There are many tried-and-trusted, homemade ways to dampen or mute a drum kit. Have you ever known a drummer who stuffed a pillow inside the bass drum, stuck duct tape on the tom heads, secured snares with electrical tape, or draped dust cloths over the skins?
Even professional drummers have been known to use these home remedies for common tone problems. Young drummers still marvel at the rich, deep sound of Ringo Starr’s drums in Beatles’ recordings. Starr was known to dampen and mute his drums by tuning them low and by using muffling devices such as tone rings and, yes, dust cloths.
Today, drummers don’t have to raid the cleaning closet or basement workshop to find drum mufflers. Elegant and effective products can be found for any muting requirement, whether a drummer is looking to cut over rings and overtones (high frequency resonance that can plague an unsoundproofed room); control tone or volume to blend with a band; or play quietly.
For the over ring problem, tone rings and felt dampeners are available, although their effectiveness is limited, and sometimes they create new problems. Tone rings, which fit around a drum head rim, can rattle, and devices that secure dampeners can buzz. A better option is a high tech dampening gel—such as Vater BuzzKill, Drum Gum, or MoonGel—that can be applied and reapplied many times.
For true muting—that is, quieting a kit without losing any of its tonal character—drum manufacturers have developed muting pads and tabs. Usually made from neoprene rubber, these come in presorted packs for drummers who have a standard configuration kit. For drummers with vintage or unusual kits, pads can be bought separately or even cut to size.
However, a set of drum mutes may not be the best option for quiet play in an “unplugged” gig or jam situation. In these cases, quiet sticks may be needed. In the past, wire brushes were the only quiet stick commonly found, but now plastic “rakes” and “rutes” made either with wooden or plastic dowels are popular. Many rakes and rutes can be used with hand percussion, too, a good ergonomic alternative for percussionists.
Hard rubber practice pads that fit over drum heads have offered near silent practice for drummers, but with a drawback—they don’t offer the same response and feel as a drum kit head. Again, science has come to the rescue. New micromesh practice pads now offer near silent practice with genuine response.
Space age gels have become drummers’ friends thanks to their strong self-adhesiveness and open cell construction, which captures, absorbs, and redirects overtones and over rings. Look for muffling gels that stick no matter how hard you play, yet can be moved, molded, or cut to size depending on your tuning needs.
Try This: MoonGel MG4 Damper Pads
Most drum manufacturers now offer durable, nonslip rubber muting pads for the entire drum kit, including the bass drum, hi-hats, and cymbals. These pads can be purchased as a set or individually. If you have a standard drum set, look for presorted muting pad kits.
Try This: Vic Firth Drum Mutes
Modern technology allows for practice pads to double as drum mutes, without losing any of the real response of a tuned drumhead. Micromesh practice pads are particularly versatile. Look for mesh head practice pads that can be used anywhere on their own or attached easily and securely to your drum set for silent play.
Try this: Pearl Mesh Practice Pads
Changing sticks is another option for muting drums. Sometimes regular sticks are too loud, yet brushes are too soft or not right for the music. Other alternatives include rutes or rods and specially designed quiet practice sticks made of thick wood or plastic. Several makers also produce plastic “silent” tips to put on the end of traditional sticks.