Achieving Sound Quality

What does great sound quality mean? Play clean! As a marching percussionist, you hear that all the time, but that’s only half the story. No matter how good your chops, if you don’t play with good sound quality, you will not achieve your goals.

Sound quality is very hard to explain, but essentially it’s the difference between lightly tapping your drum and playing with strength “through the head.” A consistent, strong quality of sound—even at low volume levels—is critical to your growth.

Why? If you are auditioning for your high school or college drum line or are interested in marching drum corps, you should concentrate on your quality of sound. It’s harder to teach than complex rudiments, and it’s harder to achieve than building endurance. So when I audition someone, I’m looking for great sound quality because I know I can teach the other stuff.

Great sound quality will improve every aspect of your drum line’s musical performance. At low volumes you will hear tone from the drum, not just top head “scratches.”

And the best-kept secret of all: Your drum line will be cleaner if you all play with a strong sound. Your ear perceives dirty drumming when two players have a different intensity of stroke even if they are both playing their music in time and together.

How? Good sound quality is not synonymous with playing loud or pounding the drum. It’s about approaching the drum with intensity on each and every stroke, regardless of volume or height.

I recommend lots of accent/tap exercises on one hand, like “bucks.” Start slow and increase the tempo. Ensure that each and every inner beat is PLACED, not dropped in.

It takes a lot of energy to play with a consistently strong sound. Really go after it, and even with mezzo piano or piano passages, attack the drum as if the head is two inches lower then it actually is.

And really seek out feedback. One-on-one time with your instructor is much more vital to improving sound quality than rehearsing with your drum line.

About the Author

Lane Armey is the battery percussion coordinator for Homestead High School in Cupertino, Calif. Over the past 10 years, he has worked with various groups including Northwestern University, Marian Catholic High School and the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps where he was percussion caption head in 2003 and 2004.

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