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Concert Bass Drum Handbook
By Adam Balling
4/20/2016 12:39:00 PM

Here is an overview of things to know about concert bass drums. Whether you are purchasing a new drum, working on an old one, or performing, these are helpful things for all percussionists to know.

 

Depth: The depth of any drum will affect the tone, projection and volume. A deeper shell will resonant more than a shallower drum. And because of the larger size, you will have more volume and projection capabilities.

Concert bass drum depths range from 14” to 22” and are paired up with their respective diameters. A general depth for a 36” diameter drum would be 16” or 18” in depth.

Something to keep in mind for educators is the size of your students. Larger drums might be hard for them to play and dampen properly. How large is your ensemble? Getting a large drum might seem like a good idea, but if you have a small band, the drum could be over powering and not fit well within the group.

 

Diameter: The size of the diameter will determine your pitch range. The smaller diameter drums will have a high pitch than the larger diameter drums. Tuning is also a factor when determining pitch, but when looking for a solid fundamental tone, the size of the drum will set the limits of what you can do.

Concert bass drums are typically offered from 28” up to 40” in diameter. I good general size for most ensembles would be a 36” drum. This size is great for high schools all the way up to professional ensembles. This size works well on the concert stage or out on the football field. Smaller size diameters are great for smaller ensembles, elementary/middle school bands, multiple percussion set ups, marches, or when the music requires a smaller sound.

 

Shell Type: The most popular bass drum shells is Mahogany. Mahogany is known for its warmth and softness which brings out the best low tones of the drum. Kapur is used as well. This is another type of wood that is used on entry level drums. It is a great substitute because it shares many of the similar characteristics that Mahogany offers.

Maple shell bass drums are also available.  Maple shells will have a more even frequency than Mahogany and project well.

More information about drum shell types can be found here: Concert Drum Shell Types and Characteristics

 

Head Choice: Again, there are many different views out there. I base mine off of drum set heads. I like to have a thicker head on the batter side and a thinner head on the resonant side. For example, I would use a Remo Renaissance Emperor on the batter, with a Remo Renaissance Ambassador on the resonant. I believe this set up produces the best tone and lets the drum sing.

We do offer Calf Skin bass drum heads. These heads are made to order and can take at least 30 days to ship depending on materials on hand. We do not keep these in stock as we would not want these heads sitting for a long time before shipping. If you have any questions regarding these, please let us know.

Stern Tanning Calfskin Concert Bass Drum Heads

 

Tuning: There are many different views on this. I will share mine which closely resemble what Al Payson, former Chicago Symphony percussionist suggest.

Batter Head – After installing a new head or clearing an existing head, tune the batter head until it produces the lowest pure tone. The head should not be rattling and should have a low presence. Leave the head at this tone.

Resonant head – I have found that tuning the resonant head higher gives the drum its fullest sound. I would tune the resonant head to a Major 2nd higher than the batter head. Start here and see if you are getting the sound you desire. Experiment a little and find your drums sweet spot.

 

Note: There are many different views on tuning out there. This is not written in stone. Please feel free to share your techniques below!


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