Most drums used by XR bands have a wooden or metal body, a plastic drum skin, and a metal hoop with tuning screws or rods. Brazilian samba drums have tuning rods that tune the top and bottom skins at the same time, drums from recycled drum kits have two skins that need to be tuned separately. Most wooden or metal drums with plastic skins are rainproof, but dry them when you get home to prevent rust and mould.
All drums need tuning to sound their best, and a loose drum skin can break more easily. Tuning works by tightening the screws on a drum’s tuning rods to press the hoop down and stretch the drum skin over the body of the drum. The tighter the skin, the higher the sound.
You will need a tuning key to tune drums recycled from drum kits. You can buy these online or in many music shops that sell drums. Brazilian drums usually have tuning rods with 10mm nuts. You can buy a special drum key for them, or use a 10mm or adjustable spanner.
Tuning drums evenly will keep the skin in good condition. Tighten the screws across from each other, not next to each other, like this:
This drum has an even number of tuning rods. It might be a bit trickier if your drum has an uneven number, but the important thing is not to tighten all the screws on one side first.
Basses, Toms, and Surdos
In a traditional samba band, the bass is provided by the surdos. There can be several different pitches of surdos. RoR bands use three – surdo 1 (low pitch), surdo 2 (mid pitch), and surdo 3 (high pitch). Many RoR and XR bands use bass drums and tom drums from recycled drum kits instead of real surdos. Bass drums or big toms play low and mid surdo parts, and small toms play high surdo parts. Not all XR bands use the mid surdo parts. In a traditional samba band, all the drums are tuned carefully to exact pitches, but XR bands don’t need to be as strict!
Snares and Caixas
Snares from drum kits need a drum key for tuning, Brazilian caixas have tuning rods and 10mm nuts. Snares have wires that make the distinctive snare sound, and these wires need to be adjusted – sometimes this is like a tuning rod, sometimes this is done with a knob built into the drum. Some have a lever to release the wires from the skin, which stops them from making a buzz when you’re not playing them. Snares are usually played with the wire side down, but caixas are played with the wire side up. Wires can break, so check how they’re fixed to your drum and what kind you’ll need to buy in advance!
The repinique (or “repi”, pronounced “hepi”) is a high-pitched Brazilian drum played with wooden drumsticks or nylon “whippy” sticks. They should be tuned to sound high pitched and sharp, this will also make it easier to make the “buzz” sound with a wooden stick (called a flare on RoR tune sheets). A small tom drum can be tuned very high to play repi parts, but it won’t sound quite the same.
Tams need tuning too! They should sound clear and sharp, and can be tuned the same way as bigger drums. Most Brazilian tams need a 6mm key or spanner. Tam skins don’t last very long and break easily so it’s also a good idea to carry a spare skin. If you’re going through a lot of tam skins though, you might be hitting too hard or tuning too high.
These can’t be tuned, but different brands and styles can sound different – if you’re buying some for a new band, you might want to buy all the same kind! Cheaper agogôs with a welded seam at the side can break easily so might not last long if played a lot.
Dampening Drum Skins
If your drum doesn’t sound right even after it’s been tuned, a dampening patch can solve rattly or tinny sounds and make it sound lower and less resonant. You can make a dampening patch by taping a pad of tissue, cloth, or sponge to the drum skin, or just by using tape. Duct tape and electrical tape is available in various colours! Stickers on your drum skin can also have a dampening effect, especially for tams.
Removing and Replacing Drum Skins
A broken drum skin can be easily removed by unscrewing the hoop and removing the tuning screws or rods. Drum skins are cheap and easy to find online and in drum shops – measure the broken skin to make sure you buy the right size. Different thicknesses and materials make drum skins sound different, so if you want your drum to sound the same, try to find the same kind of skin. Recycled kit drums can often have the bottom skin removed without altering the sound much – this can make them lighter to carry, and you’ll have a spare skin!
Ideas for decoration:
- Collect stickers on your drum.
- Stick or tape art or flyers to the body of your drum.
- Make a drum flag by tying or pinning a small block printed flag to your tuning rods.
- Decorate drums and smaller instruments with ribbons or plaited cord.
- Paint your instrument with waterproof paint (be very careful if you paint a drum skin, paint a test patch and see if it affects the skin when you play it before you paint it all).
- Use a stencil to spray paint your drum.
- Use a full-size XR flag to decorate a big surdo.
- Wrap LED lights (you can get solar powered ones!) around your drum. You can also put lights inside your drum to make the skin glow.