September 2013
In the Studio
Seeing Sounds
Part 3: Funk

by Donny Gruendler

Funk drumming is synonymous with masters like James Brown’s Clyde Stubblefield, Tower of Power’s David Garibaldi, P-Funk’s Tiki Fulwood, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith. Although these four gentlemen have very different approaches to timekeeping, each has contributed to the funk art form in a unique way and created classic drum tracks. Their sounds are diverse, including everything from midrange tunings to ultra-muffled, pillowy tones and stadium-rock hybrids.

Definitive funk sounds like those, which we’re exploring this month, are built from the concepts we discussed in the previous two articles (June and July 2013 issues), so be sure to reference the earlier installments as you go along. I’ll present key differences and tonal modifications that will allow you to play and record most styles of funk.

Bass Drum

The midrange, punchy articulation often used in funk is achieved by employing a double-headed 20″ diameter drum that’s 16″ in depth. This is a standard size offered by most companies. An elongated 18×20 drum will work for this sound too, but you’ll lose some of the articulation associated with a shaallower depth.

The desired sound is best achieved using a 2-ply clear batter head and a single-ply resonant with a hole cut for easy microphone placement. Use a uniform medium tension and gently muffle each head by rolling two towels into a tube shape and placing them where the head meets the shell. Use gaffer’s tape to secure the towels to the shell. (You can also use similar commercial dampening devices, such as Remo’s Weckl muffling system and DW’s muffling pillow.)

Next, place the mic inside the drum, with the capsule pointing at the beater impact point on the head. A dynamic tom-type mic, such as a Sennheisher 421, works well because it places equal emphasis on the attack and the tone of the drum. Place the mic just past the middle of the shell (closer to the resonant head) to produce a round attack with even sustain. Moving the mic closer to the batter head will achieve more attack and a thinly focused thump.

Finally, apply a second dynamic microphone outside the resonant head’s porthole, and blend it alongside the internal kick mic in your recording software. Unlike the previous article’s subwoofer mic, this secondary dynamic mic will capture some lower-mid frequencies while retaining a decent amount of punch.

You should also use a medium-size felt beater and play off the head (don’t bury the beater). This combination will retain some attack while allowing the low fundamental tone of the 20″ drum to shine through.

For additional insight into how to achieve classic funk tones for your snare, toms, and cymbals, be sure to check out the complete article in the August 2013 issue of Modern Drummer