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How to silence a drum kit

“Drums are too loud”

Drums are great, but they have their ways… Unfortunately many people are deterred from ever playing drums because of their noisey reputation. The good news is that I can share ten solutions to this problem. Love thy neighbour: adopt a strategy from below!

Options

  1. Mute pad sets
  2. Practise pads
  3. Pillows
  4. Mesh skins
  5. Sound insulation
  6. Pegs on cymbals
  7. Double stacked cymbals
  8. Rods (sticks)
  9. Brushes
  10. Electronic drums

Quick Conclusion
Depending on budget and desired ease of installation I generally recommend practise pads placed on top of the acoustic drums. These are reasonably priced, easy to attain, set up, and have the added benefit of being useful away from the drum set. They make excellent travel companions for practise on the go.

If you are not short on space for a second drum kit, I would recommend buying a cheap second drum kit and replacing its heads with mesh skins. Double stacking your cymbals will reduce any remaining noise. For a small investment you could keep the authentic acoustic drum kit feel and have an essentially silent kit, ready to play, in addition to you acoustic kit!

Mute Pad Sets – Option 1hq pad set with kit_1
Description
: Rubber cut outs that sit on top of acoustic drums to silence them. The bass drum mute pad is usually foam (or rubber) attached with elastic ties. Each cymbal also gets a rubber pad to silence the sticks, and the hi-hat has two: one on the top cymbal and one in between to stop the “chick” and “splash” sounds.
Price: Moderate
Effectiveness: Very good
Sound Quality: Poor. No Tone. Ugly snare buzz if snare wires not turned off.
Feel: Poor. Almost no rebound on drums, cymbals are marginally better.
Ease of installation: Easy. 1 Minute on or off.
Quality of product: Good. Will last a few years.
Conclusion: Drummers won’t want to put them on, or play on them because they feel terrible and the cymbals and bass drum pads take a little while to install/take-off. For the price, there are better options out there: See practise pads.

Practise pads – Option 2NAMM-2013-014-1200x800
Description
: Portable silent pads that come in a wide range of options. Varying from 8 to 14 inches, they can fit right on top of acoustic drums. There are also practise pad kits available. They are small and compact and offer almost complete silence: much the same volume as an electronic drum kit (except without sounds in headphones).
Price: Cheap to moderate
Effectiveness: Very good
Sound Quality: Okay. No tone.
Feel: Authentic to inauthentic. Usually always good even if inauthentic. Some are made to feel extra bouncy which is inauthentic yet good for certain practise goals
Ease of installation: Easy. Less than one minute for full set
Quality of product: Good to excellent. Will require replacement after a few years or sooner if you are extremely rough on them.

Conclusion: Great for muting the drums, but the cymbals will still need further attention. Practise pads won’t sit on cymbals or work to mute them. The bass drum also needs to be muted, which is a major flaw for this strategy. If for nothing but snare practise (rudiments, for example), one good practise pad should be ready and available for every drummer.

Pillows – Option 3maxresdefault
Description
: Using pillows or similar material to completely fill up the drums (picture shown is not completely full). You need to have lots of pillows to fill up even a basic five piece drum kit, but the effect is significant.
Price: Free to cheap.
Effectiveness: Very good.
Sound Quality: Okay. No tone. No snare buzz
Feel: Authentic
Ease of installation: Moderate effort. 30 minutes to install full kit. Will require lots of bedding/pillows/sheets. Recommend going to a thrift shop for cheap large clothing or bedding mass.
Quality of product: Excellent. No need to replace ever. Any bedding-like material will do.

Conclusion: Great for a second kit (if you can spare the pillows), but takes way too long to install/remove if you want to play on unmuted acoustic drums again soon. Great option for a second drum kit for practise. Cymbals still need attention: see below.

Mesh Skins – Option 4
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Description
: High quality mesh skins made by the big drum head companies. The same as the mesh skins found on good electronic drum kits. Retain some tone and moderately nice snare buzz.
Price: same as normal skins (moderate)
Effectiveness: Excellent
Sound Quality: Very good
Feel: Authentic
Ease of installation: Moderate. 30 minutes for full drum set
Quality of product: Excellent. Will last well over a year

Conclusion: Great for a second kit but takes way too long to install/remove if you want to play on unmuted acoustic drums again soon. Great option for a second drum kit for practise. A better method than pillows because of the tone (and the look), and could be cheaper or dearer than pillows depending on what pillows/material you used. Brushes could get caught in the mesh from time to time, but this is not a real issue and easy to avoid. Cymbals still need attention: see below.

