How To Dampen Drums

The effect of Drum Dampening:

If your drum kit produces this ‘ringing’ effect, much like the feedback of a bad sound system, you might need to dampen your drums a little.

This quick guide on how to dampen drums will help you to get started fast.

I’ll explore the following in this article, if you know what you’re looking for, click to skip to the particular section 🙂

P.S. read my latest comparison on the Best Drum Dampeners here!

What is Drum Dampening?

Drum dampening is the process of modifying your drum’s sound, usually done to reduce certain elements of the sound. It can be done by making adjustments to your drum head or to your drum itself.

If you have seen bass drums with a pillow in it, that’s one of the common method of drum dampening. More extreme methods include cutting holes in your drum head (warning, not for the weak hearted).

Drum dampening is also referred to as ‘drum muffling’, ‘drum muting’, ‘drum damping’, ‘drum choking’ etc.

Why Dampen Drums?

Short answer: Fine tuning for specific reasons.

You’ve spent $xxx to $xxxx and hours setting up your drum kit, and then several minutes more tuning it to your desired sound.

So why dampen your drums?!

It doesn’t even make sense! *roar of frustration*

Here’s my way of seeing it:

There’s only so much you can do during drum tuning to get your ideal drum sounds. The sound of your drums will still be affected by the location where you’re drumming and the presence of other instruments.

Drum dampening techniques give you the flexibility to fine-tune your drum sounds depending on your playing environment.

Say you usually play or practice alone in a studio or at home…you’d want a drum kit that is softer. (if not, i’d pity the neighbours)

And then comes a special occasion when you know your neighbours are not around, and you invite your friends over to jam your hearts out. When playing with a myriad of other instruments, you’d want a drum kit that is louder and maybe even more resonant, depending on the other players.

Or, let’s say you’re jamming in a new environment and can’t seem to kill the overtones or the ringing after sound on a kit even after tuning it.

You might want to try using a drum dampener.

If you are a drummer, you’d will find yourself in those common situations someday.

So, let’s explore what you can do to immediately improve the sound of your drum kits by dampening them:

How to Dampen Drums?

There are 3 common ways to dampen drums:

  1. Accompanying drum dampening systems
  2. Selecting the right drum heads
  3. Built-in dampening systems

Let’s jump into the simplest way to start dampening your drums – by using additional accessories or ‘accompanying’ drum dampening tools.

1) Accompanying drum dampening systems

The reason I call these tools ‘accompanying’ is because you have to apply them on top of the drum kit – i.e. they don’t come with the kit.

There are 2 main categories here.

  1. External accompanying drum dampening tools:
    • Tape
    • Paper (with tapes)
    • Drum Dampening Gels like Moon gel, Drum Gum or SlapKlatz
    • Felt Stripes
    • Wallets or just light paper-weights
    • O rings
  2. Internal accompanying drum dampening tools:
    • Pillows
    • Blankets
    • Foam

The reason I split them up is because they work slightly differently.

Bear with me as I go into the details of each drum dampening method below:

i. External accompanying drum dampening tools

External accompanying drum dampening tools are used externally.

Most are placed on top of your batter drum head to dampen your drum.

You can use tape or moon gel to get the same effects of:

  • reducing resonance
  • reducing buzzing from snare drums
  • reducing overtones
  • reducing ringing sounds that last after the original beat

I find myself using these more often in closed environments like in a small room or a small studio.
It’s probably because of how the drum sounds bounce right back at you in these environment.

How do “External accompanying drum dampening tools” work?

Basically they ‘absorb’ the sound energy by making it harder for your drum head to keep vibrating and creating sounds. Your sound waves decay faster and hence resonance, overtones and ringing sounds ‘die off’ faster. It might sound as though the drum sound has been ‘choked’.

