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My Career and Drum Heads

By John Beck

In my first snare drum lesson, I was taught how to hold the snare drumsticks. In my second lesson I was taught how to tuck a skin head onto a flesh hoop. My teachers reasoning was even though you can hold the snare drum sticks properly, it will do you no good if the snare drum head is broken and you cannot fix it. In my third lesson, I learned how to read notes. This scenario was quite common in 1943 because snare drum heads broke quite frequently and had to be replaced quickly. Snare drummers were never too far away from a replacement head. Weather changes caused the skin head to change tension and after several changes the fibers in the skin weakened and a heavy blow from the drum stick often resulted in a broken head.

With the advent of synthetic drumheads in the 1950ís, the whole attitude towards snare drum heads changed. No longer was weather a concern nor was the ability to tuck a skin head onto a flesh hoop necessary. Synthetic heads come mounted on their own hoop. All the players had to do was make a slight adjustment in their playing to compensate for the different feel of the head.

Synthetic drumheads changed drumming forever! Their durability and impervious ability with weather produced a user-friendly drumhead that had a consistent sound. Perhaps rock and roll, drum corps, and music in general would or could not be played at the volume level required for a good performance today. Skin heads could not withstand the heavy playing necessary for a performance. We now have a comfort zone never experienced by the drummers of the skin head days.

Synthetic heads are manufactured in a multitude of styles. Heads are made for jazz, rock, corps, symphonic, ethnic, and vary in thickness within each style. Here are some of the endless possibilities: WeatherKing, Renaissance, Suede, PinStripe, PowerStroke 3, FiberSkyn 3, CS Controlled Sound, Ebony, Mondo, Marching, Concert/Timpani, and Graphic Heads. There is literally a drumhead for all of music, or to put it more directly, a drum head for every player.

With the synthetic head, my career took on a new and comfortable attitude since I now did not have to deal with fickle drumheads. As a timpanist in a symphony orchestra, I especially enjoyed my new experience of not having to worry about my next entrance and whether it would be in tune. My timpani heads now assured me that the head would be in the pitch of my last entrance. The Renaissance timpani heads that I now use have a quality sound that blends with the orchestra, has a true pitch and a great feel. It looks like the skin head but has none of the problems. I am grateful to the ingenious minds of the individuals who invented the synthetic drumhead. They made my career a comfortable one.

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