While snare drums feel incredibly satisfying to play, they always come with pesky overtones that ring for too long. Some drummers love that ringing effect, while others just want a solid sound that is short and punchy.
If you’re part of the latter group, like most of us are, you’ll need to apply dampening to your snare drum. There are so many dampening options out there that it can be difficult to pick one.
This guide will give you 13 ways of dampening your snare drum. We’ll explain how they all affect your snare drum tone so that you can make an easier decision on which method to pick.
Free Ways to Dampen a Snare Drum
Before you put anything on your snare drum, you need to understand that you’ll get the purest tone without any dampening. If you want to get the tone that the drum was designed to have, but you don’t want ringing overtones, you can start by tuning the snare drum as best you can.
The most important factor here is drumhead choice. If you have a single-ply drumhead on your snare, it’s going to sing a lot more than you may like. A better option is to put a double-ply head on it.
Some two-ply heads have built-in dampening, giving you controlled sounds as well as pure tones. It’s the perfect combination for drummers who don’t want to put anything on top of the drumhead.
Loosening the bottom two lugs on your snare drum is a trick that goes way back to earlier studio recordings. It’s not the most ideal option, as you’ll keep your snare in the best shape by having all the tension rods tuned and tightened equally.
However, loosening the two lugs closest to you will drop the snare drum’s pitch and cut out the high-frequency overtones. It’s a great quick fix when you’re playing a gig or doing a recording.
Some drummers do this for certain songs, and then they tighten the tension rods again for the next few songs.
You may run into a few tuning issues here, though. We’ve found that it mostly depends on the quality of your snare drum.
Here’s an option that every drummer can easily do. When you place your wallet on top of your snare drum, the overtones will be cut out completely. The size of your wallet and the amount of cash you have in it will also affect how much dampening happens.
You have two options with this. You can simply place the entire wallet on top of the snare and hope it doesn’t move around too much when you play, or you can open it up and hang the one half over the snare rim.
The second option usually works a lot better, as it stops the wallet from moving from side to side. However, there’s still the potential that the wallet may fall off the snare drum if you play too hard.
Placing tape on your snare drum is something that most drummers end up doing, especially when playing gigs. If you’ve ever played a gig where there was a house kit provided, you undoubtedly would have seen tape placed all over the skins.
The thicker the tape is, the more dampening it does. So, most drummers use gaff tape for this. Gaff tape is also black, so it doesn’t look ugly when placed on the snare drumhead.
If you want even more dampening, you can place toilet paper or pieces of cotton underneath the tape before sticking it on the head.
The downside of this method is that it never comes off nicely. If you don’t want dampening anymore, you’ll always have the residue and dirt from the gaff tape stuck on the head.
This option is incredible for getting a thuddy sound from your snare drum. When you place a towel over the entire surface, the pitch will drop significantly, and you’ll get a sound resemblant of snares from 60s albums.
If you only place half a towel over the surface, you’ll get the same dampening effect as the methods above.
So, using a towel is a highly versatile option. You’ll just need to fasten it securely when placing half of it over the snare. If you don’t, it will fall off very quickly.
This option is a bit risky, so we’d only suggest using it if you’re an experienced drummer with accurate hands.
When you place a phone at the top of your snare drumhead, you get light dampening that is enough to cut out the harsher overtones that come out.
The benefit of doing this is that you’ll have your phone right in front of you to use. There are many drummers that put visual metronomes on their phones and then place them on the snare to get dampening.
Just make sure that you don’t hit the screen with your sticks. It will be quite embarrassing, as it will completely be your fault for placing your phone on your snare drum.
If you have a spare splash cymbal lying around, try taping it to your snare drum. You can also leave it loose on the snare, but you’ll constantly be pushing it up as you play.
When you put a splash on the snare, you get an extremely tight snare drum sound. It’s fantastic for playing styles like hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass. It’s also great for drummers who love playing quick notes on the snare, as it’s easier to get those out with a tight surface.
Check out drummers like Louis Cole and JD Beck to see this method in action.
You also have the added benefit of a splash cymbal that you can hit. When you strike it with the tip of your stick, you get a tight metallic sound. When you strike it with the body of your stick, you almost get a handclap sound.
If you’ve replaced your drumheads recently, try putting one of the old ones on top of your snare drum. It will drop the pitch and give you that deep snare tone that you hear in a lot of country and worship music.
Some drummers like to keep a loose head to place on the snare whenever they need that tone, while others cut out a circle from the head and tape it to the snare drum. Both methods will have the same effect. The second one is just more permanent.
The thicker the drumhead that you use, the more dampening you’ll get.
The final free option for dampening is to place a t-shirt on your snare drum. It works very similarly to placing a towel, but you don’t get as much dampening due to a t-shirt being a lot thinner.
So, you’ll cut out the overtones, but the pitch won’t drop significantly, which is great for drummers who don’t want to alter the pitch of their snare drum.
The biggest downside of using a t-shirt is that it looks a bit weird. You’ll mostly see drummers using this method in practice rooms or studios and never at gigs.
Snare Drum Dampening Products
The most popular dampening gels on the market are Moongels. However, there are dozens of options from different brands, and they all work the same.
Drum gels are small pieces of gel that you can place on your snare drumhead to dampen the overtones. The great thing about these is that they give you the most control out of any of the dampening options on this list.
They’re very small, so you can choose how many of them to place on the snare drum to determine how much dampening they do.
The downside of gels is that they leave a residue if you leave them on the snare for too long. They can also melt if left in the heat. So, you just need to make sure to pack them away after playing, and then you’ll be able to use them forever.
You can also cut them in half if one of them provides too much dampening.
Snareweight is a brand that purely works on creating drum dampening tools. They make leather straps that you attach to your drums for muffling purposes.
The best thing about all the Snareweight straps is that they don’t take away any of the attack from your snare drum. As you strike the snare drum, the strap lifts a bit. So, you dampen the unwanted overtones without losing any force behind your strokes.
The straps also have magnetic parts that allow you to fold the sides over. You can choose to have the whole strap on the snare, or you can get less dampening by folding the sides.
Big Fat Snare Drum
Big Fat Snare Drum is another brand that purely focuses on making dampening products for drums. They make rings that you can place on your snare drum to alter its tone. You can also use these for your other drums, but most drummers use them for snares.
The original product from the brand was intended to cover the whole snare drum and drop its tone to get a deep sound. The brand has since created dozens of designs that alter your snare drum’s tone in various ways.
Here are a few options:
- Big Fat Snare Drum Steve’s Donut
- Big Fat Snare Drum Snare-Bourine-Donut Snare Topper
- Big Fat Snare Drum Green Monster Snare Topper
The final dampening option to get is control rings. While these are products that you need to buy, they’re typically very inexpensive. Also, they’re more commonly used for toms than snare drums, but putting a control ring on a snare drum can give you a good amount of dampening.
It will drop the pitch of your snare drum slightly, but not nearly as much as a Big Fat Snare Drum product will.
The downside of using a control ring is that you don’t have control. Ironic, right? You’ll get a very specific snare drum sound that you can’t change. That’s why most drummers prefer to use other methods for dampening their snare drum.
Final Thoughts on How to Dampen a Snare Drum
With so many snare drum dampening options available, it can be very fun to try them all out. We suggest you do that so that you can find what you like the most.
While all the free options work decently, they don’t work as well as the products that you can buy. Things like Moongels and Snareweights have been specifically designed to dampen your snare drum in creative ways, so you’ll get much better results when using them. They’re also just easier to use.
However, you should also try tuning your snare drum as best you can before you try any of these methods. That may just get you the results that you’re looking for.