*this is how I comprehend the ‘science’ of what’s happening. if there are sound engineers or anyone who thinks its wrong, let me know in the comments!

i) Tape / Drum Dampening Gels

TapeDrum Dampening Gel
Popular brands3MMoongel, SlapKlatz, Vater
Check Latest Pricing

How to use tape or gel to dampen drums

  1. Listen to how resonant your drum is originally and decide on how much you want to muffle it.
  2. Cut 2cm length of tape (you can use the gel direct from the pack) and place it on the edge of your batter head.
  3. Play and listen to how resonant your drum is now.
  4. Adjust accordingly:
how to dampen drums with tape or gel

In general, these are what I’ve observed:

  • Placing tape or gel near edge of drum = less dampening and vis versa. But make sure it doesn’t affect your playing.
  • Less tape = less dampening. Some drummers place a tape on opposite sides of a drum.
  • For slightly more dampening with the same tape, you can make flaps or roll the tape around itself (see image above)

These dampening techniques are usually done on snare drum and toms.
There are drummers who use the “paper under tape” method for bass drums as well.

I usually use it to muffle the buzzing of excited snare wires. The buzzing can get amplified indoors, if your snare wires are sensitive to any vibrations. In bad cases, they will start buzz even when you play the tom that’s adjacent to it :S

Drumeo suggests that tightening the pegs that hold the snare wires a little would help.
But I find using drum dampening gel alone helps in most cases.

ii) Felt Strips

How do felt strips dampen bass drums?

Felt strips work in a similar manner to the tapes and moon gels. However, felt strips are more commonly used for the bass drums.

Felt strips are added onto the drum head of the bass drum.

The amount of dampening is based on the width you use and how you paste it.

How to use felt strips to dampen bass drums

  1. Listen to how resonant your drum is originally and decide on how much you want to muffle it.
  2. For a 22 inch bass drum, you might want to start with a 3.5 inch wide felt strip across your batter head. Make sure you paste it away from where the kick pedal hits the drum head!
  3. Play and listen to how resonant your drum is now.
  4. Loosen the felt strip tension, if you want a slightly longer sustain.

This is how to place a felt strip against your bass drum head:

ii) Drum ‘Weights’

How do drum weights work as drum dampeners?

Drum weights work by ‘pressing’ down on the drum head. The muffling effect is hence, greater.

Drummers on forums have mentioned that you could throw your wallet or a pack of cigarettes on the drum and get a decent muffling effect.

But I find that mine tends to slide and create additional vibrations / undesired sounds. (or, maybe my wallet is too heavy)

I tend to avoid this. But you can give it a try and use it if it works for you. Or, get the ‘drum wallet’ muffling product that doesn’t slide, allows you to easily muffle your drums during the play and also allows you to control the amount of dampening even on the rim shots:

Another option is the drum clip.

It seats on the edge of your drum and applies slight pressure that removes unwanted frequencies while retaining the attack, resonance and feel of the drums (basically removes the crap while retaining the good stuff).

The good thing about the drum clip is that it can be used on both the batter and the resonant drum head at the same time, giving you more dampening options.

Plus, it comes with a 100% lifetime warranty.

This is how it works:

But, I’d still be worried if having more weight or pressure on 1 side of the head would affect the lifespan of my drum head, in the long run.

iii) How to use drum ‘weights’ to dampen drums

  1. Listen to how resonant your drum is originally and decide on how much you want to muffle it.
  2. Place the drum wallet on your drum head. Make sure it isn’t in your way when you play.
  3. Play and listen to how resonant your drum is now.
  4. Adjust its position to get your desired sound. (see video above on the adjustment of the position)

iv) O-Rings

O-rings are plastic sheets that fit on your drum head to help with dampening. They are also known as control rings, drum dampening rings, drum muffling rings, e-rings etc.

There are many variations that you can choose from.

O-rings come in different thickness, and they can come either as an full circle plastic sheet or as a plastic ring with the center cut out.

