Drums are one of the most complex instruments when it comes to parts and components that make up a drum set. With so many variables, your drum kit has several aspects that contribute to how it sounds.
The good thing about this is that you can change up a few things to make your set sound a lot better, even if it’s a cheap one.
In this guide, I’m going to give you various tips and hints on how to make your drum kit sound better. Some things will make a huge difference, while others will be small.
I’ve broken things down into tuning, muffling, cymbals, hardware, and playing techniques.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
Free eBook: Discover how real independent musicians like you are making $4,077 - $22,573+ monthly via Youtube, let me know where to send the details:
Tuning is the number one way to improve how your drums sound. Tuning drums refers to when you adjust how tight the drumheads are resting on the shells, and you do this by tightening all the tension rods with a drum key.
When drums are badly tuned, they don’t sound great. So, the first step to improving the sound quality of a kit is to tune all the heads as best you can.
The first and most important step of tuning is to get new drumheads, especially if you own a cheap drum set.
All drum sets come with a set of stock heads, but these aren’t great most of the time. To make a major difference in how your shells sound, you should get high-quality heads from brands like Aquarian, Evans, Remo, or Attack.
I recommend getting 2-ply drumheads for cheaper drum sets. These heads are thicker, so they muffle the drums more, leading to fewer ugly overtones and an easier tuning process.
It’s crazy how much of a difference high-quality drumheads make, so this step is one of the most vital ones for improving sound quality.
Let’s move on to a few tips on how to tune certain drums after getting new heads.
Snare drums often sound better when tuned high, especially if you own a cheap one. If you tune a cheap snare drum low, it’s going to sound quite hollow, and there’ll be too much rattling from the snare wires.
So, medium to high tuning would be my recommendation. You should also tighten the screw on the snare throw off so that the wires are resting quite tightly on the bottom head.
If you own a high-end snare, you’ll have an easier time getting it to sound great at a lower tuning. Just make sure to tighten the bottom side of the head so that the snare doesn’t resonate too much.
You have a bit more freedom when tuning toms, even when working with a cheap drum set. They’ll likely sound decent in all tunings, but you’ll need to add muffling to cheaper ones, which I’ll get to a bit later.
The smaller toms will be easier to tune, so start with those to get a sound that you like. You can then tune the larger toms in relation to the smaller one to get a great range of sounds overall.
This is the one area where good drumheads make all the difference, so I’d recommend getting new heads for your toms before anything else if you have a limited budget.
Bass drums have a distinct low sound that most drummers go for. To get that sound, I suggest that you just finger tighten all the tension rods around both sides of the shell.
Make sure they’re tight enough not to loosen over time, and that should give you the lowest tones possible. After that, you’ll likely hear the bass drum ringing quite a bit. If that’s the sound you want, you’ll be good to go.
If you want it to sound a bit tighter and more pleasant, you should add a bit of muffling.
Hardware isn’t something that many drummers think makes a difference. It’s just a bunch of stands that hold everything in place, right?
Well, cheaper hardware tends to be a lot noisier than high-end hardware, and having solid hardware will stop a lot of rattling sounds.
Here are a few other things to know about hardware.
Inexpensive pedals are typically quite wonky. This leads to them producing clanging sounds when you play, and that can sometimes be heard over the drums and cymbals.
Replacing your cheap kick drum pedal with a mid-range one will make a big difference to how your bass drum sounds.
The same can be said for a hi-hat stand. A wonky pedal will produce the same effect, especially when you have heavy hi-hat cymbals resting above it.
The sound improvement here won’t be as noticeable as a set of fresh drumheads, but it’s definitely something to think about. Mid-range and high-end pedals will also just feel better to use.
The main stand to mention here is your snare drum stand. Your toms will have their own pieces of hardware that are unique to their design, so they’re not replaceable most of the time.
A good snare drum stand, however, can make quite a big difference to how your snare drum performs. With a more stable base and better-quality claw hooks, your snare will produce less noise when you’re playing the other drums.
This will give your kit an overall tighter sound. Again, the difference is quite minimal, but it’s a good option when you’re looking for as much sound improvement as possible.
Good cymbal stands are incredibly important for achieving decent cymbal tones. Thankfully, most drum kits these days come with great stands, even if you get an entry-level kit from a major brand.
It’s the lesser-known brands that sometimes give you really bad cymbal stands. These stands rattle a lot more than they should, and they make the metal of your cymbals sound very clangy when you play.
If you have flimsy cymbal stands, I highly recommend replacing them with a few double-braced ones that have good felts and cymbal sleeves.
I mentioned muffling earlier, so here are a few tips on how to muffle certain drums to get better sounds. Keep in mind that muffling is one of the best ways to make a drum set sound better, no matter how cheap or expensive it is.
The main thing that you’ll find with snare drums is that they produce a high-pitched ringing sound. The best way to calm that sound down is by placing some sort of muffling near the top of the drumhead.
You could use gels or a leather strap, and that should take a bit of the edge off. You don’t want to put too much muffling on a snare drum, as that will lower the effectiveness of your strokes.
The less you put on the better, but you’ll need to put something there if you don’t want a wide open and ringing sound.
Toms are a bit easier to muffle, as placing something on them makes an immediate difference. However, the amount of muffling you use will depend on the quality of your drum set.
