Frequent Percussion Questions

Have a question about something percussion related and just don’t know who to ask? Are you a band director whose main instrument is not percussion so you are a little shaky on some things? You are in the right place! if you don’t get the answers you need from what’s listed here, please contact our educational specialists and we will be glad to help.

All of our cymbals keep cracking right at the hole. Am I buying cheap cymbals or hitting them too hard or with the wrong kind of sticks?

Chances are, none of the above. In most cases where the cymbal starts to crack right at the hole it is because the cymbal is not protected from the stand properly. Yup, the stand. Each cymbal stand should have a plastic sleeve over the actual spindle that the cymbal fits down over. It should also be properly “sandwiched” with felts. The sandwich goes like this, put the sleeve over the spindle, then a metal washer, then a felt, then the cymbal, another felt, another metal washer, then the wing nut. Or, modern technology has made this pretty easy. Get yourself a “swing nut” from Gibraltar and make life easy!

My cymbals tend to crack right at the bell and sometimes before they crack they invert when the kids play them and we have to pop them back into shape. Is there something we can do to avoid this?

Storage may be the cause of your problem. Many cymbals get stored flat in a cabinet. Invariably other stuff gets piled up on top of them. After all, percussion kids aren’t known for their keen ability to put things away properly. The cymbals then get pressed down and stress gets placed on the base of the bell. Save yourself from replacing one of the most expensive percussion items you have and store them in a cymbal bag vertically or in a proper orchestral cymbal cradle.

Is there a better way to mount wind chimes that just dangling them from a cymbal stand?

Yes indeed. Chime mounting clamps, such as the LP Mount All Bar Chime Bracket and the TreeWorks Tre52 Chime Mounting Bracket, mount to any existing cymbal stand and are made to clamp properly to the wood frame across the top of your wind chimes.

The pedals on our timpani never stay where we put them. They always spring in one direction or the other so the pedal is basically useless. How can we fix this and why does it happen?

Fixing this takes a little bit of time, preventing it is usually not letting the students touch the fine tuning knob. That's that knob above the pedal. Human nature tells us, and your percussionists, that if the pedal flies to wherever it wants to that it must be loose and that tightening it will get it to stop where we want it to. This is why 9 times out of 10 when the percussion repair person gets to your drums that knob is about as tight as it can get. Actually the issue is that the pedal is called a "balanced action" pedal. It is balanced between the tension of the head and the tension of the pedal. One needs the other to be set properly in order for them to work right. Cranking that knob over and over makes the pedal "too strong" against the tension of the head, throwing off the balance. Here is a quick guide to get your timpani up and running again:

  1. Push the heel of the pedal all the way to the floor. If it won’t stay there, loosen the head all the way until the heel of the pedal stays on the floor. The head may get so loose that it starts to ripple and sound like paper when you hit it, that’s okay.
  2. Tighten the head until you get the lowest pitch that the drum is supposed to produce. Using a tuner for this is tough, a good ear is best. The heel of the pedal should still be all the way down.
  3. After you have the low pitch established with the pedal all the way heel-down, push the toe of the pedal all the way down. If it won’t stay, turn the pedal adjustment knob to the right until it stays in the toe-down position without springing back. One thing to consider is that the toe-down position should be the highest pitch that the drum is supposed to play. This may not always be achieved with the pedal in it’s fullest toe-down position. If the highest pitch is achieved slightly less than all the way toe-down that’s okay. The key is, we have to get the pedal to stay wherever the highest pitch is produced.
  4. Once you have the pedal tension matched to the head tension the pedal should stay wherever you push it to, whether heel-down, toe-down, or anywhere in between. This can take some small adjustments with the head tension and pedal tension until it’s right.
  5. If you have a tuner built into the drum, you’ll need to adjust the tuning indicators after you get the lowest and highest pitches established. From heel-down, lowest pitch, push the toe of the pedal down until it has tightened the head up to the next pitch. To hear the pitch just tap the head with a timpani mallet as you go. Set the tuning indicator when you have it. Continue with each pitch until you have all of the indicators in the correct place.
  6. This is intended to get those pedals back to functioning. Proper tuning and fine adjustment will still be needed. But this will get them going for a lesson or concert without too much hassle.

The adjuster on the side of my concert snared drum doesn’t work. Well, it does, if you pull up on it and fiddle with it a little. Do I need to replace it or does it just need an adjustment?

Try tightening the vertical knob on the “throw-off” (or “strainer”) first and see if that fixes it. Sometimes the snares are so loose the throw-off can’t pull it tight without lifting up on that adjuster knob. You really don’t need them that loose, just loose enough that when you turn the snares off you get zero snare sound and just a tom-tom sound, no need to go looser than that. The other side of this problem is that, unfortunately, the design of these isn’t exactly wonderful. They have a couple of rivet-like posts that enable a cam action that tends to wear out over not too long of a time span. But they are easy to replace. In fact, a responsible High school student might even be okay changing one of these with supervision, but probably not if the snare in question is a $600 maple job. Let them try their hand at the metal 14x5 model.

  1. Buy a replacement like this Ludwig Standard Snare Drum Throw Off.
  2. Remove the top head of the drum.
  3. You’ll need to remove the snares from the strainer first. This is usually done by loosening a couple of screws on the bottom of the strainer to release the string or plastic that holds the snares to the strainer.
  4. Next, unbolt the old strainer from the shell being careful not to lose the little nuts and bolts. Install the new one. Re-attach the snares to the bottom of the strainer and you’re all set.

These instructions are for quick back of the band room fixes necessary in a pinch. Further adjustment will enhance the sound and functionality of the snare drum.

How do I know what size timpani heads to order? I’ve heard that this can be a nightmare! The heads are not the same size as the drums, something about a collar being extended. I didn’t even know timpani had collars. Help!

Ordering timpani heads seems to have grown into a legend of its own. A dark one. Everyone seems to have returned timpani heads because they weren’t the right size at least once. Believe it or not, it’s not nearly as scary as you may have heard. Read Steve Weiss Music’s Timpani Head Size Guide and this quick lesson will take away your fear.