Teaching in a school with less resources means that a lot of the time your students just have to work with less than those in a better equipped program. For my percussion students this year, there were only a few who could commit to renting a practice pad and bell kit from the music store as one normally does. That means during class-time I have had to come up with creative solutions for working on drum technique. While there are a few snare drums in the program, there are not enough for each kid to have one, nor are there enough practice pads to go around. I have been doing things recently like having students double up on drums or rotate between playing on a drum or the back of their padded chairs. While this is fine for teaching basic rhythms and technique, more nuanced playing has been limited by the equipment. Knowing that Fall Break would be at the end of this corner, I have shuffled my curriculum around to focus more on mallets at the beginning of the year so we could tackle drums head-on after I could solve this.
Now, what I am about to talk about has been no secret in the drumming community for quite some time. This "lifehack" has been around since the debut of the first Real Feel practice pad. However, I am positive that some band directors do not know about it, so I decided to post a guide to make practice pads for your program on the cheap. These practice pads do not hold a candle to a quality practice pad and should not be used as such. If you are a student of percussion, you really owe it to yourself to have an assortment of pads and there are many companies like Offworld Percussion, Beetle Percussion, and REMO that each offer something unique and well worth owning. However, this sure beats hitting the back of a chair!
Step One: Acquire materials.
For each pad you will need the following materials
-A type of rubber
Now, good old gum rubber is the best solution here, but it has become quite expensive! You can still get it by requesting samples from different suppliers, but it will take quite a few samples to make a pad of decent size. Recycled tire rubber is great for a harder, more articulate surface and can be found in 12" x 12" sheets at Tractor Supply. For this project, I wanted something soft that the kids could play in the back of the room without disturbing the winds, so I used foam-rubber mouse-pads. The mouse-pads were given to me for free by a very confused gentleman in my school's technology department who said they were collecting dust in a box because everyone uses laptops today. They were still in the shrinkwrap!
-A type of wood
I used an old piece of plywood I found lying in my band room storage!
I used Gorilla Glue because it is affordable and reliable.
To make rough edges smooth.
Step Two: Measure twice, cut once!
I admit to having heard that adage a lot in my youth. In this project despite doing that, I still messed up a few cuts. Either way, it wasn't a big deal. This is a handmade project and your flaws show charm! I wanted the pads to sit flush on the drum head like the Real Feel pads do, so I stole their dimensions for the length and kept the sides of the wood flush with the pad. Fortunately, the length of the pad was an even twelve inches, so this wasn't too bad. A few hours later I would discover that the front edge of the Real Feel has an octagonal shape for a reason. If you want these to fit on a drum, you'll need to round the corners a little bit. I eventually decided I didn't care that much because not having enough drums was why I got into this mess!
After sanding the wood down to a smooth finish and cutting up each individual pad to size, remember to sand down the freshly cut edges. You want to keep your percussionists' fingers splinter free and functional!
Step three: Assembly.
This is the easy part, put glue on the back of the rubber and press the rubber to the finished wood. Now if you have never used Gorilla Glue before, there are a couple of things to know: you need to dampen the material to which you are bonding the glue, the glue needs pressure to form a good bond, and the glue will expand during the bonding process. The dampening part is easy enough, but the pressure thing initially gave me pause. I don't have an abundance of tools and clamps are definitely not among those I do have, so I took a different approach after reading advice online and used heavy books.
After patiently waiting, I have to say that I am pretty happy with how everything turned out! The pads all came out well glued and I have drummed on each for multiple minutes without any issue. This could even be a fun project for kids who are just starting to make their own practice pads!
At any rate, I hope this helps somebody else out there!