Have you ever overheard a group conversation where one person in the group seems to be talking way louder than everyone else? Awkward, right?

Have you ever been in the middle of conversation with someone only to find that you have to start talking loudly over the blaring sound of a firetruck passing by? Not very fun.

Have you ever been someplace quiet (like a library) to find a person walking in the room, talking loudly, and not respecting the unwritten rule of staying quiet? Annoying.

In the same way, drummers are often guilty of the same deadly sin, not matching the dynamic (volume) level of our bandmates.

99.99% of the time, it comes down to one thing, and one thing only… playing WAY. TOO. LOUD.

Why do drummers like to play loud? There’s a few obvious reasons:

1) Our instrument doesn’t have volume knobs. Drums are acoustic and therefore are very easy to overpower an amp.

2) We get excited! The harder we kit, the louder the volume. Drums are fun! BOOM BOOM BOOM! :)

3) Sometimes it just FEELS right to play a song with a certain amount of oomph, which usually translates into more volume.

If you’re in a band which constantly plays large venues, you may be able to get away with not controlling your volume. Besides, in a large venue, most of the sound is actually coming from the speakers, not the acoustic room sound.

But what happens when you take that same drummer and place him/her in a tiny bar?

PROBLEM: Drummer Too Loud.
SOLUTION: Sound guy turns down/off microphones.
RESULT: People don’t hear an EQ’d mix of your drums, they hear it raw from the kit. Sound quality suffers.

PROBLEM: Drummer Too Loud.
SOLUTION: Everyone else in the band turns up.
RESULT: The sound is noisy. Everyone is competing with themselves on stage for volume. Frustration ensues.

PROBLEM: Drummer Too Loud.
SOLUTION: Everyone else in the band tries to match intensity.
RESULT: The vocalist feels uncomfortable, the instrumentalists can’t compete with the volume of a kit, so they’re forced to play their parts harder. The band can’t settle in. The overall performance suffers.

PROBLEM: Drummer Too Loud.
SOLUTION: The audience, not able to stand the volume, walks farther away from band or leaves all-together to go somewhere quieter.
RESULT: People aren’t engaged in what you’re doing… instead, they’re trying to get away!

These are just a few examples of how when a drummer plays too loud, he/she can create a host of problems for everyone else… the sound guy, the band, and the audience.

Often times, especially in playing pop music, we’re so focused on playing PARTS that we forget about dynamics completely! If you’re constantly playing at one volume level, after a while it gets boring. Let me put it this way… How long would you want to listen to someone talk if all they did was SHOUT AT THE TOP OF THEIR LUUUUUNGS!!!! Wouldn’t be pleasant, would it?

What kind of venue are you playing? What is the function of this venue? If you’re playing a restaurant, people should be able to have conversations with each other at the table. It’s not always about YOU!

Matching band dynamics really comes down to awareness. Awareness of how your playing is heard by other people. Awareness of your environment, and awareness of Are you adding to the music or are you detracting from the music?


Here are a few strategies for improving your ability to match band dynamics:

-TURN YOUR MONITORS DOWN. Perhaps your monitors are so loud that you have the PERCEPTION of needing to play louder.

-EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT STICKS. For example, on quiet gigs I’ll often use brushes, hot rods, or broomsticks, so that I can still play normally with my hands, but with a fraction of the volume being transmitted to the audience.

-USE SOFTER DYNAMIC LEVELS IN THE PRACTICE ROOM. Drummers are all guilty of playing loud, Loud!, LOUD!!! in the practice room. Playing loud is fun! Playing loud is also easier than playing soft because playing soft requires more finesse, more control, and more precision. Devote much of your time to practicing various dynamics.

-CREATE A "DYNAMICS ROADMAP" FOR YOUR PERFORMANCE. Take a minute to review the material you’re playing. In what sections could you bring the volume down? In doing this, you’ll create a much more dynamic (no pun intended) arc to your show! If you were taking the audience on a "road trip", would you want the road to be flat the whole time or would you want interesting hills and turns along the way?

-PLAY QUIETER. Well… duh. This seems super obvious, huh? But really… the next time you’re on a gig, try playing with a more relaxed touch. This doesn’t mean you have to play with less INTENSITY, it simply means that you can place more trust in the microphones doing the work, rather than feeling like you need to create the volume yourself. Remember, the audience doesn’t hear the sound of the actual guitar, they're hearing the sound of the AMP. Try to keep this in mind when playing a gig where the drum kit is mic’d.

-OPEN UP YOUR EARS. Stop focusing on your drumming. Can you really HEAR your bandmates around you? Can you isolate each band member and hear exactly what he/she is playing? If not, you’re probably playing way too loud.



Thanks to Ed Kornhauser for offering his 3 words of advice to drummers (MATCH BAND DYNAMIC) and for inspiring me to write this week's article!

San Diego-based pianist Ed Kornhauser holds a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies from San Diego State University.  Primarily a jazz pianist, he has studied the language, vocabulary, and repertoire of classic jazz, as well as those of the modern.  Working as a freelance musician in the greater San Diego area,  Ed can be found backing a variety of local musicians and playing a diverse selection of music.  He holds the piano chair the the drummer-led Matt Smith Neu Jazz trio, which fuses swinging jazz with an indie-pop vibe.  The group has produced two albums of original music: "Shorthanded" and the soon-to-be-released "Retrograde."  In addition, he plays keyboards for several local bands including Jesse Lamonaca and the Dime Novels, Juice Box, Nexus 4000.  He is the staff accompanist at Unity Way Church in Vista, CA, and plays frequently at weddings and other private events.

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