting. Don't try to make your small room sound like an arena tour. Maybe that means go for a more acousticy feel. I LOVE Shane and Shane's drummer. His snare looks like a tambourine, but sounds like a deep snare. Maybe your space simply isn't conducive to a full kit. Strip it down to a cajon kit. Even practice producing high energy with nothing more than a shaker and tambourine. I come across artists like that all the time on instagram.
    #2: Playing technique. I spent my early years in a rock band, but I also played a LOT of time playing at a local church's monthly Gospel singing playing with much older musicians, and then studied jazz in college. Those settings/genres helped me develop wide dynamic abilities. A huge part of your tone, no matter what instrument you play, comes from HOW you play. We've all seen the guy with the best gear still have the worst tone, and the guy with cheap gear somehow get amazing tone.
    #3: The right gear. The biggest help in lowering volume is lowering "perceived" volume. Translation: attack. Probably the most common drums are made with birch wood which is the worst for churches because it has the most attack. Also, of course, cymbals. Aim for darker lines of cymbals like the K Custom Darks, Heartbeats, etc. You mentioned gaff tape. That's a great tip. I like to use DrumTacs cut in half. That way I can remove them or reposition them between settings/venues. There are several options available now, but here's the setup I've put together. Gretsch Catalina Club Jazz kit (mahogany wood has very warm tone with little attack. I get compliments all the time on how surprisingly good the 18" kick sounds.). The smaller sizes also allow me to bring everything closer together which helps with basic laws of physics...the further you have to go in s certain amount of time, the faster you have to move (velocity) which translates to volume. Coated heads on top AND bottom for even warmer tones and less attack. A fuzzy beater on the kick, and instead of wooden hot rods, I've discovered Vater Whips with wooden handles. Much more durable than wooden dowels, great feel, and the wooden handles allows for cross stick action! 🙂 Finish it off with some cymbal baffles I had cut at a local plexi shop for targeting specific trouble spots. I've also just started using a Telefunken M80 as my vocal mic. Loving the results.

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