Frequency Fundamentals

Welcome back to our frequency training series. If you’re new to the series, you may want to go back and start from the introductory overview to frequency training. If you aren’t really familiar with the parts of a standard drum kit, check out this overview before you read on.

Ahh….metallic percussion! (Cymbals, hi-hats, rides, bells, etc.) They can be the final seasoning to the overall rhythm sound of our drum kit. Or….they can be the most annoying assortment of clanging cacophonous racket that can only find an equal among banging and clanging trash can lids!

And what is the deciding factor?

By now, I trust and hope you answered: Frequency!

With Part 2 now underway, we continue with the above mentioned metallic percussion part of the drum set.


The Hi-Hat: If the kick drum is the heartbeat of the set, then the hi-hat is the seconds ticker. (If you permit the clock analogy.)

Too high of a frequency and it becomes so thin and lifeless that it gets buried in your mix.

Too low of a frequency and we are at trash can sound city, replete with that annoying “shhhhhhhhhhh” sound. (A very harsh form of sibilance)

Misc. note: By virtue of its two open components being forcefully smashed together, the hi-hat in its open position delivers the sloppiest most sibilant “shhhhhh” sound. How MUCH of this you want is determined by EQ.

Of course “tone” or “tonal colors” are subjective topics, so one person’s “trashy” sound might be another person’s exact requirement! BUT…as always you need to know your registers!

Typical hi-hats are usually between 300-3000 Hz dominant frequencies, and can extend up to 10-17k Hz for crispness, “air” and sparkle. The “shhhhhhhhh” sound is usually found at the 2-3k Hz range. (That’s known as the presence range and can have that effect rather easily if not kept in check! Incidentally, that is one of the frequency ranges that can induce “ear fatigue”! More in part 3!)

Misc. note: The hi-hat can be a very expressive instrument on its own, especially in the capable hands of an expert percussionist. A combination of closed, open and in-between playing can yield quite a variation of sound, from tight and snappy (almost crystalline), all the way to a sloppy open tone with a loose attack. (That’s where you need to EQ wisely.)

Ride Cymbal

The next in line for metallic time keeping is the ride cymbal. Drummers often alternate between the hi-hat and the ride to create dynamic opposition while still keeping time.

Ride cymbals (as ALL cymbals actually) vary in size, and construction, therefore yielding unending possibilities. Still though, the ride is characterized by a smooth delicate “ping” sound that is neither obtrusive nor that loud. Add to fact, that a drummer can strike different parts of the ride, like the center part (bell) for instance, which yields a stronger, well, bell like sound. Or, the drummer can hit the ride farther out, for a “tinnier” sound. With all the in between variations, the one thing you can count on a ride to deliver, is that smooth sound. You could go as far and say that a ride cymbal is the more civilized, less barbaric brother of the hi-hat as far as time keeping is concerned.

So where does a ride cymbal live Hz wise? Typically between 300-600 Hz, all the way up to 4-6k Hz for upper sheen. “Air” and high harmonics can go all the way up to 20kHz, and beyond the hearing range actually. A worthy note incidentally, is that many audio engineers insist that even though one cannot conceivably hear beyond 20k, one can feel beyond 20k, which is why they are adamant about capturing ALL the recorded frequencies (especially metallic percussion). They feel that one can sense those “inaudible” frequencies, thus making the recording richer, and more open sounding. For the record, I happen to agree. (If you read back to the intro article, I briefly mention that frequencies above and beyond our hearing can still have effects on us.)

Misc. note: Because of its smooth, bell-like tone, very accomplished percussionists/drummers will play entire and complete counter point rhythms within the basic rhythm of the song. Hence it’s very important to have a cutting frequency that sneaks in between everything; and NO “shhhhhhhh” sibilance allowed! Think nuance and subtlety here!

Finally, we get to the loudest and arguably the “most potential for abuse” cymbals:

The crash cymbal!

Crash Cymbals

The main role of a crash cymbal (most drummers actually use multiple crashes of various sizes and sound) is to serve as a musical punctuation point. The name “crash” cymbal is very accurate in describing the sound. Loud, brash, dense, and awfully overbearing at times, crash cymbals have the widest frequency range of all cymbals mentioned above. A typical crash can be any where from 400-500 Hz (or lower) all the way up to 10k-12k Hz for sheen, followed by frequencies that are beyond 20k Hz. All points in between. That’s a good rule to remember when it comes to crash cymbals. You might have a tiny china crash that sounds off at 5k Hz and resonates into the 25k or above territory. In contrast, you can also have a big obnoxious crash that booms at 300 Hz and just dominates the low midrange, yet manages to get up to the 10-12k Hz sheen range.