O-Rings / Control RingsFull 'O-rings'Special / For Custom Sounds
FeaturesDonut-shaped. Open center. Thickness of material and the width of the donut affects dampening.Covers entire drum. Currently only for snare.Adds additional effects, on top of dampening.

There are custom or special variations like the snare-bourine that adds certain sounds to your drum.

By the way, you can even make your own o-ring using your old drum heads.

How do o-rings work as drum dampeners?

O-rings can reduce overtones that are create at the edges of your drum heads and also reduce your drum’s sustain. This helps to get rid of the ringing sound.

It can also remove the higher tones and even the mid tones, leaving you with just a low sounding drum.

Rules of thumb when selecting an o-ring:

  • the thicker the o-ring, the more high and mid tones it will dampen.
  • full o-rings generally provides more dampening compared to the donut o-rings.
  • donut o-rings only remove overtones that occur at the edge of the drum, but are not as good at removing high or mid tones so your drum still sounds ‘in-tune’.

How to use o-rings to dampen drums

  1. Listen to how resonant your drum is originally and decide on how much you want to muffle it.
  2. Use the rules of thumb above to select a suitable o-ring. If there’s a music shop near you, try them out there!
  3. Otherwise, select a thin donut o-ring.
  4. If you are worried about buying the wrong o-ring, I’d suggest that you start with tape or moon gel.

2. Internal accompanying drum dampening tools

Internal accompanying drum dampening tools are placed inside the drums to control and often times, reduce the vibrations created by a drum. These are most commonly used in the bass drum aka the kick drum, most likely because of its size and placement.

How do “Internal accompanying drum dampening tools” work?

Depending on how you set up these tools, they work in slightly different ways.

  • If placed in contact with a drum head, they could reduce the ability of the drum head to vibrate freely, hence reducing lifespan of each kick. This means you get a relatively more ‘choked’ sound.
  • If placed in the body of the drum, without contact to the drum head, they would merely absorb the reverb of the drum sound. This means your bass drum lasts shorter per kick.

Internal drum dampening tools include things like pillows, blankets, sponge stripes, foam boards, etc.

There are mentions of use of newspaper, grocery plastic bags and even feathers or cotton balls. It’s really up to you.

cotton ball muffling
Source: Wry and Stanley

There are also specific products created for this purpose like the Evans EQ Pad or the DW Bass Drum Muffling Pillow.

There are also customizable options like these.

How to use pillows, blankets or foam to dampen bass drums

These items work in similar ways, feel free to pick whichever is easily accessible to you.

  1. Listen to how resonant your drum is originally and decide on how much you want to muffle it.
  2. Place a small pillow inside your bass drum, without touching either heads.
  3. Play and listen to how your drum sounds now. You should notice that the bass drum is less resonant (if the difference too subtle, you might want to use a bigger pillow or blanket.)
  4. Adjust to have the pillow touching your batter drum head.
  5. Play and listen to how your drum sounds now. You should notice that the drum starts to sound choked.
  6. Make sure that you do not block the area where the kick pedal hits the head!
  7. Adjust accordingly:

As a general guideline:

> More things inside bass drum = more muffling
> More things in contact with drum head= less sustain or increasing flatter sound

Here’s what Drumeo’s Jared Falk has in his set up previously:

(all videos used were compiled from YouTube)

Bass drum muffling is highly customizable.

Explore more bass drum muffling options from real drummers via these forums:

Now that you know how to dampen drums, go ahead and give it a try.

Remember, it’s not a science but rather it’s highly dependent on your drum kit and your desired sound.

Always play your kit and adjust it from there.

Now that we’ve talked about how you can dampen your current drums, without changing the hardware.

Because you can’t force an apple to taste like an orange, let’s talk about the hardware itself in the next 2 sections.

Believe it or not, your need to dampen drums starts all the way from the choice of your drum heads.

The next 2 types of dampening systems come with your drum head.

If you are frustrated with trying to dampen your drums for the right sound.

