When I Had to Play Drums in a Tiny & Extremely LOUD Room…

I recently played a gig in the most “live” room I’ve ever played in. When I say live, I mean that the room is very loud, reverberant, and there’s nothing in it to absorb sound. The opposite of this would be playing in a closet where all the clothes make the room extremely dead. You get the picture.

The problem, though, wasn’t just that this room was very live. It was also very small. While I was setting up I placed my foot on my hihat stand to close the hats, and the hihat chick echoed right back to me off the back wall. I was also set up in a cube-shaped nook in the corner of this venue, so the drums sounded a little like they were in a bathroom. If you know anything about room acoustics, you know that a cube-shaped room is the absolute worst shape a room could be. Weird things happen to the low end, and the high end gets slapped around in annoying ways. Basically this setup was becoming the perfect storm of everything you don’t want a room to sound like as a drummer.

(Now to cut the venue some slack… They were a small winery hosting a private event that I was playing at, and they weren’t accustomed to having live bands. We were probably the first to ever play in their space.)

My only hope at this point was that a bunch of people would show up for the event. The more bodies in a room, the less “liveness” there is. When you fill a room with people, things naturally sound better since the sound waves are dispersed. But of course, we had to start playing before the room was packed.

I just knew we were going to be getting volume complaints, and I was really worried about us as a band actually sounding good in the room. What the venue owner had to say afterward, though, was very interesting…

This entire evening reinforced several important skills I’ve learned playing in small venues over the years…

  1. I used my 5A maple sticks. These are lighter than hickory sticks, so they make light playing even easier. I also used my brushes as often as possible on a lot of slower songs. The sticks were a must, however, since we were playing a lot of songs that needed cross-stick.
  2. I tuned my drums a little higher than I normally would to provide a little extra “warmth” and tone. This helped them sound nicer and translate better for quiet playing in this space.
  3. Rather than grip my sticks close to the butt end, I choked up a little farther on them. Gripping closer to the center “balancing point” of the stick makes quiet playing more effortless and less “forced.”
  4. I also decided to not set up my crash cymbal. When you know you’re going to have to stay super quiet, you’re never going to need to hit a crash cymbal. If I needed a little “wash” of sound, I could do that on my ride.
  5. Most importantly, I relaxed and made sure that I truly enjoyed playing lightly. This is a totally different ballgame compared to hard playing, and you have to approach it with the right mindset. Taking pride and satisfaction in sounding great while staying quiet is a challenge I’ve actually learned to enjoy facing. You just have to make the most of it and relax your shoulders and arms. Let all the playing come from your wrists.

If you caught this past weekend’s video, you now know that this winery gig is what inspired that lesson. ;) In that lesson we go super in depth with these five quiet-playing-points mentioned today, and I teach you multiple ways to improve your soft playing from a technical standpoint. I share grip strategies as well as tips for staying relaxed and actually feeling good about playing lightly. We don’t want any rushed clumsiness when playing in a small room.

If you’re a gigging drummer, you’re probably right alongside me knowing exactly what I’m talking about here. And if you’re aspiring to play gigs more, take these tips to heart because you’ll definitely log some hours playing in small rooms. I hope this info will prove invaluable to you.

So when we got done playing the first set at the private party that night, the owner of the winery came up and told us we sounded great. We were pleasantly surprised, though we were definitely putting in real effort to not get too loud. Being the drummer, I asked him specifically how the volume was. He said it was perfect! I said “ok cool” and went on enjoying my challenge of playing lightly the rest of the night.

Check out the full video lesson on soft playing where I explain exactly how I pull off playing in small rooms.

That’s all for today!

God Bless,



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