The Drums – The Bottom Heads

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 19,633
    Professional drummer Wes Crawford demonstrates how to adjust the tension on the bottom heads of your drums.

    Wes Crawford

    Wes began his professional music career after graduating with a B.S. in Psychology at Virginia Tech. Soon thereafter, he began performing drumset with the extraordinary Jazz/R&B singer Jane L. Powell, a musical association that lasted eleven years and continues as a managerial relationship. The group toured throughout North America and the Caribbean performing at festivals, universities, resorts, nightclubs, and cruise ships. They opened for such acts as Ray Charles, Melba Moore, Freddie Jackson, Lou Rawls, The Crusaders, Joan Jett, Ernie Watts, and Paula Poundstone, and occasionally performed alongside artists such as Tony Bennett, O.C. Smith, and Dorothy Moore. The 1,300 colleges and universities comprising the National Association for Campus Activities voted the group Entertainer of the Year in 1990, their highest honor, and Jazz Artist of the Year for 1990-1992. During these years of touring, Wes also recorded two albums with Ms. Powell as well as for several outside artists. Wes also conducted electronic percussion seminars at VA Tech and at the Virginia Governor’s School for the Gifted. In 1992, Wes settled with his family in the Washington, DC area as an independent artist on drumset and percussion where he currently performs and records with acts such as Shahin & Sepehr (Higher Octave/Narada world music recording artists), Cocktail Nuts (aka “C-NUTS”- Jazz versions of rock classics, on Wildchild/Mapleshade Records), mrudangam virtuoso Umayalpuram K. Shivaraman (including a clinic at PASIC 2000 and a featured performance at Baltimore Drum Day 2000), Squeeze Bayou (1998 winners of the “Best Non-Louisiana-Based Cajun Band Recording” awarded by the Cajun French Music Association), and Night Life (high-energy show band). Wes has also regularly performed and/or recorded with Aisha Kahlil (of Sweet Honey in the Rock), Eva Cassidy, Catalyst Events’ “Beatswork!,” Zydeco Crayz, Mary Ann Borelli, “Oh Susannah!”, Sugar Jones, and Armadillo recording artist Daryl Davis. His other noteworthy performances and recordings include those with the David Bach Consort (2nd place winner in the 1998 BET unsigned band video contest), Hennesy Jazz Search regional winner Jerry Gordon, and performances with Milestone recording artist Ron Holloway. Wes considers education to be an important link to the future of the percussive arts and teaches drumset privately and at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. He also performs in public school assemblies with Mosaic, which provided the musical instruction and curriculum for the 2000 Maryland Artist/Teacher Institute. Wes serves as the Director of the annual Drumset And Percussion Camp of the Goucher Summer Arts Institute and as Vice-President of the MD/DE chapter of the Percussive Arts Society. In 2000, Wes started, a site to feature his interactive educational media such as his popular “Drumset Play-Along DVD.” His latest “A Rhythmic Murder Mystery” interactive DVD features a solo electronic drumset concert, which he also performs live. Wes holds Associate Artist relationships with Maryland Drum Company and with Trueline Drumsticks, and he occasionally works as Music Consultant for the not-for-profit Sustainable Environments for Health + Shelter.

    Hi, I'm Wes Crawford and now we're going to talk about the bottom heads and what kind of tension adjustments we might want to make with them.

    On a snare drum, you will see the bottom head is just about always clear and its very thin, its an extra thin head. You actually do not have to tighten this up as much to get a higher pitch on it. So, a lot of times people for the snare drum head want a little bit higher pitch but its not actually cranked down on the lugs as much as you might on the top. Another consideration is sympathetic snare buzz. Sometimes well hit a tom, did you hear the snares ring or continue to buzz. We hit another drum and there is a sympathetic vibration going on which makes the snares buzz. A little bit of buzz is natural and it can actually sound a little sterile if you dont have a little bit, but if it gets to be so much in a recording situation or the way that you're being miked in a live performance situation that is bothersome to other people and you do want to check it out in context, playing around the drums if all of a sudden it sticks out a whole lot with one tom. Then what you need to do to cure that is to go back and change the tension of this bottom head. This will be your first thing you will try and if you cant do that without making a sound on the snare drum that you dont want anymore, sometimes just loosening one lug that's near the snare strand on one side will do the trick too. With tom heads, we also have bottom heads pretty much thats the norm anymore back in the 60s, early 70s, a lot of the toms only had one head, they were easier to get to a truer pitch and the engineers didnt have to worry about the sound and ring of the bottom head, but we get a lot deeper kind of a sound, a lot more resonate sound if we have two heads on the toms. The bottom head, some people like to tune to the exact same pitch as the top head and you get more resonance out of the same pitch. Some people like the sound of tuning the bottom head a little more loosely than the top head to get sort of a drop up a Doo (ph) kind of sound on the toms.

    Some people like to tune the bottom head a little higher than the top head and you will get more of an attack in ringing kind of sound out of the toms and this again is just a matter of personal preference. I would say a third of the drummers polled in one interview I saw, one article I read one, wanted it the same, the bottom head at the same pitch, a third wanted higher, a third preferred lower. So, its really sort of an equal kind of a preference, its up to you to decide. The whole aspect we might discuss for one moment about tuning the toms, the true pitches. Some people like to do that. Other people like to just tune each drum to where it sounds best and then check to see if they sound like a nice kit or a set altogether. The great thing about tuning it, the pitch is, as its going to sound wonderful probably in a recording or in any kind of situation it will sound more musical with the song, but since we change keys sometimes in songs and since a lot of songs are in different keys, we dont want to have a pitch sound, something, so it doesnt sound good with that song. So, a lot of people dont try for exact pitches, instead just do a general good sounding kit and just make the drum sound good to itself.