I suffer from a condition called tinnitus. It is defined as the perception of sound in the human ear in the absence of corresponding external sounds. It can be perceived in one or both ears or in the head. It is usually described as a ringing noise, but in some patients it takes the form of a high pitched whining, buzzing, hissing, humming, or whistling sound, or as ticking, clicking, roaring, "crickets" or "tree frogs" or "locusts", tunes, songs, or beeping. It has also been described as a "whooshing" sound, as of wind or waves. Tinnitus can be intermittent or it can be continuous. In the latter case, this "phantom" sound can create great distress in the sufferer. (Thank you Wikipedia for that description!)
I’ve had it as long as I can remember. In my case, it’s more like the high-pitched ringing whooshing sound, but I’ve learned to live with it. But it’s dang annoying sometimes! Maybe I will tell my doctor the next time I see him (if I remember; I forget I have it sometimes I’m so used to it).
But I digress. This isn’t really about that ringing in my ears, but about another one. In this case I’m talking about the snare drum. Yes, the other drums ring too, but snare drum ringing annoys me the most! Preference in snare drum sound is as individual as there are drummers, but that’s a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that, for me, snare drum ringing is almost as annoying as tinnitus.
I’ve always noted it, but I didn’t pay that much mind to it until a few years ago my wife gave me a snare drum as an anniversary present (man, does she know me!). Won’t reveal the brand (at least not today), but I was eager to get into it for sure. As I started paradiddling on it (what else would I do?), I noticed it ringed – a lot. This was really annoying! Yes, the gift was perfect, but why the ringing? Mind you, I went a lot of years without owning drums, and when I did have them I never bothered with tuning or muffling or that sort of thing. But as I do with tinnitus, I put up with it, ‘cause I loved the drum so!
That got me thinking: what drummers have that distinctive ringing sound on their snare? Mind you, I grew up listening mostly to rock (classic rock as it’s called these days), not so much jazz, but no matter. One example that comes to mind is Bill Bruford’s early years with Yes. In the Yes documentary “YesYears, a Retrospective,” Bill mentions that since Chris Squire’s bass was very trebly, and that he would usually play higher notes rather than lower ones, the sound very much intruded on the sound of the snare. So Bill had to play (or set) the snare so that it would cut very cleanly in the recording so it could be heard. This resulted in a sort of “pong” type of sound when he smacked the snare. This is very evident in the song “Roundabout” from Yes’ Fragile release. Although he may have had to do this by necessity, to me it’s just downright annoying!
There are many recordings today where this “ponging” or ringing is prevalent. Alas, even my favorite drummer, Neil Peart, it seems has taken a liking to this sound, and it is prevalent in the Snakes & Arrows Live cd, but even more so in the R30 live cd. A little too much ringing in this blogger’s ears.
And it’s all preference, I know. We all strive to achieve the perfect sound, or we want to try different sounds just because. But me, I don’t care too much for it. So back to my snare drum: what was I going to do about it?
One day I decided to step into a music store and ask if there was anything that would help muffle the ringing. I was shown one of the most amazing drum accessories ever! It’s called Moongel, by Rtom. If your local music store doesn't stock it, you can obtain it via one of Rtom's distributors, Big Bang Distribution. It’s a small rectangular gel-like strip that you place strategically on the snare head. The little round container has four strips in it, which allows you to vary the degree of the muffling. You know I bought it right away! Went home and tried it, and I had a whole new snare! It sounded wonderful! I didn’t know something so small could have such an effect on the sound, but low and behold, it was exactly what I was looking for, and unintrusive to boot!
I wondered if anyone else professionally was using the Moongel, and I found out that, well, yes of course! Among others I’m sure, but most recently I read that Raymond Weber, who among other gigs has played for Harry Connick Jr., uses it on his snare.
But what has happened since then? I’ve actually discovered that the ringing (or ponging) sound does have a practical use, sparingly, at least. I don’t remember which car commercial it was, but the jingle had a really, really cool jazzy lick that I thought was outstanding, and boy did that snare ring! But you know what, it was perfect for that.
So I’ve changed my stance a little as far as the ‘ringing in my ears’ go. Depending on my snare at the time, I’ll make sure it doesn’t ring, because I like the quick pop or snappy sound of a snare – make your sound and get out of the way! But for some songs, I’ll take that Moongel off. Hey, aren’t those the choices that make the fun in drumming?