Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Understand Tenor Head Options

In recent years I have have the privilege of interacting with many different educators at a variety of levels...from percussion specialists with a wealth of knowledge to band directors with quite a bit less experience in percussion. In both 'camps' I have found that questions exist with how exactly to get a desired sound by varying the choice of drum heads. I am constantly asked of my opinion on which heads to use for a given application. it seems like a logical starting point for this blog.

Understanding the right tool for the right job starts with understanding head construction and how design decisions alter the basic proprieties of sound. My goal for this post is to speak to percussionists and non-percussionists alike so i will keep my explanations simple and to the point.

Coated vs. Uncoated

One of the most basic design elements for drum head options is coated vs. uncoated. While there is a variety of ways to coat a head (spray, laminate, other) the fact remains that anything that is done will ultimately effect the sound (color) of the head. This is (in part) due to the result of how a coating reduces certain frequencies of that head. Let's look at two different heads as an example...

The Evans Corps Clear tenor head is an uncoated 2 ply head. Because it is uncoated, it provides a high degree of resonance that includes all frequencies of the it's harmonic spectrum. To your ears the head will sound full and bright, thus projecting well in an ensemble setting.

On the other hand you have the Evans MX Frost tenor head which is a coated 2 ply head. The 'frost' coating on this head helps to reduce upper frequencies associated with the 'bright' sound of an uncoated head. To your ear the heads will sound darker, warmer sound that tends to blend easily.

1 Ply vs. 2 Ply Heads
There is a very simple 'generic' rule when selecting 1 ply vs 2 ply heads. 1 ply heads inherently have more resonance while 2 ply heads promote more of the attack characteristic of the head. While all of Evans tenor heads are 2 ply heads (MX White, MX Black, MX, Frost, and Corps Clear), the use of 1 ply heads is not complete uncommon...especially when trying to achieve a warm 'concert tom' or traditional 'tenor drum' sound. If you desire such a sound I recommend starting to look at Evans G1 (coated or clear) or even the slightly thicker GPlus (also coated or uncoated).

Additional Resources
I have provided a couple of key additional resources to help you find the sound you are looking for. The first is a Tenor Tuning Video which illustrates proper head exchange and tuning. the second resource is one of a series of 5 tuning and instrument care guides which can be found on our media site The Marching Percussion Survival Guide is a great resource for tuning and care tips for your marching percussion section.

See more marching videos and lessons at The Stage or visit our Marching Landing page at Evans.