Muffling your bass drum can often be one of the hardest aspects of creating a great overall drum kit sound. Larger drums are always more challenging to control, and the bass drum is always the biggest drum in every set.
Thankfully, there are several proven ways to get an amazing bass drum tone. We’re going to look through each of them and explain how to apply them to your own bass drum. After reading this guide, you should be able to have a deep and punchy kick drum in your setup.
- 1 What Does Muffling a Bass Drum Mean?
- 2 Ways to Muffle a Bass Drum
- 3 How Much Muffling is Too Much?
- 4 Tips for Muffling Your Bass Drum
- 5 Final Thoughts on How to Muffle a Bass Drum
What Does Muffling a Bass Drum Mean?
Before we get to the muffling techniques, it’s important to know exactly what muffling means. It’s the process that comes after tuning, and it refers to when you alter your shells or drumheads in a way that lowers the nasty overtones that they may produce (and can also make them quieter).
For other drums, muffling is quite easy, as you just need to place things on top of the drumheads. It’s a bit trickier with bass drums being positioned flat on the floor.
The following muffling techniques are all suggestions. Some of them may work better than others, and it also depends on the size and quality of your bass drum shell.
Ways to Muffle a Bass Drum
Before putting anything inside the bass drum shell, you should think about how you can alter the sound without dampening the tone. The best way to do that is to use a thick batter head for your bass drum.
Thicker heads often have built-in dampening, so they don’t allow your bass drum to produce as many overtones as it would with a thinner head.
If you still want boominess from your bass drum, placing a thick batter head on it and having nothing inside is a great method to achieve that.
It may also help if you get a resonant drumhead that is slightly thicker, but it shouldn’t be as thick as the batter, as that may completely kill the sustain.
Bass Drum Beater Patch
The other method of controlling the bass drum tone without placing anything inside the shell is to attach a beater patch to the batter head.
You should do this anyway to protect the batter head from getting pierced, but some bass drum patches have various sound properties.
If you want a clicking bass drum sound, then you should get a thick patch that produces that. If you want a warmer bass drum sound, then a thinner patch that is lighter would be a better pick.
The sound difference between having a patch or no patch is very slight if you don’t have a clicking patch, but it’s good to do this before thinking about putting things inside the shell. It’s the best way to maintain the tone at first.
Using one towel is the best way of muffling your bass drum slightly but still having a wide-open tone. This method is for people that want their bass drums to sound open and booming but don’t want the sound to be too overpowering.
The idea here is to roll a thick towel up and line it along the other side of the batter head. It’s best to use a beach towel, as that’s typically the biggest towel people have available.
You’ll need to carefully line the rolled-up towel along the base of the shell at the batter side.
Using two towels is arguably the most common way that drummers muffle their bass drums when using household items.
The method here is the same as the previous one, but you use the second beach towel to sit along the base of the resonant side. The two towels should match each other in their positioning at opposite ends of the shell.
This method will give you a well-balanced bass drum sound with a strong punch. It’s one of the most common methods due to it giving you a bass drum sound that most drummers love.
A pillow is another household item that works very well for muffling a bass drum. The thick foam inner does a great job of controlling the tones that the shell produces.
For this method, you just need to lie the pillow across the bottom of the shell. You’ll get the best results if you have a pillow that is big enough to rest against the batter and resonant heads. Having that will essentially be like using two towels, but you’ll get a bit more dampening.
The sound you get from this method is very warm and focused, and even for beginners is an easy task when setting up a drumkit.
Muffling pads are special tools that drum companies design to control bass drum tones. They come in all shapes and sizes, and some are easier to work with than others.
Some muffling pads are great for the fact that they don’t muffle the bass drum as much as a single towel will. This makes them great for drummers who don’t want too much muffling.
The way of installing a muffling pad depends on the design, but some require a bit of handyman work.
Muffling foam is another thing that drum companies produce and sell. These foam pieces are similar to the ones that people hang on studio walls, but they’re cut to fit bass drums. You just need to lay them across the shell, and they make the bass drum sound a lot punchier.
You can create your own muffling foam if you want to. It just may not look as good as the perfectly cut foam being sold by drum brands.
Removing the Resonant Head
Removing the resonant head will take all the resonance away from your bass drum sound. It will give you a very short tone that gets out of the way incredibly quickly.
Some drummers love this sound, and they often use it when recording drum parts in studios.
However, this isn’t a muffling technique that you should use often. Removing the resonant head will leave the bearing edges of the bass drum exposed, and that can damage the bass drum over time. So, it’s only a good method to use for particular purposes.
How Much Muffling is Too Much?
This depends on your personal sound preferences. Some drummers love an open bass drum sound, while others want short and punchy tones.
With that being said, you’ll lose a lot of volume if you put too many things inside the bass drum shell. The bass drum will lose its effectiveness, and all the tone will be taken out of it. You should always try to stop yourself from putting things inside before you get to that point.
Tips for Muffling Your Bass Drum
Tune Your Bass Drum Properly
Before you do anything extra to your bass drum, you should do your best to tune it properly. You should do the same with all your drums before applying muffling to them.
When a bass drum is tuned well, it won’t produce as many ugly overtones. Make sure that you tighten all the lugs evenly while dialing in your preferred pitch.
Muffling a bass drum should mostly be about controlling how much boominess it has. If the tone is pitch bending too much, then you’ll know it’s a tuning issue that needs to be fixed.
Get a Resonant Head with a Port Hole
Getting a resonant head with a port hole is one of the most useful things you will ever do for your drum kit setup. For some reason, drum companies love selling bass drums that have solid resonant heads.
The problem with these heads is that you need to remove the head every time you want to place muffling tools inside the shell.
If your resonant head has a port hole, you can just squeeze towels, pillows, and foam through the hole. The port hole also makes it easier to mic your bass drum.
Listen to Someone Else Play Your Kit
Your bass drum will sound very different from across the room to how it sounds when you’re sitting and playing it. You should be tuning it for people in the crowd, so get someone else to play your kit so that you can hear how the bass drum sounds when you’re at a distance.
You may find that you put too much muffling in it. You could also decide that you need a bit more.
Try Every Option
All the muffling options that we mentioned above give slightly different results. It’s a good idea to try them all outand see which ones you like the most.
If you love the sounds that towels give your bass drum, you’ll save a lot of money, as you won’t need to buy anything for it. Every option has its own benefits and drawbacks.
Think About the Room You’re In
Our final tip is to consider the room that your drum kit is in. If you’re in a small practice room, a booming bass drum may be overbearing. However, the boominess will sound amazing in a gigging venue.
Think about how appropriate your bass drum sound is when you decide to muffle it. You may just need to remove a towel every time you take your kit to a gig.
Final Thoughts on How to Muffle a Bass Drum
The best thing about muffling a bass drum is that once you find a technique that you love, you’ll use it for life.
Most drummers who have been playing for decades have been using the same muffling techniques. It gets easier to achieve a good bass drum sound every time you replace your drumheads.
You could buy one good pillow from a reputable brand, and that pillow will live in your bass drum for years. So, try everything out, choose your favorite technique, and then work on getting the best bass drum sound possible.