The Science Of Sound: Understanding Acoustics For Drummers

Posted by Mike Schumacher

Acoustics is the science that deals with the physics of sound. A lot of what we know about acoustics comes from observations in music. For example, we know that certain notes can be hit together because of the difference in vibration frequency.

Drummers have a special point of interest regarding acoustics– how the sound is produced on the drum. How you strike your drum can drastically change the tone or pitch of the sound. The shape and material of your drum also play a part in how it sounds.

How you position your drums can also affect the sound produced. Changing where you place your drums relative to other instruments and even other parts of the drum itself can change what it sounds like. How you tune your drums also changes how they sound- a little tip from us there!

This article will dive into some more specifics about acoustics and how they relate to drums.

Amplitude

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

The term “amplitude” refers to the size of a vibration. The larger the amplitude of a sound, the louder it is. The smaller the amplitude, the softer it is.

Acousticians measure amplitude in several ways. One way is to measure the maximum displacement of a surface caused by a sound wave. Another way is to measure the voltage or pressure caused by a sound wave.

Knowing about amplitude can help you understand how our ears perceive sounds that are of similar volume but have different amplitudes. For example, if you sing a note and tap a drum at the same volume, our ears would perceive your singing as being louder because it has greater amplitude than the drum does.

Understanding amplitude can also help you as a drummer when playing beats and fills. By having better control of your sticks on the drum head, you can increase or decrease the amplitude of your hits.

Frequency

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

A frequency is how many times a specific phenomenon happens in a given period. In the case of sound, a frequency is how many times air pressure changes occur per second.

Frequency is measured in Hz, or cycles per second. One cycle is one up and down movement of air pressure. The higher the frequency, the more often these cycles happen in a second.

Cycles can be bigger or smaller, so even though some frequencies are smaller than one second, all of them count as one cycle.

A lower bass sound has a lower frequency and takes longer to play one cycle than a high treble sound which has a higher frequency and takes less time to play one cycle. Both have the same number of cycles per second, however.

Bass drums typically have deeper pitches because they have lower frequencies (take longer to play one cycle).

Phase

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

Phase refers to the timing between two sounds. Sound is a wave of pressure exerted against the ear and then interpreted by the brain.

Drummers encounter phase most frequently when playing alongside other drumset players or percussionists. When both players are playing the same rhythm, but with different drums or sticks, the sound waves must align in order to produce an effective sound.

When one player is hitting a drum or percussion instrument earlier or later than the other player, you will hear a very different sound. One will be heavier than the other, and one will have more emphasis on certain beats. Both can work depending on what type of rhythm you are playing!

Remember that all drums and percussion instruments have their own sonic quality due to their size and material.

Resonance

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

A note played on a musical instrument will not sound like the same note played on another instrument unless they are in the same key. This is because of the differences in size and shape of the instruments.

Resonance is the quality of a sound that allows it to be sustained, repeated, or repeated at different pitches. Resonance is caused by the vibration of air molecules within a certain space.

Drumheads are very similar to musical instruments in this sense. The thickness and type of drumhead you use can affect how long a note is sustained, how it sounds, and how it resonates.

Thinner drumheads have less vibration and resonance because there is less material for air molecules to bounce off of. Thicker drumheads have more of both due to more material to vibrate.

Sound is vibration

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

The concept of sound is one of the most fundamental concepts in our daily lives. We interact with sounds every day, sometimes more consciously and other times more subconsciously.

Drummers use the term “sound” quite frequently, referring to the noise produced by the drums. When a drummer tests a drum or head combination, they are really testing the sound that will be produced.

The quality of sound has several components: volume, pitch, texture, and time duration. All of these components are related, as one influence the other. For example, a low pitched drum will have a longer time duration for each beat, thus having more texture due to this length.

Acoustics is the scientific study of sound.

The impact of sound on us mentally and physically

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

Beyond understanding how sound is created and manipulated, drummers should also consider the impact that sound has on us as humans.

How we hear is a pretty big deal. It protects us from danger and alerts us to opportunities. It can inspire and motivate us to take action or to simply relax.

Drummers are no exception! The way we play can totally relax someone or make them feel excited or stimulated.

The way we play can also influence how others play. If you are in a band, consider how your drums sound and how you can enhance that sound for the better of the whole band.

Acoustics also plays a role in this. How your drums are set up and what materials you use to construct them can affect the sound they produce.

How to improve your drumming acoustics

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

Understanding drum acoustic properties will help you play better. The way you strike the drum, what drum you play, and where you play can all be influenced by acoustics.

How you strike the drum depends on what sound you are aiming for. If you want a softer sound, use less force when striking the drum. If you want a louder sound, use more force when striking the drum.

The type of material your drums are made of affects their sound. Plastic drums will have a different tone than wooden drums, for example.
If you are playing in a small space or a studio setting, it may be helpful to add some extra noise suppression to reduce unwanted sounds from escaping the room.
As far as where you play, if you are in a loud environment then it is helpful to have some noise suppression so that your own music can be heard.

Use resonant surfaces

The Science of Sound: Understanding Acoustics for Drummers

A drum can have a significant impact on the sound that is produced when it is hit. The shape of the shell, thickness of the shell, and material make up all influence how sound is produced.

The shape of the shell can influence what sounds are emphasized and discouraged. For example, a drum with a circular shell will produce more resonance in the high pitches than a drum with an oval or oblong shell.

The thickness of the shell influences how much sound is discouraged. The thicker the shell, the less resonance it will have. A thicker shell may be more desirable for down toned music where less resonance is wanted.

The material makes a difference as well. Different materials have different acoustic properties that influence how sound is produced. For example, using aluminum in a drum reduces the overall resonance and dampens sounds, making it more desirable for some music styles.

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