It goes without saying that the majority of pipe band snare drummers own more than one “practice” pad. These rubber mats offer us a great practice surface to play on when we can’t play on the snare drum (usually at home, as playing on a snare drum at home would require some forgiving family members and patient neighbours!). Over the past few decades I have personally tried over 30 rubber drum pads, some great and some horrendous. I have also been advised by many drummers of the reasons why hard pads are best as they make you work harder, and resemble the true feel of the drum. I have also received the opposite advice! As a young drummer, I just believed what I was told – and therefore had a differing opinion every six months. This also meant that mum and dad forked out for a new pad every 6 months, until the next “perfect practice pad” arrived on the market! Trust me, there is no “perfect” practice pad.
The very best pad that I own cost me Nada. Zip. Diddly Squat. Yep, I rocked along to a rubber factory and tried out tons of different surfaces – found the one I liked and got an off-cut. I play on this pad about 6 hours each day (I teach pipe band drumming full time). The majority of my students want to ditch their brand new pads in place of my rough cut practice pad. Why have I ended up settling for this piece of rubber?
Well – drumming is all about feel. The surface you play on creates a definitive feel. This relies on a few factors : the hardness of the rubber, the thickness of the rubber, the surface it is sitting on and the sticks you are using. (I will go into the whole pipe band drum stick preference side of things on another post).
When you are playing on a piece of rubber that is hard (rubber hardness is measured in Shore – 40 shore is my preferred hardness) then you are not going to get a great feel. In fact, you will work harder to create the bounce as the rubber is not creating it for you. There will also be a higher chance of hurting yourself through RSI and impact injury. I used a Black rubber pad from Scotland (made in N.Ireland I believe) and it totally impacted my hands in a negative way – to the point where I had to stop drumming for a month! So that pad made it’s way to the rubbish pile pretty quickly. Some drummers have tried to convince me that the actual drum head is “hard”. I have to disagree. I understand as you tighten the head that the surface will become “harder” but by no means do I feel like it ever becomes “concrete”. And surely it doesn’t match up to a 50/60 shore hardness drum pad – madness!
I would like you to get your drum pad collection out and try the different surfaces. See which one “feels” the nicest. Which one make you feel good? THAT will be the one you want to play on. Don’t play on the one that someone else tells you will “make you work harder”, or “it’s closest in hardness to the drum head”. They are full of rubbish.
Most of all, enjoy yourself and look after your arm and hand health.