What are these big drums in the orchestra

Bass drum - sound generation


In the orchestra, the bass drum is usually struck with a soft, large mallet that is heavy enough to set the large resonance body of the instrument vibrating. The stop is made with the right hand (left-handers: left hand). The hitting spot for full-sounding single hits is about a hand's breadth away from the middle of the skin. Since every instrument sounds different, the exact hitting point has to be tried out beforehand.

Today the drum is usually inclined in such a way that its heads are in an oblique-vertical position. The player strikes the skin from the side. In some orchestras the head is struck in an almost horizontal position. A completely horizontal position causes a bad sound because the vibrations are reflected on the floor.
To perform a roll, the player uses two mallets that are slightly smaller and lighter than the mallets for the single blows.
The batter head is dampened with the fingers, the palm or the entire arm of the right hand, the resonance head with the left hand.

The common practice in the 19th century to mount a cymbal on the frame of the bass drum is no longer practiced today. Since some composers have stipulated this in their scores, it is still used to realize these passages. This results in increased coordination between the cymbal and drum, although the sound of the cymbal in particular suffers. In addition, damping the resonance head is extremely difficult.

Voices of the drum

In contrast to the timpani, where a specific pitch is sought, great importance is attached to avoiding a specific pitch in the construction and tuning of the drum.

If you hit an eardrum on the edge, you can hear the sound of the skin. The bass drum in the orchestra is tuned to a tone between C and G, in accordance with the resonance space (i.e. the size) of the drum. The resonance head is tuned about a semitone lower in order to blur any pitch impression and to give the drum sound the necessary volume. Striking with a large, soft mallet helps smear the pitch.

Playing posture outside the orchestra

While the bass drum is hung in a rack in orchestral music, in popular music it is placed on the floor - with feet - so that the heads are vertical. The drummer strikes the drum using a foot pedal. The sound generation by means of a foot pedal does not allow a differentiated tone, the beats come uniformly and appear rather dull and dry. Often, cloths are also used for steaming. Further instruments such as cymbals, cowbells, tom toms or small effect instruments are mounted on a tube that is embedded in the drum frame. The combination of these instruments is known as the drum set.

In military bands, the bass drum is carried in front of the stomach and struck on both skins. These drums often have batter heads and resonance heads made of plastic of the same thickness.