The Snare Buzzes When I Hit the Tom: Can I Fix it?

It’s a classic issue in the life of drummers. You hit the smallest, highest pitched tom and your snare makes a buzzing sound in response. Even when you try to dampen the snare with a bit of tape, a slip of paper or card, or even a tea towel, the snare wires still vibrate when you don’t want them to. So, how does this even happen and how can it be solved? In this blog, we offer up a range of different tips you can try out, but be aware that sometimes, the problem just can’t be solved – and maybe it shouldn’t be solved at all.

Snare Buzz: Why Does it Happen?

When you hit any drum, the air inside is forced to move around. This shifting air makes both the upper and lower drumhead resonate, which is exactly what you want, otherwise your drum would make barely any sound. All sound (including the sound of drums) has its own specific vibrational frequency. In other words: every drum vibrates at a specific speed. Imagine the surface of a lake on a still day. When you throw in a small stone then chuck in a big rock, the ripples and waves created by the little stone will be closer together than the waves created by the big rock. In the case of sound, if the ripples – or vibrational frequency is close to the vibrational frequency of another nearby object, it will make that object resonate. The same is true of drums. This effect is always there, but sometimes it’s so extreme that it starts to become a nuisance.

The snare wires mounted on the underside of the snare drum are particularly sensitive to the vibrations of the rest of your kit, but generally this is a good thing, otherwise, your snare wouldn’t have that crisp snare sound. Most of the time, your snare and high tom are the highest pitched parts of your kit, and in terms of frequencies, sit pretty close together. They’re also physically placed closer together, and it’s for these reasons that the snare will buzz when you hit the high tom and not when you hit any other part of the kit.

It can sometimes happen that one of the other instruments being played in your band or ensemble hits a certain note that sets your snare buzzing – this could be the bass guitar, a tuba or even a guitar, since all of these instruments are capable of producing pretty low frequencies. This also makes it near-impossible to overcome a buzzing snare once and for all. And maybe getting rid of the buzz is actually a bad idea.

When studios are recording drum samples they sometimes actually boost the extra snare-vibration to give the digital sample an extra-natural and authentic sound. This kind of resonant quality is also added to sound of piano samples, where the mechanical sounds of the hammers and other internal moving parts of a real piano are mimicked to make things feel as ‘real’ as possible. Of course, if your buzzing snare is getting unbearable, here are a few tips that can help tighten up the sound.

Ensure Minimal Contact

Maybe it goes without saying, but it’s worth taking a look at how your kit is set up. First, check that your snare and tom aren’t actually touching one another. Then, try shifting the snare further towards you or moving the tom further away. You might even want to try sticking a towel or something similar in between them to make sure that the shells can’t come into contact with one another. Even this can already make a big difference.

Check the Snare Wires

Have a good look at your snare wires. It might just be time to replace them. How do you know if they need replacing? Well, broken wires are always a good indication, but you might also have some bent and overlapping wires, which is another good sign. Check how the snare wires are secured on both sides of the drum. Often they’re held in place by a little plastic loop or with cord. Is everything sitting tightly? If it’s not, then try dismantling and then re-mounting the snare wires so you can make sure that everything is tightly secured. A lot of snare wires also have a top and bottom, so check the metal plates on the sides. These plates are slightly curved and that curve needs to be facing away from the resonant head. Often the brand logo is on the plate, so you can immediately see if it’s mounted the wrong way up. While it doesn’t matter if the snare wires are mounted the wrong way around, it makes a big difference if they’re mounted upside down.

Check the Snare Wire Tension

You can easily tighten up the tension of the snare wires via the little knob on the side of the snare drum, which is usually in the same spot where you turn your snare on and off. If you’ve tightened up the snare wires and the problem is eased a little bit, then you’re already on your way to cleaner sound. If tightening the snare wires has actually made the problem worse, then you’ll need to find another solution.

Tip: Try tuning your snare drum with the snare wires switched off. When you think both the batter head and resonant head are sounding good, switch the snare wires back on. Now, loosen the snare wires as far as possible with the little adjustment knob on the side. Then, while softly striking the middle of the batter head, slowly tighten the snare wires up again. At first, your snare will sound pretty bad, but as you tighten the snare wires more and more, you’ll begin to notice that the sound will gradually tighten up. It’s important to keep striking the batter head softly (aim the stick at the centre of the head) throughout the process, and as soon as you notice that the sound of snare wires is starting to diminish, then you know you’ve tightened them too much. Loosen them back a touch to result in a crisp and tight sounding snare sound.

Now, when you turn the snare wires off, you shouldn’t hear the snare wires at all, but if you do, try shifting your snare drum around on the stand. Sometimes the arms of the basket can prevent the snare wires from loosening properly. Basically, a snare drum is just as sensitive as any other musical instrument (even if you’re normally smacking it for dear life) so it’s worth paying attention to the details.

Check the Resonant Head

The resonant head is the bottom drumhead of the snare drum and is the head that actually makes contact with the snare wires. Often, this drumhead can be a bit too loose and vibrate too easily, passing these vibrations through to the snare wires. When it comes to tuning, your resonant head always needs to sound a bit higher pitched than the batter head. Every drum has its own unique note and sounds best when tuned to that note. Only really good quality drums can be tuned to a range of different notes and still sound brilliant.

Try to find the note of your drum by paying attention to where the best resonance lies. It’s not an exact science because every drum will be different but working like this will also help train your ear rather than relying on a tuner. Drum dials and other drum tuning tools are definitely useful if you’ve already found the right note, but the truth is, if you’ve already found the perfect note by ear, it’s usually easy enough to find it by ear again. It’s all a question of listening closely and being persistent.

