About this time last year, I decided it was finally time for me to fulfil a life-long ambition, and learn to play the drums.
I never played any kind of musical instrument when I was younger, and my knowledge of music theory used to be shaky at best. (A quaver? A delicious potato snack. And isn’t a crotchet something to do with wool and knitting?) Yet whenever I listen to music (and I have always listened to a lot of music) I feel in sync with the beat. I tap my feet, and patter out rhythms with my fingers. I love a good melody, but for me, the beat is what drives a song along. That’s where I wanted to be.
Plus, drums are severely cool.
A couple of years ago, darling Snoogums bought me a pair of bongos for my birthday. I tried to learn to play them on my own, but I didn’t make it very far, and they eventually disappeared into the pile of old stuff in our garage. I knew that if I really wanted to play the drums, I had to take lessons. Going to a teacher every week would keep me honest. If I was paying money for lessons, I would have something more than just my time invested in the learning process. I would feel an obligation to both myself and my teacher to do my homework, to study the theory and to do the exercises.
I also had to refrain from going out and buying myself a set of drums. I wanted them–oh, how I wanted them!–but over the years I have learned that my interests and enthusiasms come and go in cycles. I’ll go through a phase of playing computer games non-stop for a period of a couple of months, and then I won’t touch them again for half a year. I’ll write several short stories, then lose interest in them, and not put pen to paper (in a virtual, word-processing sense) for months. Likewise, the time I spend on Dooyoo, varies enormously.
Drums are expensive. If drumming turned out to be just another one of my fads, I would feel pretty foolish to have splashed out half a grand on something I would never use again. So Snoogums and I made a deal: if I was still playing by the time of my birthday (late November, about six months after I first picked up a pair of sticks), then my combined birthday/Christmas present would be a drum kit. Fantastic! I had a goal to work towards!
And verily, come November I was still playing. Drum city, yeah! After having researched them on the net, we got me a Pearl Rhythm Traveller drum kit for £430.
The main reason I wanted this particular kit was its quietness. This is not normally a quality associated with drums, but Pearl make these special things called “muffle heads”. These are like normal drum heads, but they are made of a fine nylon mesh rather than a solid sheet of material. When you hit them, they feel like normal heads. The stick rebound you get is quite natural. But the mesh dissipates sound in a completely different way, and sounds nothing at all like a normal drum. In fact, you can strike one in one room, and hear almost nothing at all in the next room. They’re quieter than the average practice pad.
This, of course, has some serious advantages for the drummer who lives in a flat, or a semi-detached house (like we do). You can practice all you like without the neighbours showing up on your doorstep with baseball bats. Just the other day, one of our neighbours came round to visit. Until we told her, she hadn’t even realized I had a drum kit. How cool is that?
The Rhythm Traveller comes with the following pieces of equipment:
1 x 13″ snare drum
1 x 10″ high tom
1 x 12″ medium tom
1 x 14″ floor tom
1 x 20″ bass drum
1 x H-70W hi-hat stand
1 x S-70W snare stand
1 x C-70W cymbal stand
1 x P-70 bass pedal
1 set of muffle heads, and 1 set of ordinary heads for all drums
2 x plastic practice cymbals
+ various bits of mounting hardware
The kit doesn’t, however, come with any instructions on how to set it up. This was a bit of a problem for me, as I had only ever played on pre-assembled kits. However, Snoogums and I did manage to figure it all out after carefully studying the pictures on the front of the box. If you have ever set up a drum kit before, though, it should be a doddle. The high and middle toms mount on the bass drum, and the floor tom clamps on to the cymbal stand.
One thing that is conspicuously missing from the set-up is a drummer’s stool, or “throne” (for all you non-drummers out there, yes, they’re really called thrones). You can use an ordinary chair, or a small stool, but you’ll probably want to invest in a proper, height-adjustable throne sooner or later. Very few drum kits do come with a throne supplied, but if you’re buying your first kit, you should be aware of this additional expense.
Another thing that’s (sort-of) missing, is a second cymbal stand. I learned to play on a kit with a hi-hat, a crash cymbal, and a ride cymbal. The Rhythm Traveller comes with just the hi-hat and a single cymbal stand and cymbal. Snoogums got me a second cymbal stand (a Pearl B-800W boom stand) for my Christmas, so I was a happy bunny again after that.
She also got me a better set of practice cymbals than came with the basic Rhythm Traveller because, frankly, they’re pants. They’re a piece of plastic shaped like one-third circle segment of a cymbal, with a slice of foam rubber stuck on top. (Imagine a poorly baked cymbal cake, cut up into three equal pieces, and you’re not too far off.) Consequently, they have an unfortunate habit of rotating out of the way when you’re playing them. I would get myself into a nice little groove, look the other way for a second, and then–BAM–I’d strike air. Maybe that should be “WHOOSH” instead. Whatever the effect, it was very distracting. If you’re planning to buy a Rhythm Traveller, I suggest that you buy a set of proper practice cymbals at the same time. It will save you a *lot* of irritation.
So those are the kit’s shortcomings. What about its good points? Well, the big, big benefit has got to be its silence. I really can lay into the gear without the neighbours objecting. This also means that I can play along to my stereo when it’s playing at a normal volume, rather than having to crank it up to 11 just to hear the guitar solo. I’m still reluctant to play it in the middle of the night, though. Although the drums themselves don’t make much noise, I do worry about the vibrations of the bass drum travelling through the floors and walls.
A second benefit of the kit is its portability. Compared to most kits, it is quite light and small. The three toms only have a drum head on top, and none on the bottom. This means that when you take the whole thing apart (to travel to a gig, or–more realistically–to a friend’s house), some of the drums fit inside the others, making it easier to lug about. Realistically, you’ll still need a car to take it anywhere, though.
Pearl claim that you could use the Rhythm Traveller for playing live at “small, intimate gigs.” Indeed, if you take the muffle heads off, and put on the regular heads, it makes a pretty good noise. The small size of the toms means that they come out sounding a bit light and bongo-ish, but rather funky nevertheless. And if you add a set of real cymbals (like I did just last week), you’re sorted.
“But wait!” I hear you cry. “Cymbals–real cymbals–don’t they make even more noise than the drums themselves? How are you going to get away with playing those puppies in a three-bedroom semi-detached?”
Aha. You are quite observant, little one. Fortunately, my Zen Master of drumming (Craig Hunter of Banana Row in Edinburgh) provided me with the perfect solution: 2″ wide gusset elastic. Yes, gusset elastic. The kind you get at any ordinary fabric shop.
What you do, see, is take a length of the elastic (about twice the diameter of your cymbal, plus 2 inches for overlap), then sew it into a band. Then you stretch this band around the rim of your cymbal, and, as if by magic, the cymbal makes no more noise than its plastic counterpart. This works because it’s the edge of the cymbal that vibrates most strongly when you hit it, and it’s these vibrations that make the noise. The taut elastic prevents the rim from vibrating so strongly, and thus deadens the sound.
So now I have a full drum kit which looks and feels exactly right, but which I can play without breaching the peace. And if I want to rock out and deafen myself, all I do is switch drum heads, and remove the elastic. It couldn’t be simpler, or more fun.
Any drummer, from beginner to expert, who has to cope with the everyday realities of thin walls and neighbours, will fall in love with this kit in minutes. As for me, I think I’m going to head off now and kick some grooves.
Pearl Rhythm Traveller: £430
Drum throne: £75
Extra cymbal stand: £75
Solar Cymbals (14″ hi-hat, 16″ crash, 20″ ride): £79
Pro-Mark 5B oak sticks: £8.50
3 metres 2″ wide gusset elastic: £7.50