Practicing Quietly: What Are Drum Mutes For?
One of the first things anyone will notice about drums is that they can be rather loud. A more experienced drummer would also note that they often reverberate without regard. For those two reasons, drum mutes have long existed in this world.
Whether you are trying to make things quieter or tune the sound quality of your performance, you’ll look to professional mutes to get the job done.
I’m a classically trained percussionist and have been recording and working in the business for more than 20 years. I’ve worked with rock bands, jazz bands, one country group (it’s not my favorite style) and I marched snare drum in college.
I tried just shy of 50 different drum mutes (many of which I have used for years) to make sure I could vouch for their sound and feel, but I didn’t stop there by talking with some top professional drummers. I put it all together, rated the products with my formula and came up with my top picks.
In this case, there are two top choices: a best silencer and a best dampener.
The Best Dampener: Moongel Damper Pads
We’ve talked about how no single mute will be the best for every case, but Moongel Damper Pads come pretty close. These are adhesive gel pads that work to absorb vibration. While they aren’t the only gel pads on the market, they are my favorite for a couple of reasons.
First, they are the best for leaving no residue whatsoever behind when you remove them. Second, they’re extremely easy to cut, enabling you to customize your muted sound with surprising and impressive precision. Third, they are shockingly inexpensive.
Each set comes with six pads, and at roughly $10 a set, you can afford a few to really get after the perfect sound. You’ll also be happy to note that they are safe on drums and cymbals, and removing them mid-set is super easy, so you can go for a varied array of sound in a single set.
The Best Silencer: SoundOff by Evans
There are two big names in drum silencers: Vic Firth and Evans. Plenty of other companies compete, but if you ask a hundred great drummers which they prefer, these two will be the bulk of your answers.
I’m going to inevitably upset half of the veterans reading this, but my experience prefers SoundOff by Evans. Here’s why. The Vic Firth silencers actually change the sound of the drums and cymbals less, making them better dampeners, but SoundOff silencers yield a quieter practice session.
On top of that, they just barely edge ahead of Vic Firth in responsiveness. As for longevity, I haven’t manages to wear out either in a few years of use, so you know they can take a pounding.
This isn’t as decisive a choice as I often make, as both Vic Firth and Evans make amazing silencers, but when there can be only one winner, SoundOff is the top choice.
Picking the Best Drum Dampeners
Picking drum mutes has a different starting point from other percussion instruments and tools. Mutes can serve one of two primary functions: they can make instruments quieter or they can change the tonal quality of the instruments.
While plenty of mutes will do both, you will really only have one of these two goals in mind when you shop. If your goal is quieter drums, then the quality of sound that comes out is of almost no importance.
Conversely, many mutes are used in professional recordings. Here you want a specific sound quality. Despite how these goals can conflict each other, we are going to be looking at mutes of all purposes in this guide.
So, if you want one type and not the other, keep in mind these differences as you read. For easy reference, we’ll be calling mutes that are geared towards quieter playing “silencers” and mutes that try to hit specific sound qualities “dampeners.”
Qualities of a Good Mute
As always, determining the best starts with identifying the most valuable qualities. Each quality will be broken into two parts, separating silencers from dampeners, so you can stay focused on your particular goal.
If you have read my other reviews, you already know this. I am of the school of thought that places sound quality on a pedestal. When shopping for any instrument or musical tool, its effect on the quality of sound matters most. This is especially true for performance mutes.
The only reason to get a dampener is to alter the quality of sound, so for those products, this quality determined almost 80 percent of the mute’s value. Still, we can go much deeper than just saying this one sounds good or bad.
Subcategories related to sound include adaptability and ease of use. A mute with a wide range of sounds that can easily be interchanged mid-set is worth much more than a semi-permanent drum fixture that only achieves one timbre.
Even so, if you are really chasing the subtlest perfectionism, you may need a large number of perfectly selected mutes rather than one universal tool. Then again, if you are hitting that level of play, you probably don’t need this guide as much.