Sound insulation (aka sound proofing) – Option 5
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Description: I’ll restrict myself here to referring to building a room within a room. Essentially what happens in this process is taking a regular room and construction a second room to fit inside the existing one. Acoustic material is used throughout to ensure the final product is sound insulated. This strategy is for serious drummers on a mission!
Price: expensive
Effectiveness: Amazing
Sound Quality: Excellent
Feel: Authentic – Just play a real unmuted kit in a muted room!
Ease of installation: Extremely difficult with many months of planning, collaboration, thought, shire approval, and manual labour
Quality of product: Depending on build quality. Anything less than excellent would negatively affect sound insulation effectiveness.

Conclusion: The bee’s knees. The best, most expensive, difficult, tedious option available. Do not attempt without knowing what you are doing. Research, research, research, speak to others who have done it, research.

Pegs on cymbals – Option 6
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Description
: Regular clothesline pegs clipped over the edge of cymbals (not the hi-hat cymbals). Long pegs work best so they don’t fall off when the cymbal is hit. Add as many pegs as you like to keep reducing the decay.
Price: Free to cheap
Effectiveness: Good
Sound Quality: Very good. Lowered perceived volume in the room, and cuts decay to a minimum.
Feel: Authentic
Ease of installation: Very easy. Less than one minute for full cymbal set.
Quality of product: Great. Replace pegs if they break.

Conclusion: Great and easy to install. I recommend using pegs on double stacked cymbals (see below) to increase their effectiveness. It is also great to leave some cymbals single stacked (i.e. as normal) and use the pegs to quickly mute/unmute them.

Double stacked cymbals – Option 7
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Description
: Using cymbals of the same diametre, stacking cymbals on top of each other so that they “hug” each other. See picture (except the cymbals should be of the same type and size so they “hug” snuggly.
Price: moderate (depending on cymbals)
Effectiveness: Very good
Sound Quality: Good
Feel: Authentic
Ease of installation: Easy to Moderate. Five minutes to complete a full set.
Quality of product: Great. Depending on cymbal quality (which also affect the price) the stacked cymbals will almost never break or need replacing.

Conclusion: A highly recommended solution to noisey cymbals. Perfect for a second drum kit (so as to avoid having to install/remove often).

Rods (sticks) – Option 8
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Description
: Known by a variety of names (made by different brands), “Rods” are a speciality drum stick made from 5-15 small dowels of wood. They are quieter because the sticks can move around a little bit when hit to the drum or cymbal. They are designed and intended for their distinctive sound but also produce a much quieter sound than regular sticks, which is why they are included on this list.
Price: cheap to moderate
Effectiveness: Good. Bass drum not affected.
Sound Quality: Poor to excellent (According to whether you like the sound they produce or not)
Feel: Inauthentic – in a sense – there is a lack of rebound
Ease of installation: None.
Quality of product: Good. Like all sticks, they will eventually break, especially if you have poor technique or play exceptionally hard.

Conclusion: Poor to okay. Rods do reduce the noise level of drums and cymbals and are easy to pick up and play straight away. The rebound off drums and cymbals is all but gone when using rods and for this reason aren’t recommended. Unless you are working on basic coordination, or desire their unique sound, I don’t recommend rods to accomplish sound reduction.

Brushes – Option 9
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Description
: Originally fly swatters used to play quietly, modern brushes come in a wide range of designs. Intended for their unique sounds and methods, brushes are typically quieter than sticks (although can still create loud accents if desired).
Price: Cheap to moderate
Effectiveness: Slight to moderate. Bass drum not affected. Crashing cymbals is still as loud as normal.
Sound Quality: Excellent (as brushes are intended to sound like). As a replacement for sticks they – quite simply – don’t sound like sticks at all.
Feel: Authentic (for brushes). No rebound. Again, they work as brushes should, not as sticks should.
Ease of installation: None
Quality of product: Good. Brushes will need replacing eventually. Taking care of them by retracting the brushes into the handle after each use will extend their lifetime.

Conclusion: Every drummer should learn to play with brushes, but if the only reason is to play quietly, then don’t bother. Brushes offer fantastic and unique rhythms and sounds to drummers, but shouldn’t be thought of as a silent stick. In terms of making the drum kit silent, refer to other strategies listed.

