There are plenty of ancient text books around insisting they can show you how to play the concert bass drum. Unfortunately, many of these books from the distant past should remain relics. Simply put, times have changed. Those old methods have been updated with a motion that is more straight forward.
To tune your concert bass drum, the stroke should be pulled back slightly to draw the tone out. As a general rule, it works well to strike the head with the mallet from six to ten inches away. Ideally, you’ll want to strike the drum near the center, though by no means does it need to be the exact middle. Mix it up, and find the timbre that is right for your music. Remember that the closer you strike to the middle of the drum, the ”thumpier” the sound.
Much like it is important to experiment with sound, it is also important to experiment with different mallets. Having a variety on hand will give percussionists a more colorful pallet to choose from. A solid, basic collection will include a general model that is articulate, a staccato model, and a pair of “roller” models. Whichever mallets you choose, make sure that you take the time to invest in quality ones that are covered in either soft wool, or pile. As a general rule, hard felt marching mallets should be avoided for concert bands or orchestras unless they are being used for special effects. Keep your mallets fresh and don’t be afraid to replace them often, as worn mallets can greatly affect your sound.
You should always remain aware of the dynamics and sustain on the bass drum. If you are noticing a problem with your dynamics, there is a chance these problems can be solved by adjusting the distance that the mallet has to travels before making contact with the head, as well as adjusting the grip with which the beater is being held. As for sustain, there are a few schools of thought on this. One technique suggests that you should mute the resonant head. But this can affect the deep bass that you have come to expect. As such, this technique should only be used if the hand mutes the head after the drum has been struck. Another method is to place your hand at the edge of the drum head to mute the head that is being struck. This method can control the ring and sustain, without sacrificing the “low end” of the bass drum. Whichever technique you choose, it is important that you check to ensure that the heads are not overly tightened. Remember that when you come to the end of phrases and the final note of a piece, you should touch both heads to stop the drum from vibrating.
When you are playing rolls or single strokes, they should be played near the edge of the batter head. If you have a cradle holder, you may want to use a more traditional grip, since your left hand will be coming up and over the bass drum. Besides the obvious tone and mobility, one big advantage of a tilter is that it allows you to place the drum in a flat position so it can be easily played like a timpani.
The concert bass drum has many names throughout the world. In Italy it’s the gran cassa; in France, it’s the grosse caisse; and in Germany, you would call it the grosse trammel. It is an incredibly diverse instrument, able to deliver the thunder in a Strauss polka as easily as it can deliver the subtle after shock in a Varese piece. Understanding how to care and perform with this instrument will go a long way in making sure it sounds its best.