If you own a cheap set, I recommend using O-rings. These are plastic rings that fit around the edge of each drumhead. They dampen the overtones completely, making cheap toms sound a lot more pleasant.
If you own a mid-range or high-end set, the O-rings will kill the sweet tones, as they muffle the drums too much. For this situation, rather use gels to place on certain parts of each drumhead.
The more muffling you place inside of a bass drum shell, the tighter its sound will be. The best things to put inside the shell are towels and pillows.
Just be careful of putting too much inside the shell, as that will lower the overall volume of the drum as well as reduce its effectiveness.
Another good option to make a cheaper bass drum sound better is to get a resonant drumhead with a porthole. It just controls the sound a bit more.
The unfortunate thing about cymbals is that you can’t change how they sound like you can with drums. So, you’re stuck with what you have, and if you want to get better sounds, you need to purchase new cymbals.
Getting high-end cymbals is another really good way of improving your overall drum sound. In fact, the common theme in the drumming world is always to spend more on cymbals than you do on drums.
Hi-Hats and Ride Cymbals
If you’re wondering which cymbals to buy first, I strongly recommend focusing on your hi-hats and ride. These are the two cymbal types that get played the most, so having high-end ones will dramatically improve the sound of your drum set.
Cheap drum sets tend to come with brass or B8 cymbals. These are low-quality metals that lead to harsh cymbal sounds. To really get a good set of sounds, you should look for cymbals made from a B20 alloy.
These will be more expensive, but you could also find some great used deals.
Crash cymbal quality isn’t as noticeable, as you’re likely to play your crash cymbals less than you play your hi-hats and ride.
So, only focus on getting new crash cymbals if you’ve already purchased the others. If you have a small budget, your current crash cymbals should be fine for now.
Something that many drummers don’t realize is the way you play the drums makes a big impact on how they sound.
A professional drummer will make a cheap drum kit sound far better than someone who has only been playing for a year, even if they play the exact same drum beats and fills.
So, here are a few technique tips on how to make your drumming sound better, even if you’re playing on a cheap set.
Striking the Center
Every drum produces the fullest sound when you strike the stick right in the center. A lot of beginner and intermediate drummers don’t realize that they’re hitting the drums off-center, so this is definitely something to work on.
A good way to practice this is by playing rudiments on each drum and focusing on hitting right in the middle.
If you hit a drum off-center, you’ll get a weaker sound coming from the shell. It doesn’t sound as good or as intentional.
Holding the Sticks
The way you hold your drumsticks can also affect how your drums sound when you play them.
When you grip your sticks too high up, you get less power behind your strokes, making your playing sound weaker.
When you grip the sticks too far down, you get a lot more power, but you don’t get as much control, and that can lead to sloppier playing.
You need to find the perfect balance point and take it from there. The best way to practice this is by playing exercises on a drum pad and figuring out what works best for you. Once you have that, you can take it to the kit.
Tightening Up Your Strokes
My final technique tip is to really focus on being intentional with what you play. A lot of drummers move their arms around to play without thinking about what they’re playing.
This often leads to sloppier sounding grooves and fills, and that can make a drum set sound worse than it actually is.
You have to make every note count and focus on playing as tightly as you can. The result of that will be better-sounding grooves and a better-sounding drum set.
The last thing you can do to make your drums sound better is focus on the room you’re playing in. Acoustics play a massive role in sound quality, and the best drum kit in the world can still sound bad if you’re playing it in an untreated room.
You don’t need to add high-end professional sound treatment to your room, as that will be quite expensive. However, there are a few small changes that you can make that will lead your kit to sound far more pleasant when you play.
The first step is to make sure that your drum kit is resting on top of a carpet or drum rug. The mechanical benefit of this is that your bass drum won’t slide around when you play, but the sound benefit is that all your drums and cymbals will sound a bit tighter.
You can buy a good drum rug from any drum brand, or you could get a standard rug that would normally be used for a living area. Just make sure it’s relatively thick.
Sound Insulation Panels
Another idea is to hang sound insulation panels on the walls around your drum set. Many people believe that these provide sound isolation to stop other people from hearing the drums, but they don’t actually work that way.
They tighten up the sounds inside the room as they stop all the frequencies from bouncing off the walls. This makes your drum kit sound a lot more pleasant when you’re playing.
Proper panels can be quite pricey, but you could make your own to save on costs.
Filling a Room
The final way to make your room sound better is to simply fill it up. The more things you have in there, the less the sounds of your drums will bounce around.
That’s why drum kits tend to sound a lot better when people have them in bedrooms than when people have them sitting in garages.
Big furniture items are the best tools to use to tighten up the sounds, so don’t be afraid to add a couch or two to your drumming space.
How To Make Drums Sound Better, Final Thoughts
Some of the methods I mentioned above are completely free to try out, but you’ll get the best results when you spend a bit of money.
If I were to give one ultimate way of making your drum kit sound better, it would be to upgrade all your cymbals. That’s the one area that you can’t improve if you stick it out with what you have.
After that, you should replace your heads with high-quality ones, tune the kit as best you can, add muffling, and then sound treat the room.
Finally, you should focus on how you play the drums to maximize the sound quality you get from your kit.