What is Quality of Sound?
Mike Coers

There is a big difference between "hearing the execution" from segment to segment in the marching battery and the actual "sound quality" produced by the segments as a whole.

Sound Quality may be described as a "presence" of sound that is unique and intentional. A deliberate effort by each individual to match one another in certain categories must be evident, and the resulting output of sound from each drummer in the segment must be consistent for the maximum achievement of "Sound Quality".

Here are some things to think about in terms of consistency from player to player:

HOW MUCH DOES EACH NOTE WEIGH?

1.) Consider the amount of grip pressure.

Even though each player may have a different size hand, they can individually control the amount of pressure on the grip. The more pressure applied to the fulcrum, the more the weight of the forearm is transferred to the stick.

As the grip tightens using the back three fingers, the weight of the stroke increases, making a heavier and thicker sound

 This makes it very important to define how much of back three fingers are to be used and whether the pressure is applied more to the front of the hand toward the fulcrum ( for more delicate sounds ) or toward the rear fingers ( for more forceful and full sounds )

2.) Where is the grip on the stick?

If you are having trouble getting the left hand to sound as full as the right, check your grip placement. Many times, when using traditional grip, a younger player will “choke up “on the left hand, literally shortening the amount of stick in front of the grip. This means that the right stick is actually longer in front of the grip point and naturally attacks the drum with more velocity. Make adjustments to the left hand grip placement until an equal amount of velocity is possible.

3.) What is the speed of the stroke?

Once the grip point match on each stick, we can then assess velocity of stroke. This means, simply, “How fast is the stick approaching the playing surface “. Chances are that if the all players lift the stick to the same height, and approach the playing surface at the same rate of speed, the sound will be articulate and consistent from player to player.

4.) How much of the arm is used in the upstroke?

Defining how much wrist and arm is used in each stroke also contributes to the depth of sound produced. If we use only the wrist and allow no forearm involvement in the upstroke, then both the height of rise and the amount of available power will be affected. Think of the arm as having three hinges, like a door in your house. One hinge is the wrist, another is the elbow, and a third is the rotator in your shoulder. Varying the amounts of hinge motion and speed of stroke from each of these possibilities will also affect the weight of each stroke.                       

WHAT IS THE EMOTIONAL COLOR OF EACH STROKE?

Emotional Color refers to the amount of sparkle, or energy, or presence a phrase takes up in the venue. It might be light and shiny, or dark, rich and thick, or abrasivel, etc. There are as many possibilities for color as there are ideas in your head. Here are some things to consider when “coloring “a phrase:

1.) How much rebound do you allow?

The amount of rebound you allow to occur after each stroke determines the amount that a note can breathe within the phrase. Obviously, a legato stroke allows the most rebound after each stroke and comes off as the most mellow of sounds, the more the rebound is shortened or choked, the more bite the stroke will have. You can take this to the nth degree and use the ‘dead “stroke as the thickest and most abrasive of sounds possible.

2.) What is the angle of approach to the playing surface, Or "How much Tip do I use?"

The angle and amount of tip that comes in contact with the playing surface can be manipulated to create variations on the sound quality. Choosing an Implement that has a unique tip shape can have its advantages. I choose the snare stick that comes to a point at the tip and is shovel shaped in designed so that you can play with the fullest amount of stick contact to the surface in full out passages, and still have the ability to elevate the butt end of the stick and use just the smallest end of the tip for more articulate and sensitive phrases without changing sticks.

3.) What is the depth of each stroke?

How far down into the head do you allow each stroke to penetrate? Many players actually choke the stroke off without ever allowing it to fully penetrate down into the head of the drum.  This concept may be manipulated to allow more top head sound by not allowing the weight of the stroke to move air all the way through the bottom head. The full out , bottom head penetrating stroke will produce the fullest sound the drum was designed to produce, while a stroke defined and controlled by the back fingers may look full and strong and actually produce a much different timbre by carefully controlling the depth of the stroke.

While there are many things to consider with regard to sound quality, the first and foremost is for the idea person ( idea person being the instructor, arranger , section leader , etc.. ) to have a clear mental picture of what sound he is trying to develop at each phrase of the show. First, make  aesthetic decisions and commit to them, and then the sound quality possibilities come into play. Decide WHAT emotional energy goes WHERE within the context of the overall show, and then begin sculpting your work of art using weight and emotional color!

Mike Coers
WWW.MIKECOERS.COM