Why Your Snare Drum Rings (+How To Reduce It & Embrace It)

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  • What is a snare drum ring?
  • Why do snare drums ring, and how can we use this to our advantage?
  • Top tips with audio examples to reduce snare drum ring…

Whether you’re a drummer, sound engineer, producer, or record drums in your home studio, you’ve likely experienced the ‘ping’ or low mid ‘honk’ of a ringing snare drum.

Or perhaps you’ve recorded a ringing snare, then spent hours dialing in your favorite EQ, only to find that the end result couldn’t be further from the natural sound of an acoustic snare drum!

In this article, we’ll explore common reasons why acoustic snare drums ring, how we can utilize this snare sound to our advantage, and provide top tips to help control those oppressive overtones.

While it’s important to remember that drums are designed to resonate, many factors can increase snare drum ring: tuning relationships between the batter and resonant head, consistency of pitch, type of drum head, and even the shell material.

Before we dive into the details, let’s start by understanding snare drum ring, what it is, and how to identify it.

Why Does My Snare Drum Ring?

Snare drum ringing is caused by a combination of the overtones produced by the materials of the snare, including:

  1. The shell depth
  2. Type of drum head; and
  3. The head strike zone

Read on for a more in-depth explanation of this phenomenon.

Although the combination of materials, shell depth, type of drum head, and the head strike zone can all contribute to a ringing snare drum, typically, these highly emphasized overtones appear when the resonant head is either excessively tight or when the melodic interval between the batter and resonant heads are too far apart.

For our ringing snare example above, the batter head was medium to low and the resonant head extremely high.

Due to the tension of the resonant head, it was unable to vibrate to its full potential and therefore absorb and disperse energy within the shell.

Instead of vibrating to help create additional tone and character, its hard surface reflected trapped energy back onto the batter head, causing it to overstimulate and produce a prominent overtone.

Essentially what we created was a feedback loop inside a snare drum!

How Do I Reduce Snare Drum Ring?

If you’re experiencing increased overtones, the first, and most crucial consideration is drum head tensioning, otherwise referred to as ‘drum tuning’.

While tuning implies right or wrong, tensioning helps us appreciate that we’re simply adjusting our drum to achieve the sound of our choice, or for any given musical situation.

There are two key elements to tensioning that will help minimize overtones.

Relationship of Pitch Between Heads

While over tensioning to minimize vibration may seem logical, drums respond well when both heads are able to work together, evenly dispersing energy, therefore providing a natural tone.

To avoid heads conflicting (similar to our example above), it’s vital that the resonant head is not overly tight in relation to the batter head, resulting in an extremely wide interval between the two.

The problematic interval between heads will often vary depending on the overall pitch and individual drum.

However, if the resonant head is exceptionally tight, first experiment by gradually bringing it down in pitch.

Be careful not to loosen the resonant head too much lower than the batter head – unless a creative choice of course!

Although it will help minimize ring, it will also make your snare drum sound flat, boxy, and lifeless due to a lack of snare response.

The following audio example demonstrates this.

Remember to listen out for dominant overtones. Resonance or sustain can be controlled with alternative methods, discussed below.

Evenness of Pitch

Ensuring an even pitch across the batter head is an important consideration.

While our ‘ringing snare’ example demonstrates one excessively prominent overtone, pitch discrepancies can cause multiple tones, making it extremely hard to control in a live or post-production scenario.

Alternative Ways to Reduce Snare Drum Ring

Upon successful tensioning, you may also wish to decrease resonance and sustain, as well as ringing overtones. Dampening and drum head types provide us with the next steps.

Dampening

Drum Dampening (or muffling) simply adds mass to the drum head, resulting in less vibration, therefore, reduced overtones.

While there are many audible considerations to dampening, it’s extremely popular amongst many drummers, engineers, and producers, and can often provide a ‘quick fix’, especially for live gigs, or when time is limited.

There are many products available, below are five of the most common: 

  • Snareweight
  • MoonGel
  • Remo Active Snare Head Dampening System
  • O-Ring
  • Big Fat Snare Drum Donut

It’s safe to say that all of these products work extremely well, however, it’s essential to experiment and find the damping method that works well for each given situation.

While the Big Fat Snare Drum Donut has been designed to provide extreme results, adding several MoonGel pads can provide additional versatility, therefore a gradual reduction to suit.

Drum Heads

There are many drum heads available, all with their own unique characteristics, feel, and tone.

If looking for a solution to reduce a lively snare without the need for dampening, try applying a dense, double-ply head. This can deliver reliable results due to its added mass.

Many companies offer options such as built-in inlay rings, as seen on Remo’s Powerstroke series.

Additionally, Evans™ further minimize resonance, sustain, and overtones on their Genera HD Dry series by pre-drilling holes, allowing sound wave energy to easily disperse.

Considerations

A double-ply snare drum head, or adding additional mass can greatly reduce vibration. Let’s consider the alternative effects.

Listen to the difference between both audio examples below. The first clip is without dampening, the second has three MoonGel pads on the batter head.

Without Dampening:

With Dampening:

In comparison, it’s clear that the dampening has successfully removed all ringing overtones, providing a focused, rich and warm snare sound. For many, this could be the perfect sound!

However, let’s consider dampening from an alternative angle.

We’ll notice how the unique, natural character of the drum is now absent due to a vast decrease in resonance, tone, and projection.

In an audio-only test, our dampened snare above could easily pass for many others with three MoonGel pads on them!

So, is this wrong? Certainly not!

Your vision and the musical situation will always guide snare drum dampening and individual head choices.

Whether performing live, in the studio, or simply for your own pleasure, each will have its unique set of parameters that will determine the most suitable option.

What is Snare Drum Ring?

Although the design and construction of a snare drum are relatively simple, the multitude of sounds produced can be complex.

