Etymology and Alternative Spellings
Fr: grosse caisse; Ger: Grosse Trommel; It: gran cassa; Sp: bombo
Bass Drum with Pedal
The bass drum is an orchestral instrument with a range in diameter from 32 to 40 inches, and a wooden shell depth of 18 to 22 inches. Almost always the drum will consist of a batter head and a resonant head. The material that the heads are made of are either calfskin or synthetic vellum and the drum is typically mounted on a stand so that it may be turned at different angles for volume and resonance.
The bass drum was first seen and heard from the Janissary bands of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Unlike today, the bass drum player of the Jannisary bands would use both hands in order to play the instrument. In one hand the player would use a wooden mallet, covered by some sort of cloth material, to keep a steady pulse. In the other hand the palyer would carry a switch which would have a higher pitch when the drum was struck. This allowed for the player to produce rhythmic passages over the top of the steady pulse. This type of technique was used all the way up unitl the French grand operas in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Another early form of the orchestral bass drum seen today is known as the long drum. The name was given to the drum due to its longer body than the diameter of the circular shell. Some people believe that this drum might have been used by Mozart and Beethoven in their early Turkish-inspired music.
Sticks, Mallets, Beaters
Most bass drum beaters use a covered mallet. The covering is often made of a type of felt. The shape of the head can be round or oval shaped as this allows the best contact with the drum head. There are many different hardness's that a player can pick from to get a desired result from the drum. Some examples are:
- The Vic Firth TG01 Tom Gauger General Bass Drum Mallet is perfect for all purpose playing. Articulate, but not too hard.
- Head: 2 3/4″
- Length: 16 3/16″
- The Vic Firth TG02 Tom Gauger Legato Bass Drum Mallet features a special felt core that produces subtle, dark sounds with good articulation.
- Head: 3"
- Length: 16 3/16"
- The Vic Firth TG03 Tom Gauger Molto Bass Drum Mallet features a unique oval design that provides weight for fullness of sound at all dynamic levels.
- Head: 2 3/4″
- Length: 16 1/2″
- The Vic Firth TG04 Tom Gauger Roller Bass Drum Mallets are rolling mallets with felt cores that offer plenty of weight for a full sound. Sold in pairs.
- Head: 2 1/2″
- Length: 15 3/4″
- The Vic Firth TG06 Tom Gauger Fortissimo Bass Drum Mallet was designed for the Verdi Requiem, an ideal mallet for maximum volume.
- Head = 2 13/16"
- Length: 16 3/8"
- The Vic Firth TG07 Tom Gauger Ultra Staccato Bass Drum Mallet features a wood core and chamois cover for maximum clarity.
- Head: 2 11/32"
- Length: 16 1/8"
- The Vic Firth TG08 Tom Gauger Staccato Bass Drum Mallet features a medium head for a full but articulate sound.
- Head: 2 3/14"
- Length: 16 3/16"
- The Vic Firth TG21 Tom Gauger Chamois/Wood Combination Bass Drum Mallets feature a chamois head on one end, and a wood head on the other. This chamois/wood mallet is a must for The Rite of Spring. Sold in pairs.
- Heads: 1 1/2" and 1 3/8"
- Length: 15 1/4"
Bass Drum Mallet Manufacturers
- American Drum
- Dragonfly Percussion
- Encore Payson Mallets
- Grover Aluminum Mallets
- Innovative Percussion
- Innovative Chris Lamb Series
- Liberty One
- Malletech Essentials
- Salyers Performance Series
- Vic Firth - Tom Gauger Series
- Vic Firth - SoundPower Series
Generally matched grip is used for beginning players. Most of the time the bass drum is played with one hand (usually the right) while the left muffles the resonant head. When you need to use two hands for quick passages or rolls, matched grip can be used.
Traditional grip is also a good way to play the bass drum as the drum is usually set mostly vertical. The left hand can easily reach over the top and play the drum using traditional grip. This allows the performer to be a bit more relaxed, especially in the left shoulder.
Concert Bass Drum Heads
The heads that come with the manufacturer can be used for quite a few years unless, especially if they are strictly used for concert style playing. Since the tension is not very tight, and the playing is usually fairly moderate with regards to force, the heads can last 3-4 years or more. If they show divets, tears, or has trouble maintaining the tuning, this is time to change the head. There are many concert bass drum heads to choose from.
- Nuskyn Symphonic Bass Drum Head
- Fiberskyn Ambassador Bass Drum Head
- Ambassador Series
- Renaissance Ambassador Series
- Stratta Series
Calf Skin Heads are also used on professional level drums. These require a lot of maintenance and are not recommended for school settings.
- Stern Tanning Co., Inc