Electronic drums – Option 10
images
Description
: Set up like a regular drum kit, electronically triggered pads (similar to practise pads) produce sound in headphones for silent practise. The cymbals are often rubber, with many trigger zones, allowing for bell/crash/ride options. The quality and features of edrums varies widely depending on the money you spend.
Price
: Moderate to Expensive
Effectiveness: Excellent especially with mesh head bass drums (not rubber pads)
Sound Quality: Very good to excellent but will never replace the real acoustic drum sound.
Feel: From okay to very good to excellent
Ease of installation: None
Quality of product: Varies from okay to excellent.

Conclusion: Modern e-drums are pretty good. Depending on the money spent, edrums can be excellent. I think that they serve a good purpose on the market: they are smaller to fit in a house, they are essentially silent, allowing for practise almost anytime, they are always in tune, and come with other benefits. Unfortunately the feel of the edrums will never quite match that of a real drum kit. The mesh heads are good (but not perfectly authentic), and the rubber cymbals are only okay in my opinion. The hihats leave much to be desired in regards to feel and realism unless you get a higher quality kit with top and bottom hi hat cymbals. Even then, they are still just okay if they are rubber. Edrums have evolved quickly over the last decade and will continue to do so. New “metal mesh” cymbals are an improvement on the feel of the rubber ones. In short, at some point most drummers will find a need (or want) for an edrum set. Don’t spend too little or too much. Too little won’t get you anything of quality that you will want to play, too much is overpriced (at the flagship level of products). Extra hint: get good headphones that cover your ears completely, and if you want to amplify your edrums use a PA system and small mixer – don’t use the edrum speakers, they are not very good at all.

Common misunderstandings
Low frequencies like the bass drum and low toms travel through doors and walls. Neighbours will hear a low thud from your bass drum. High frequency sounds like the cymbals do not easily pass through walls to neighbours (unless your windows are open!).

In the drum room, the cymbals may seem loudest, but outside the room, the bass drum might be the thing bothering your neighbours. A common misunderstanding is that putting eggshells, mattresses, or other “sound absorbing” materials in the room (or against the windows/doors) will help stop the noise. This is not true. Sound absorption is different from sound insulation. Sound absorption is where the sound in the room is absorbed into the material in the room, such as the eggshells or mattress. Sound still escapes the room. Sound insulation is our goal: to keep the sound from getting out of the room.

It is true that unruly cymbal overtones and harsh sounds in the room will be “treated” by adding sound absorbing material into the drum room, but don’t confuse your experience inside the room as proof that the noise outside the room is any less. Your neighbours will still hear a low frequency thud from your bass drum and due to the psychology of perceived loudness, infer that the drums are very loud at the source, adding fuel to their fire (of rage!).

If you had to do one thing to make your neighbours happy, it would be stop the bass drum and low tom noise from escaping the room. This is not an easy job and will require adopting some of the strategies mentioned in this page.

Sound is acoustic energy in the form of pressure waves that travel through air and other mediums (like a wall). The volume of a noise is related to the pressure or amplitude of the wave generated. In simple terms, for drums, if you hit harder, its louder.

Sound is a wave, just like water waves, and will travel around walls and objects to go past them. Sound can escape from the smallest gaps in a room. Unless your drum room is airtight, sound is escaping. If your room is airtight, sound can still escape by travelling through the walls, doors, ceilings, etc. Unless you have an airtight room with sound insulating acoustic material, sound will escape. Don’t think it won’t. The remaining solutions are (unless you are going to build a room within a room) to reduce the volume being created. Then, at least, when the sound gets out, it isn’t as loud or annoying. This means playing softly, which isn’t ideal, which is why I suggest adopting one of my final conclusions…

Final conclusion
If you have one drum kit, for best results use:

  • pegs on cymbals (except hihats)
  • practise pads on drums
  • pillows in the bass drum, filled completely
  • double stack hi-hat (double stack top and bottom cymbals)

If you have a second drum kit for silent practise, use:

  • double stacked cymbals for every cymbal (including top and bottom hihat)
  • pegs on all cymbals except hihats
  • mesh heads on all drums including bass drum

If both these options are too hard then:

  • use a practise pad on the snare drum when doing rudiments or repetative snare practise.
  • Practise at the same time every day for a set period, inform your neighbours and they will be much more understanding if they know when you will start and stop.
  • Shut windows and doors to minimise high frequency sounds escaping the drum room; high frequency sounds like cymbals contribute highly to the perceived noise level of the drums.