drumroll your own
May 24, 2010 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Help me "make" a "DIY" "drumkit"!

I like making lo-fi recordings of my songs (well, if I had more money/knowhow I might suddenly take a liking to more advanced techniques but this is where I'm at). The recording equipment I'm dealing with here are Audacity and the crappy mike that comes in my laptop. Basically, nothing fancy. I have a couple of instruments but would really like to start adding in some percussion.

It doesn't need to sound like real drums, obviously, but I'm looking for things that can serve as analogs to pieces of the standard drumkit. I've tried randomly tapping/hitting on things and the truth is it just usually doesn't cut it. One of the things I've had trouble even getting near is the awesome boomph of a bass drum.

Assume that I can use drumsticks on things, but solutions that don't involve drumsticks are fine too. Also, the reason I put DIY and the word "make" in quotes is because I'm unfortunately just not very crafty. I can rubberband things together or whatnot but I don't know the first thing about tools, construction, etc. So keep it simple but creative.

posted by threeants to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Mississippi drum machine
posted by flabdablet at 7:39 PM on May 24, 2010


Natasha Khan, for instance, has a very large (1m2) stompbox which she strikes with a staff to accompany herself.

Wow, this is awesome and I am definitely doing this when I level up to music warlock.
posted by threeants at 7:41 PM on May 24, 2010

I can think of several ways to do this.

1. Sequence it with software. Don't know of free options but they might exist.

2. The traditional junk-pan kit: pots and pans and buckets. Especially plastic buckets. Larger = deeper: get a big rubber garbage pail if you want a bass drum - and upgrade your drumstick to something thicker and heavier, like a two by four.

3. Body percussion: stomps, slaps, claps. For the stomp to be bassy enough you might have to find a wood floor and wear boots. Or stomp on a hollow container of some kind (instead of using a 2x4).

4. I was thinking you could emulate a bass drum by blowing into a mic in a certain way. Then I thought some more and realized that's called 'beatboxing', and what the hell, you don't need a kit at all for that.

Eponysterical, blah blah. There's a reason my roommate, who made this account for me before I knew about Metafilter, decided that this should be my nickname.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:49 PM on May 24, 2010

posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:49 PM on May 24, 2010

If you want to play a DIY kit like you would a proper drumset you're going to need some proper stands, a kick drum pedal, and a hi-hat setup. If you take this approach your best bet is to find a beginner level kit (first act, no-name chinese brand, etc) and you'll have passable authentic drum sounds. If you're OK with using random objects for percussion and don't mind not having stands for positioning things you can use pretty much anything that sounds interesting when you hit it. The oomph of a kick drum is tricky, I've heard close approximations done by hand on trash cans and plastic 55 gallon drums, you might be able to get something nice with an outdoor style trash can and a mallet or fist. If you want to play that with your foot you might be able to bolt a plate to the side/bottom of a trash can for attaching a kick pedal. If I wanted an authentic sounding bass drum on the cheap I'd start calling local music shops. I found a crappy beat up kick drum at a local shop for $20 a while back, and you can probably pick up a cheap pedal for $50 or so (maybe less, shop used and keep an eye on craigslist). Even a low end kick can sound good with a little tuning experimentation. As for a snare, I've seen people use metal baskets to good effect. Again, you can probably score a used student snare kit for $50 or much less if you hit the local shops or watch craigslist and lowball, then you'd have a stand and a real snare that sounds like a snare.

As for a pure DIY setup you can get creative. Suitcases and large boxes can be hit with something soft to get bass/tom tones. Pots, pans, cans and other large metal objects could prove useful for mimicking a snare or cymbal. If something rings a lot and you want a snappier tone add duct tape for dampening or in extreme cases tape cloth or foam to it as well. Generally hollow objects will have some nice resonance to them. If I were to build a DIY kit I would go with a large trash can for bass (ideally played with a pedal), a metal object for a snare (old bike basket, bottom of a large coffee can, bonus points for rattling things attached), and a small solid object like apiece of pipe or a small end table for that quick hi-hat like sound.
posted by waxboy at 8:13 PM on May 24, 2010

The right common metal cookie-tin sounds exactly like that 80's synthetic snare sound.

Really. It's uncanny.
posted by ovvl at 8:13 PM on May 24, 2010

Cardboard boxes. It has been done. Legend has it that The Byrds started out this way.
posted by ovvl at 8:15 PM on May 24, 2010

I've definitely seen street performers using cardboard and buckets that sound every bit as good as a real kit.
posted by cmoj at 8:46 PM on May 24, 2010

Here's a few DIY drum sounds I've used before:

Tap a biro on your hand, the rattle of the plastic ink tube inside the harder plastic case sounds a little like a high-hat. Or put a couple of oranges in a plastic shopping bag, hold the bag by the handles, with the weight of the oranges pulling the bag taught, and tap lightly on the side of the bag, it too sounds a bit like a high-hat.

Any decent size box can make a good kick drum, and I've heard snares that were just empty pizza boxes that sounded pretty good too. I've seen a documentary on Motown musicians (forget the name) and the old drummer complaining that he's never found a kick drum that sounds as good as the sturdy cardboard box that he recorded all the hits on.

If all else fails, make the noise with your mouth, and apply effects to process the sound as you desire.
posted by robotot at 8:59 PM on May 24, 2010

Also, see Pablo Percusso. They're no longer playing together, but they drummed on just about everything. I've seen them do shows using wheelie bins, bouncing basketballs, and of course their junk-drumk-rig.
posted by robotot at 9:03 PM on May 24, 2010

That's not a junk drum rig.

This is a junk drum rig!
posted by flabdablet at 9:37 PM on May 24, 2010

Hardside suitcase makes a good kick drum. That is the classic "I don't have a drum" kick drum. Sometimes you even see dudes with kick pedals doing this.

Cereal box with variable amount of cereal still within can make a usable snare drum on a recording, because you can just make it loud.

Passable hats can come from things sliding on each other like sandpaper, beads...it doesn't sound like hats but it sonically kind of works the same.

Also those oatmeal cylinders...those are good for all sorts of shitty perc.
posted by jeb at 9:58 PM on May 24, 2010

My lurking drummer boyfriend (who read your question before I did) has instructed me to tell you that kicking a bathtub makes an excellent bass drum substitute.
posted by Madamina at 9:13 AM on May 25, 2010

Pillows! That's what I started out with as wee drummer lad.
You need big stiff pillows, like the foam pillows on a sofa.
If you wrap a smaller, softer pillow in a couple of plastic bags, you'll have a convincing snare drum.

None of if will be loud (which was kind of the point when I grew up) but you can add all the gain you want after you record it.
posted by monospace at 10:44 AM on May 25, 2010

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