How Do You Change the Head on a Marching Snare Drum?
Welcome to Amro Music! We're launching a percussion series on our blog, so stay tuned for more articles in the series!
On today's blog, we'll explore the steps to changing the head on a marching snare drum. Alan Compton, Director Services Representative and percussion specialist walks us through the process of changing a drum head on the top side or batter side of a marching snare drum.
Materials You Will Need
For this process, including a few optional cleaning and maintenance tasks that can be done after the initial drum head removal, you only need a few items.
- First, you'll need a high tension drum key, such as the "t keys" that are made by Vic Firth. The longer arms on the key provide extra leverage that is needed for manipulating the high tension of a marching snare drum.
- Next, you'll need a cloth such as a shop towel, an old t-shirt, or even a roll of paper towels.
- If you have them handy, you might need a can of WD-40 and some super fine steel wool for use in cleaning any caked dirt and lubricant from the tension rods.
- For lubricating the tension rods, you should have on hand a tube of white lithium grease, which can be found at any hardware store, or a jar of petroleum jelly.
- The last item needed is the replacement drum head.
Choosing a Drum Head
When selecting the type of drum head you'd like to use for the batter side of a marching snare drum, there are quite a few types from which to choose. The most important things to consider are:
- the type of sound you would like from the drum
- the playing comfort for the individual or individuals playing the drums
Types of Drum Heads
There are three main types of marching snare batter heads currently being produced.
Mylar/Clear Plastic Film
The first type is made of mylar or clear plastic film. This type of head fell out of popularity in the drum corps community in the late 1980s, but it's still fully in use in the show-band community, especially on the high school level.
The best choice for this type of head would be the Remo Powerstroke 77. It has a reinforcement dot in the center and a tone control ring around the underside of the head. The Powerstroke 77 has a dark, full-bodied sound, but they require a lot of maintenance to keep in tune.
Woven Aramid Fiber
The second type of marching batter head is made from woven aramid fiber. This type of head has been quite popular for both corps-style and show-style groups and has been widely used for more than 30 years. Remo is currently the only manufacturer of heads made solely from aramid fiber. These heads can withstand a very high tension, which helps provide the high-pitched, articulate sound that is popular in the marching percussion community.
Remo's original head of this type is called the "Falam," which stands for fabric laminate. The current version of this head, the Falam II, provides a high, crisp tone that's very articulate.
Also from Remo, the Max Series, which is available in black and white finishes, has a high, crisp sound like that of the Falam II. But, the tone is a bit warmer. Max heads also provide a softer, more comfortable feel for the player.
Also in the Max Series, the Suede Max batter head has a matte black finish and even a warmer tone attack. It also has an even softer feel than the white or black Max heads.
The third type of marching batter head is made from combining the two previously mentioned approaches in the production of marching snare heads (using woven aramid fiber and plastic film) to form a hybrid product that allows for a wider range of tuning options, solid projection, a warm, crisp tone, and softer feel for the player.
Evans is currently the only company that manufactures hybrid heads like this. The hybrid gray and hybrid white heads are very similar to one another, and they have a firmer feel than the rest of the hybrid heads.
The Hybrid-S, which comes only in a black finish, is made to have a softer, more comfortable feel and less impact on the player's wrists and hands, while maintaining the sound and articulation that is sought after in the drum corps community.
Also, from the Evans hybrid line, is the System Blue marching snare batter head. These were developed in collaboration with Scott Johnson and the Blue Devils Drum Corps to provide tonal clarity and projection while maintaining a soft, more forgiving feel for the player.
How to Change the Head
1. Use a drum key to loosen the tension rods
To remove the existing drum head use a high-tension drum key to loosen each tension rod, gradually in a star or radial pattern. Loosen the first tension rod. Then, moved to the tension rod directly across the drum from the first rod and loosen it. Move over one tension rod from that spot, loosen that rod, and then move to the tension rod directly across from that one. Continue this pattern until you have loosened all of the tension rods where they can be easily turned with your fingers. Loosening and tightening in this pattern will evenly decrease or increase the tension of the drum head and reduce any chance of warping the drum's rim. This is particularly important for marching snare drums. Warping can happen easily without our attention, which can result in damage or breakage to the rim and the drum head. It can also limit your ability to fine tune the instrument.
