Karl Gans dives into the why's, when's and how to's of dampening drums.
There are two reasons for using dampening on drums and their purposes are quite different.
1. Sound Control
The first and most common reason is sound control. Have an overly ringy snare drum or floor tom? You can get rid of the extra ring (if you don’t want it) in a number of ways.
Gels- Evans EQ Pods, RTOM Moongel, Vater Buzz Kill etc. These are small re-usable gel pads that are self-adhesive. You can place them on a drum head (usually out of the way of the playing area) to reduce ring and buzz. Need more control? Use more pads. They will pick up dust over time but can be washed with warm, soapy water. Let them dry and re-apply.
Rings- BFSD (Big Fat Snare Drum), Remo, Evans all make their own versions. They are essentially a mylar rings (the same material used in making most modern drum kit heads) that lay directly on the drum head. You can use a little piece of tape to keep them from flying off if you’re a heavy hitter.
Old school- Gaffer tape and toilet paper. You can make “Band-Aids” with gaffer tape and a pad made up of folded toilet paper. Need more control? More Band-Aids!
2. Sound Creation
The second reason is sound creation. Sometimes you just want a different sound- especially on snares. The aforementioned BFSD make a lot of different treatments to alter the tone of drums. Mylar discs that completely or partially cover the drum head. Different alloy, integral tambourine jingles on rings and/or discs. One of my favorites is the “Quesadilla” a round canvas pad which sits directly on the drum head, removing all overtones and lowering the pitch.
Putting weight on the head (I have a 5lb. cast iron disc I like a lot), or small cymbals, bells and other rattly things, various lizards and amphibians will also create interesting changes in the tonality of the drum.
Old school- Tea towels taped to the drum over the head.
There’s nothing to stop you from experimenting with modifying sounds, so go ahead- bring the weird and see what happens.