Maybe its time to get rid of those stock drum heads and…

Double or Triple ply drum heads tend to be more muffled compared to their single ply cousins.

The reason is because multi-ply heads are made by stacking and often times, gluing multiple drum heads together. These drum heads will hit against each other and hence vibrate less.

Hence, these drum heads are already dampened. They have less sustain and are less likely to produce the ringing sounds.

If you are having issues with tuning and dampening a single ply drum head, why not explore double ply or even triple ply drum heads:

3) Built-in dampening systems

On top of selecting double / triple ply drum heads, there are drum heads that come with in-built dampening.

I. Control Dots

Ever seen drum heads with a ‘polka dot’ design or a big circle in the center of the drum?

Those designs are not for visual purpose, they actually provide dampening.

Some examples are the Evans EC2 and the Aquarian Power Dot drum heads.

II. Inlay Rings

How about drum heads with black circles?

Those are called inlay rings.

Some examples include the Powerstroke P3 by Remo and the Focus X by Aquarian.

III. Felt Strips

As mentioned above, felt strips are paste onto the bass drum head to lower sustain and resonance.

Some bass drum heads come with felt strips (eg. Remo Felt Tone)

The Problem With Built-in Dampening Systems

Built-in dampening systems are great options for drummers who are biased towards drums that don’t resonate as much, or for drummers who play in studios.

However, they are not the perfect solution.

Truth is, they leave the drummer with little room to control the amount of dampening.

Plus, you’d need to get different drum heads for each drum in your kit. It can be a little unfriendly to your pockets.

Unless you are great at tuning and dampening by ear, or you know what you’re doing, or if you are dampening a drum kit that will only be played in a single location, I feel that these are not the best option.

It might be way easier to choose a double ply head and tune it to your desired sounds, or just add a bit of dampening to it.

but wait, there's more
Source: GifImage

Now that the ‘how to’ is settled, I’d like to cover just a few more things about dampening drums.

First, let’s get rid of the common misconceptions:

3 Tips on Drum Dampening

Drum dampening requires a lot of trial and error because every drum kit and every drum differs slightly based on how you set it up and how you tune it.

Here are 3 tips I’ve picked up along the way.

#1 – Say no to sticky tape!

When using tape, make sure you choose tape that does not leave sticky residue on your batter drum head.

Especially if it is to be left on the head over a long time, or if the drums are usually kept in a warm, humid room.

Many drummers have recommended 3M (no residue) tapes (click to browse on Amazon)

Or just spend a little more to get a pack of reusable moon gel.

#2 – Dampening vs Tuning

Guys, dampening is not equivalent to drum tuning!

They are two very different processes.

As I’ve mentioned in the ‘Why dampen drums?’ section, they are 2 different processes.

However, it seems that many drummers like to jump right into dampening, especially if they are using a rented drum kit or a kit in a rented studio.

Remember that you should always tune first and dampen only if necessary later. These drum tuners will help you get your drum kit tuned up faster and easier.

#3 – Dampening is NOT compulsory

Although this entire article is about dampening drums, you must note that it is not a compulsory process.

Many kits sound great once they are in tuned. And if you like the open sound of a drum kit, there is really no need to dampen your drums.

And yes, this applies to the bass drums as well!

Very often, especially if you are using a double or triple drum head, you’ll find that the drum already sounds great after tuning.

So remember, always give priority to the drum sound rather than follow what your favorite drummer does. Over dampening your drums will kill its vibrant sound.

Ok, now we’ll done with Drum Dampeners

We’ve explored various ways to dampen drums and why you might want to dampen your drums above.

You would have learnt about how you can use accompanying drum dampeners like tape, dampening gel, o rings, etc to tweak the sound of your drums on the fly.

We had also explored the possibility of changing your drum head for your ideal sound.

And, remember!

Always tune your drum kit first before deciding if you need to dampen your drums! It’s not compulsory to dampen drums for the perfect sound.

Over to you now~

And let me know how things go in the comments below!

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