Concert Bass Drum Performance

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an interactive discussion/demonstration

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Presented by Bill Cahn

Concert bass drum performance practices:

Concept 1: Setting up the bass drum

a) place the bass drum in a suspension cradle or on a cushioned stand;

b) remove unwanted rattles or noises (from the drum and the stand);

c) if the bass drum has calf skin heads, check that the backbone (thicker line) on the playing head runs from 2- o’clock to 7- o’clock through the center.

Concept 2: Tuning the bass drum

before playing:

a) ‘clear’ both heads (tune at each lug to the same pitch), working from opposite sides (i.e. on a 12-lug head tune the following pairs in order: 1-7, 4-10, 6-12, 2-8, 5-11, and 3-9);

b) normally, tune the resonating head roughly a major-second higher than the playing head;

c) on each side of the drum, bring the T-handles into exact alignment with each other;

d) the drum heads may need re-tuning depending on weather conditions:

* in damp weather the heads may need to be tightened,

* in dry weather the heads may need to be loosened;

e) normally, a resonant and full (not dampened) tone is desired on a concert bass drum (THINK TIMPANI), unless specifically indicated otherwise in the music, or by the conductor;

f) Tune for the best tone as often as necessary.

while playing:

d) place the left hand on any T-handle and leave it there; with the right hand start at the T-handle where the left hand is resting and go around the head turning every T-handle in order no more than one half-rotation (180Å¡); in the event that your attention is diverted you will have two references for checking how evenly you have tuned (the starting T-handle at your left hand, and the alignment of the T-handles).

Concept 3: Striking the bass drum

a) normally, use a direct stroke (THINK TIMPANI);

b) the normal beating spot is at about 10- o’clock, about one-third of the distance from the edge to the center of the head (THINK TIMPANI);

c) normally, do not play in the center of the head (or, in the case of a calf skin head, on the backbone) because the tone will be much less resonant;

c) normally, use felt beaters appropriate to the size of the bass drum head.

Concept 4: Muting/Dampening the bass drum

a) use a felt or wool muting mit when dampening or ‘shading’ the tone;

b) normally, do not overdampen (knee dampening is not normally required);

c) normally, the mit can be used only on the playing head, allowing the resonating head to provide a fullness of tone;

d) dampen the resonating head with the (non-playing) hand, if necessary.

© 2001 William L. Cahn

8740 Wesley Road, Bloomfield, NY 14469 USA

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Cobrun Sells
7 years ago

I have found a good tuning for a 36″ drum is to tune the fundamental to Eb1. In fact, I believe it is better to tune a bass drum’s fundamental pitch to the pitch that matches the rest of the ensemble most of the time. If an ensemble plays in Bb, F, Eb, or Ab often then tuning the fundamental of the bass drum to Eb1 suites the entire ensemble. Cavaliers Drum and Bugle are known to have tuned their 40″ front ensemble bass drums to the fundamental pitch of E1 (first partial at C#2) for many seasons. However, with… Read more »

Cobrun Sells
7 years ago
Reply to  Cobrun Sells

Sorry, I meant the 2nd partial (a major 6th above the fundamental).