Think WIDE frequency range here. (Great care in recording and mixing is needed as well!)

That covers the basics of our drum kit. With in these last 2 articles, you have gotten a nice working frequency vocabulary represented by the humble drum set.

Now for…… HOMEWORK!


The sound samples are once again taken from the trusty Roland R-8. First (as always), here are the numbers you will need:

Played 4×4
(Note value: G…a bit off)
In this case the upper crispness happens to be the most prevalent. However 6kHz is competing for dominion – it was only by a fraction that 12k won. Surprisingly, the low clang is at around 375 Hz. What do all these numbers have in common? They are all octaves. (This doesn’t always happen!) How about that as a preface to the next couple of articles eh? By the way, 12k and 6k are so close in volume, that I would accept either answer as a correct identification!

Played 4×4.
(Note value: D#…smidge off)
10kHz dominates loudly on this one. The lower 5k Hz and 300’s Hz are also there, but since the closed hi-hat is being struck, (and not just pedal worked) the prominence of 10k shines through. The different ratio of frequencies is also something we’ll discuss soon, so don’t panic about that. Just focus on the 10k for now…(note we’re 2k lower than the pedal hi-hat!)

Played 4×4.
(Note value: F#…few cents off)
Let’s round off to 2900 Hz. This is the trash can sound we discussed earlier. Not too trashy since it’s closer to 3kHz than 2kHz (makes a huge difference!) The usual lower octave suspects are there as well.

Here you will hear the whole gamut of hi-hat frequencies, from the low 300s Hz all the way to the 12k Hz pedal hi-hat. (Don’t strain yourself with this one….just listen to the overall effect.)

Played 4×10 (rhythmic riff)
(Note value: D#…a bit off)
Again, if you round off to the mid 600’s we’re alright. (Higher and lower octaves and harmonics present)

Played 4×11 (rhythmic riff)
(Note value: D#…a bit off)
300Hz is acceptable. Notice how the closer we get to the center of the ride, the denser and lower the frequency!
(Higher and lower octaves and harmonics present)

Played 4×20 (rhythmic riff)
(Note value: C#…smidge off)
Bells (center of the ride) are an odd ball since they usually have an equal blend of dominant frequencies. In this case you can also clearly hear 700 Hz as well as 2400-2500 Hz. See where we’re going with this?

Played 4×3.
(Note value: A#/Bb…bit off)
The 3700Hz is clearly audible. 5500 Hz is a close second.

Played 4×3.
(Note value: C…a bit off)
4165Hz is clearly audible (round to 4100). 6100-6300 Hz a close second. Notice the thinner the cymbal, the higher the frequency.

Played 4×3.
(Note value: C…a smidge off)
This is a fat, low cymbal. 515 Hz is so far above the other frequencies that it is clearly the dominant. Hence the brutal sound.

Steps for you

Same as always (check previous assignments): play each sound one at a time, over and over. You know the drill by now. Since I did speak of multiple frequencies, for now just learn and identify with the first number presented for each of our samples.
Repeat the exact steps from Part 1.

Now take note….which of the two, the drums or the metallic percussion parts of our drum kit could you get away with more if you DIDN’T tune the components to the key of the song you’re recording?

That’s actually an important question, since it will lead us right into our next topic, which will deal with “characteristics” of different frequencies. By the way, that assignment in step 2 of Part 1 concerning you documenting “adjectives, descriptions, and your own personal descriptive shorthand” will come in REAL handy, since the next step will involve said characteristics…. and that’s where we get to compare notes!

That’s it for now. Keep the metallic percussion samples handy. There are many lessons in those. (I’ve already hinted at some things.)

Here is the answer to the mystery bonus question at the end of Part 1:

The 6 drums in question were tuned to A#/Bb, A, C, F, C, and D.
I was concentrating on the key of D minor. The scale of D minor is spelled D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C, and back to D. See how the drums were tuned to some of D minors’ specific notes?

Extra bonus answer: I would also accept the key of Bb major (or G minor) since it is spelled Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, and back to Bb. So those drum tunings would also work for these keys.

Bonus mystery question:

How do you go about finding which frequency to EQ, when trying to fix a problem?
(It doesn’t matter what the issue is; boominess, shrill, thin, too boxy sounding, etc.)

Hint: This method will also double up as a great way to locate a dominant frequency!

I can already see all of you experienced audio engineers smiling!

…see you soon; part 3 coming up…

Test yourself:

You might also like to try the Drum Kit Quiz!

Any questions or thoughts? Share them with us, in the Forums or click to leave a comment below!