It’s also worth noting that when most drummers change their drumheads, they often replace the batter head and forget about the resonant head. The thought behind it is that the resonant head is never damaged because, well, you never actually hit it. However, when you replace the resonant head you’ll immediately realise that it can make a world of difference, especially when it comes to toms and snare drums, so it’s definitely worth a try. Maybe see what a coated resonant head can do for the sound, or a clear head. You can learn a lot by simply seeing what effect different heads can have, and as your drumming career progresses, that kind of knowledge will be invaluable when you’re searching for a specific sound.

Tuning the Snare: Some Guidelines

A good guideline to follow when tuning your snare drum is to make sure that the resonant head is tuned at least a quarter or fifth step higher than the batter head. By a quarter or fifth, we’re referring to the musical intervals that are played on any melodic musical instrument – like a piano or guitar. A good example of a quarter interval is in the song Amazing Grace. Sing the first line and pay attention to the two notes in ‘Amazing’ – those two notes are separated by a quarter interval. Another example: the notes C and F are separated by a quarter interval. A familiar example of a fifth interval is in Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, where the first two notes are separated by a fifth interval. If you’re playing the song on a melodic instrument like a guitar, then you’d play a C and G. This can often be a good starting point when tuning your snare, and gives you an idea of the difference in pitch between the upper and lower drumheads. With toms, floor toms and kick drums, the tuning differences between the batter and resonant heads should be a little different.

Loosen the Tensions Rods Around the Snare Wires

If the problem hasn’t gone away, then try loosening all the tension rods that sit closest to the snare wires – just a little bit. This will mean that the drumhead curves out a touch and increases contact with the snare wires. This can help reduce the problem, but doesn’t remedy it. You might also need to loosen the snare wires a little to compensate for the curve of the head. This is just something that’s worth trying out. It won’t break anything and as we’ve already mentioned, every drum is different, so listen closely to the effect any adjustments are having on the sound.

The Problem isn’t with Your Snare or Your Kit

If the problem definitely isn’t caused by the tension of the resonant head of your snare or the snare wires, and your snare is well positioned on the snare stand, then you’ve already done everything you can to the snare. Of course, you could try using a tea towel, some tape or card to try to solve the problem – like the thousands of drummers before you, but none of them managed to solve it that way either…

The High Tom

The next step is to have a look at your high tom. Here, you can also start by checking the tuning of the resonant head. Basically, you need to tune it higher or lower – in fact – tune it to a pitch that stops making your snare buzz. If this solves the issue and the resonant head of your tom is sounding good, then maybe you can try tuning the batter head to a different pitch. If you do this, then it’s likely that the rest of your drums will also need a tune up – so any other toms and your floor tom. If your drums are well tuned then in principle, there should be no need to use any kind of dampening gear.

Accept & Embrace the Sound

Hopefully by trying one or a few of the tips above, you’ve already managed to clean your snare sound up and get rid of most of that unwanted buzz. There’s a big chance that the problem can’t be completely fixed, but as I mentioned earlier, it can be an essential part of a natural and organic snare sound. Of course, if it’s getting genuinely annoying, then that’s a different story, but a little bit of sonic nuance can actually work. For example, eye-wateringly expensive electronic drum kits like the Roland TD-50K2 very specifically use samples that capture all those extra little noises caused by the resonance of the snare wires to result in a more realistic drum sound. Try one of these kits out and you’ll notice that when you hit the high tom, you hear the soft buzzing of snare wires in the background.

Tuning Your Drum Kit is Essential!

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the importance of knowing how to tune your drum kit. When it comes to seeking out a specific sound or tone, this knowledge is absolutely essential. Basically, knowing what effect tightening or loosening both the upper and lower drumheads will only help you be a better drummer, since it’ll mean you have the tools needed to quickly fix any possible issues that might pop up. Sure, there are other gadgets and aids you can get like drum tuners that promise, with just the right level of tension, that you’ll get exactly the same sound as your drumming hero. But this is probably going to be an empty claim, since the sound of a drum kit is defined by far more than just the tuning. In fact it’s defined by far more than just the configuration, the drumheads, and even the shells and sticks. The most influential element of any drum kit is always going to be the drummer. Sit two different drummers down behind exactly the same kit and you’ll hear something completely different out of both of them.

The honed technique of any professional drummer means they’ll be able to get decent sound out of any drum kit. And that kit doesn’t have to be expensive. Even if your kit cost 10,000 quid, that’s no guarantee that your drumming is immediately going to sound better. If your tuning technique needs work, then have a look at our complete guide in this blog and have a flip through the many drum-tuning video tutorials you can find online and try out a few different approaches. If one doesn’t work, just move onto the next and never give up or accept the idea that your old drum kit will never sound good. Because the truth is: with the right set of drumheads and the right tuning, any drum kit can sound good.

See also…

» Drum Tools
» Drumheads
» Drum Damping
» Silent Drumming
» All Drums & Accessories

» Dampen Your Drums on the Cheap
» What’s the Best Dampening Gear for My Drum Kit?
» 5 Tips To Keep Drum Noise To A Minimum
» Drumheads: How to Get Perfect Tone
» What Are the Best Drum Heads for Me?
» Bass Drum Heads: Hole or No Hole?
» How To Make The Most Out Of Your Drumheads – 3 Practical Tips
» How to Make Your Cymbals Last Longer
» Drumheads: How to Get Perfect Tone
» How to tune your drum kit

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