As a result, the term ‘ring’ is often used to describe multiple characteristics.

If you’re looking to find a solution to a ringing snare drum, it’s important to identify and deconstruct what it is you’re hearing to find a solution!

Resonance, Sustain, or Overtones?

Confusion often arises when terms such as resonance, sustain, and overtones are randomly used to describe snare drum ring.

In the following section, we’ll understand the differences, listen to some examples, and discover how they can affect our snare sound.

Resonance

It may sound obvious, but every drum component vibrates when hit.

The vibration (often referred to as ‘resonance’) produces sound due to the movement of air produced by the batter and resonant heads.

The resulting resonance produces the drum’s energy, timbre, and specific character.

Depending on the make-up of materials, resonance is also attributed to the drum’s liveliness, tone, and sound projection.

Sustain

The term ‘sustain’ simply describes how long the drum’s resonance continues before it becomes inaudible.

Numerous drum companies such as Yamaha, Mapex, and Gretsch, design many of their kits to produce maximum sustain, enabling their drums to individually ‘speak’ and blend musically within a mix.

Snare drums that generate a great deal of sustain are often described as ‘ringy’. What we’re often defining as ‘unsuitable’ is the drum in its most natural form!

Take a listen to the following Gretsch Broadkaster 14×5” snare drum.

All audio examples within this article feature the same snare, without EQ or compression. We recommend listening through good-quality headphones or speakers for the most accurate representation.

This snare drum produces a full, resonant, open tone, with a small amount of sustain in the mid to high-mid frequencies.

In comparison, the drum is resonating like an acoustic guitar or banjo that relies on natural resonance to produce a sound.

To hear the same snare drum produce tones that truly ‘ring’, read on…

Overtones

Overtones are accompanying harmonics produced above the fundamental frequency or note.

All acoustic instruments create overtones that contribute to the overall depth and character of the sound. Without them, the result would be thin and one-dimensional.

If tensioned correctly, snare drums have the potential to produce a wide range of pleasant, rich overtones.

Get this wrong, it runs the risk of emphasizing specific harmonics that can drastically overpower the drum’s natural quality.

The result? A ringing snare drum!

With the loudest harmonic at around 200Hz, the next audio clip is a great example of snare ring.

Think of this as a standing wave accentuated between two parallel walls, but inside a drum rather than a room!

As you can hear, both versions of the same drum sound entirely different. T

he first example demonstrates plenty of natural resonance and sustain, whereas the second is suffering from ‘ring’ due to a particularly noticeable harmonic.

So, the important question is, what caused this phenomenon?

Ring, Good or Bad? It’s All About Context

Are a few ringing overtones a bad thing? It’s certainly up for debate, but let’s first consider the musical context.

A ringing snare may sound unpleasant in isolation, however, if tuned to the song’s pitch, it can add character, life, or a unique tone. Alternatively, if discordant, be suitably raucous or harsh.

Drummer Lars Ulrich from Metallica describes his ringing snare in the song ‘St Anger’ as ‘raw and angry’.

Although there have been many conflicting discussions about this particular snare sound, there’s no denying that these overtones help add aggression, power, and force to the overall mix.

It’s worth checking out if you haven’t already!

In contrast, listen to the very first snare hit performed by drummer Steve Jordan on ‘Vultures’ by John Mayer.

You’ll instantly notice a distinctive, sweet overtone in the low-mid frequencies that help carry each snare hit to the next.

Also, hear how Jordan’s overtone is perfectly in tune with the song. If discordant, it would have been particularly insensitive to the piece, causing an uncomfortable listening experience.

Wrapping Up

Identifying what may be causing the ring is key.

Ultimately, resonance, sustain, and overtones all descend from vibration, but understanding which one you want to control will inherently allow you to achieve your desired sound.

Whether it’s head tensioning, dampening, or head choices, the methods used to control your snare will all depend on the musical setting, drum in question, and most importantly, musical vision!

FAQ

How Can I Reduce Snare Drum Ring In Post-Production?

If you’ve found yourself recording a ringing snare drum that’s not quite sitting in the mix, a parametric EQ will help minimize any undesirable overtones.

While it won’t get rid of them completely, the following method, used by many great engineers, will certainly help.

Using a gentle boost and very narrow ‘Q’, try to pinpoint any unfavorable overtones, you will hear an unnaturally sustained ‘ring’ when you’ve found the frequency in question.

Once established, this can then be cut to balance out each of the specific overtones causing issues.

Be careful not to overcut or widen your ‘Q’ too much, the key here is to isolate the overtones, whilst maintaining the body and natural resonance of the snare.

Example…

Take a listen to the following snare drum, it’s producing rich resonance and sustain, however, there are a few lively overtones at around 405Hz.

Now have a listen to the same snare drum post EQ. To help understand the process further, we’ve included a screenshot of the EQ settings used.

Reducing Snare Drum Overtones

The change is subtle, but notice how this method only focused on the overtones in question.

Why Does Snare Drum Ring Sound Worse When Mic’ed Up?

Although a ringing snare drum can be used creatively to provide a harsh, lively, or unique tone, quite often, powerful overtones are produced by an overexcited batter head.

When mic’ing up a snare drum, many situations call for a conventional, close mic set-up, pointing directly at the top of the drum.

By using this method, we’re retrieving our sound from the head that’s producing dominant overtones and not taking in the broader audible picture, such as the snap of snare wires, or room resonance.

How Tight Should My Snare Wires Be?

While personal preference, genre suitability, and resonant head tuning all play a huge part in snare wire tension, extremely loose wires will over vibrate, causing rattle, or buzz.

The resulting sound will lack attack and presence.

If overly tight, snare wires will become less responsive at lower dynamics and produce a dull, lifeless tone.