Silencers are a whole different story. While it’s nice to get silencers that don’t completely destroy sound quality, their main job is to make your practice sessions quiet.
There are exceptions to this, but in this review, I’m making recommendations on the assumptions that you have roommates or neighbors who don’t fully appreciate your musical endeavors.
For that reason, the amount that the silencer reduces the volume of your playing is worth about half of its value for this discussion. The subtlety is far less important, but the silencers will be much more heavily impacted by the other key qualities.
While the term “response” can feel vague, I’m mostly talking about how the mute affects the impact and rebound of your stick (or mallet).
Let’s talk about dampeners first. In some cases, the impact on rebound is more important that how well the dampener absorbs vibrations. To get into the technical, dampeners affect resonance by changing the natural frequency of the drum head or instrument, and they further impact overtones and resonance by directly absorbing some of the impact energy to reduce overall vibration.
This creates a darker sound, and the range in dampener styles is what allows you to achieve so many different sounds. When you really get into high-level tone changes, you can find dampeners that will reduce the rebound of your stick to amplify these effects.
Of course, if you go too far, you might get a sound that is too dead for your music so finding the right response is often a matter of trial and error. It’s another reason I’ll be rating versatile and adaptable mutes higher than something that might actually be more perfect for a particular song or set.
With silencers, it’s not about subtle rebound changes. Ultimately, you want tools that don’t negatively impact your practice. The more closely the silencer can match the unmuted rebound of your drums, the better it will be for you.
If your silencers add or take away from that natural bounce too much, you can learn bad habits and destroy good muscle memory in a heartbeat. This makes response an extremely important quality for silencers, in contrast to the super minute impact it has on dampeners.
This is a quality that holds the same value for almost anything you buy. Weather it’s a vacuum cleaner or a drum mute, you want to buy things that last.
Even so, longevity typically matters more for silencers than dampeners, mostly because you don’t typically hit the dampeners directly. They also often see less use overall, as not every set wants the same dampened quality.
To make a long story short, my top picks are known to last a long time, even in the face of heavy use.
This isn’t a quality we often have to discuss as percussionists. Sticks, stands, mallets and all the rest are usually designed to work with the abusive nature of drumming.
This holds true for professional mutes and dampeners, but some cheaper (and especially DIY) solutions can adversely affect your drum.
Anything that relies on sticking to a surface can leave permanent residue or even be corrosive, and heavy duty silencers can actually way enough to slowly stretch drum heads.
These factors aren’t always an issue, but they were certainly worth considering, and they were my final quality factor that played into reviewing the mutes.
Now that we have a good feel for how to analyze mutes, let’s take another look at the top performers:
Drum Mute Alternatives
This is an area in percussion where the range of options are virtually limitless, so it’s worth discussing a few alternatives to the traditional store bought approach.
How to DIY Drum Silencing
If you ever want to get into DIY percussion, this is the place to start. There are tons of ways to make your own mutes, and rather than try to teach you hear, I’m going to encourage exploration and discovery.
I will give you a few seasoned warnings. You’re going to find that one of the great challenges in homemade mutes is getting them to stay put. Be very careful about what you use as adhesive. The better it sticks, the better it sticks, meaning you might make removing your adhesive from a head or cymbal painful work.
Anything that can stay in place without glue or tape is almost always better. Also, pay attention to the sound. If your mute rattles or clunks, it could have long-term ill effects on your equipment.
Stick and Mallet Variety
Unless you’re just getting started, you likely already know that brushes can give you a super quiet practice session. Unfortunately, they aren’t always right for practice.
If volume of sound is your enemy, there are a bunch of alternative sticks that can go a long way. Bamboo or other rod-based sticks feel closer to normal sticks while sounding like brushes.
You can go more extreme by getting specially designed silent sticks, or you can look into silencers for the sticks. Several companies make rubber or plastic ends that go over the head of the stick to take the edge off of your sound.
These options aren’t as good for you overall as excellent silencers, but they’re certainly fun to play with, and they can help you discover some unique sound qualities, so I definitely encourage you to check them out.