A key drummer and team oversight for many of our Creative projects, JP Starra shares some of his experience from behind the kit. Across a variety of venues throughout Hillsong Church, we require our drummers to be excellent in the art of playing quietly but powerfully.
Here are JP’s 10 Tips for drumming quietly in church!
1. Use smaller sticks, but not too small.
You can overcompensate if the sticks are TOO small and don’t have enough weight. If you normally play with 5B’s, try using 5A’s when you’re concerned about volume.
2. Use darker rather than bright cymbals.
Bright cymbals like A Custom’s will pierce through the mix, but a darker cymbal like a K Light Ride tends to be more washy and less intrusive. Compare different cymbals and see what works for you!
3. Mind your cymbal stick technique, especially on rides and crashes.
Hitting them with the tip produces a lot of attack, so try hitting the cymbal from the neck or shoulder of the stick instead. And hit them softly, rather than a lot of follow-through on each stroke.
4. Listen to the room.
If you use in-ear monitors, make sure you have a lot of ambience in your mix. This helps to gauge the sound of the room. If the sound goes out from the speakers and falls flat, you know that it’s a dry room and you might need to fill the space a bit more. If the drums echo and linger for a few seconds, you know that it’s a boomy room and you’ll need to leave more space in your playing, otherwise it will sound muddy.
5. Keep your elbows in.
It will force you to use your wrists a bit more and your arms less.
6. Don’t trust your in-ears.
If you use in-ear monitoring, even just for your metronome, it can sometimes help to have an ear slightly out, so you can get natural bleed from your kit. Noise-cancelling headphones can be deceiving; if you’re unsure about your volume, take one ear-bud out just a bit so you can gauge your volume honestly.
7. Raise your setup
Especially your snare height. You’ll play quieter if you don’t have to follow through as much on your Moeller stroke.
8. Get rid of the drum screen.
I know this is a bit controversial and it might not work for all contexts and teams. But the drum shield gives you the illusion that you can play loudly with no consequences. Removing the screen forces you to watch your volume, without a safety net. It also gives you the added benefit of being more connected with the rest of the team and congregation, allowing you to adapt and engage more effectively.
9. Watch the congregation members that are closest to the drums.
If they’re grimacing or covering their ears, that’s a good indication that you can afford to ease up a bit.
10. Ask for feedback.
The quickest way to find out how you’re doing is to ask someone. Your front-of-house engineer, your worship leader, a fellow drummer, or even anyone in the congregation. They’ll gladly tell you how it’s sounding. Then make sure you actually take their feedback on board!
These are some of the things that have helped me drum quietly in many different contexts.
Are there some things that you’ve found particularly helpful already? Is there any that would you disagree with? What things would you add to this list? I would love to hear any tips you have too – let’s get better together!