2. Further loosen the tension rods by hand
Once each tension rod is less than finger-tight, use your fingers to unscrew the tension rods the rest of the way. Leaving the tension rods hanging inside the rim, lift the rim from the drum and set it aside, taking note of the exact position that the rim was sitting on the drum. Ideally, you will want to place the rim back in its original position. You can mark this position using a bit of tape or a light, concealed mark with a pen or pencil.
3. Clean the rim and the inside of the drum
Now that you have the head and rim off of the drum, this is a perfect opportunity to clean both the rim and the inside of the drum. Dust, pieces of stick paper, wood, and other foreign particles can end up inside your drum. So, it's best to take care of this while the drum is disassembled. Wipe the inside of the drum and bearing edge with a soft cloth like a towel or an old t-shirt. Since these drums are commonly used outdoors, it's also a good idea to wipe off the inside of the rim.
4. Place the new drum head
Now, place the new drum head on the drum with the head's logo in the desired position. This is a question of personal preference. But if you're performing in a drumline, it's best to check with your instructor to determine where to position the logo. Once the head is in its desired position, replace the rim in the exact position that it was before you removed it, with the tension rods lined up with their original casings.
5. Clean the tension rods
At this time, check all tension rods for any caked debris that might have collected on the threading. You can clean this off by spraying the threading with a little WD-40, letting them sit for a minute, and then wiping them down with a cloth. If the debris is heavily caked on the threading or you see corrosion building up, you can use super-fine steel wool instead of the cloth after spraying the rods with WD-40. Remember not to use any steel wool that is more abrasive than the quadruple zero super-fine grade, as it can easily cause damage to the metal.
6. Put the tension rods back in place
Now, apply a small dab of white lithium grease or petroleum jelly at the tip of each tension rod and thread them into the respective casings. Tighten them with your fingers until they are as tight as you can get them, with no help from the drum key. This should get the head to a good starting point and even tension before you begin tuning the head. Begin increasing the tension of the drum head (one tension rod at a time) in the star or radial pattern, using quarter or half turns of the drum key. Do this repeatedly until the tension rods begin to feel resistant to increasing the tension.
7. Tune the drum head for the first time
Once you have raised the tension of the drum to the point of producing a definite pitch, but still lower than the desired final pitch of the drum, you can start to bring the drum head into tune with itself. Begin tapping the drum head with the beat of a stick about one inch away from the rim at each tension rod and listen to the pitch. The goal is to adjust the pitch of the head at each tension rod to where they all have matching pitches. Using the drum key, adjust the tension of each rod until the pitches are as close to each other as possible.
8. Rinse and repeat
Now, repeat the process of raising the tension of the drum head by no more than a quarter turn per tension rod until you have tightened each tension rod two or three times. After tightening the head this time around, it will again be necessary to bring the head into tune with itself with the same process as before. It is best to raise the tension of the drum gradually over the course of a day or two to lengthen the life of the head and to make the fine tuning process easier and more accurate.
Every time you raise the tension of the drum to an acceptable pitch, within the first day or two, someone should play on the drum for a while to allow the drum head to settle on the bearing edge and within the rim. The pitch of the head should lower slightly as the drum head settles, so you'll want to repeat the process of raising the pitch and then tuning the head to itself until you're comfortable with the pitch and tone of the drum.
That's it! Thank you for letting us walk you through the process of changing a marching snare batter head. Keep in mind that the mechanics of this procedure can basically apply to changing any key-tuned synthetic drum head, although the tuning could vary depending on the type of drum. As you can probably tell, the basic mechanics are not difficult and the tuning can become second nature with just a little practice.
That's all for now! Have a musical day!