|A guide to surdo drums.|
|Written by Giselle Winston|
|Monday, 11 May 2009 17:17|
All about buying surdo drums
The surdo is the most expensive drum in a samba bateria, so its a good idea to find out all you can before buying one.There is a huge choice of sizes, makes, and materials available on the net. You will find guidance about all of this in this article.
The function of a surdo drum - and how many you need
The big Brazilian surdo drum is the the heart of the samba drum orchestra (bateria). It is responsible for holding the beat, and all of the other samba drums have to be able to hear it to keep in time. In Brazil the surdo is also called the Marcacao- the marker- because it marks the beat.
There are three types of surdo in a big samba band. The biggest drum is the first or primeiro surdo, which plays the first beat. This is the oldest function of a surdo drum. Then there is the slightly smaller second surdo, the segunda, which plays on the second beat, answering the first surdo. It's sometimes called the surdo do reposta, because it is responding to the first surdo. The third (terceiro) surdo is the cutting surdo, also known as the Surdo Centrador, or the cutador. This surdo can be used with creative freedom but remains responsible for the swing of the bateria, so beginners ahouldnt attempt improvisation. It fills in the spaces between the first and second surdo beats.
In a big samba bateria (drum orchestra) in Rio there may be 20 or more of each of these types of surdo, placed carefully around the bateria so that the other drummers can always anchor themselves to the rhythm and keep the correct speed. But in a very small samba band of ten players or less, you can get away with just two surdos, the second and third. The patterns played on the third surdo include hitting the drum when the first would have been played, so these two drums alone can do the jobs of all three.
How wide should your surdo be?
In a big samba band of over 30 adults, we recommend a full sized 24" surdo as the first surdo. However most bands in the UK decide to go for smaller drums, because of the bulk and weight of a 24" surdo. But the first surdo must be heard easily by everyone to stop the sound disintigrating, so don't make it too small. A 22" surdo is a reasonable compromise for a very large samba rhythm section. If you want a 20"surdo for your first surdo, then you may need more than one to give you a strong enough beat. Your 20"surdo may sound adequate in indoor rehearsals, but in outdoor parades, it may not be enough.
Once you've decided on the size of your big first surdo, then the size of the rest is easy. You want one size smaller for your second surdo, and then at least one size smaller for the third. So with a 24" first surdo you would ideally have a 22" second surdo and an 18" or 20" third.
I often hear people outside of Brazil complaining that the big surdos are awkward for people with bad backs. When I asked in Rio how they got around this, the answer was...... "play something else"!
How deep should your surdo be?
In Rio, samba baterias mostly use 60cm deep surdos, because these make the most noise.( In the past surdos were even longer). It is easier to walk with shorter surdos though and these days you see some of the widest surdos in shorter lengths, even in Rio. In North Eastern Brazilian styles of drumming there are usually more surdos in relation to the other instruments, and 50 or 45 cm deep surdos are common. The more surdos you have in relation to the other drums, the less noise each needs to make, and the shorter they can be. But any adult surdo drum under 45cm isnt really a surdo at all, its a zabumba.
What should your surdo be made of ?
Surdos are commonly sold with bodies of aluminium, steel or wood.
Steel surdos are cheap and hardy, but they are heavy and they can have a dull tone. They are also quite hard to knock back into shape if dented.
Wood surdos sound wonderful if they have hide heads and they can be very light and easy to carry. With plastic heads they sound like any other surdo drum but give less volume, and they are fragile. Where a metal surdo will dent, but remain perfectly playable, a wooden one will crack and become unuseable. Because of this, people with wooden surdos often end up having to buy heavy and expensive hard cases to protect their drums, making them bulky and heavy. However if you are looking for one surdo for stage work, the beautiful mellow sound of a wooden surdo with a natural leather head is worth going for.
Aluminium surdos combine the durability of a metal surdo with the light weight of a wooden one. They are easy to knock back into shape and repair and you can expect decades of use from them. In Rio these surdos are designed to be played with hide heads and they sound beautifully mellow like this. (Vegetarians can compromise with napa; artificial leather). But in North Eastern Brazil and outside Brazil altogether, most big percussion ensembles use surdos with plastic heads.
Where should my surdo be made?
A lot of big drum companies have jumped on the samba waggon and produced ranges of 'samba drums' to tap the market. But as a general rule, a surdo drum made on production lines in the far east do not make a sound that a Brazilian sambista would recognise as a surdo, even though that is what the manufacturers are calling it. Always find out where your surdo was made before commiting any money. Artcelsior, Izzo, Gope, RMV and Contemporanea all make their instruments in Brazil.
You need to be especially careful of suspiciously cheap new equipment. At least one manufacturer has created most of their range of "samba drums" simple by renaming other drums already in their production range. And yes, they are indeed very cheap, but you end up spending your good money on shoddy instruments that don't last for long and will never sound like samba drums.
Surdos for children and for schools
If you are starting up a school samba band for small children, you can use smaller surdos. The total sound volume of the band will be less than that of an adult band, so you can get away with smaller surdos to hold the beat adequately.
But if you are buying a school samba pack it may be a good idea to supplement it with one slightly larger surdo. Or you can contact the retailer to ask for the pack to be changed slightly to slip in a larger drum in the place of a smaller one. How large depends on the age of the children. A good retailler should be able both to give you sound advice and to be flexible with the contents of their samba packs.
Samba drum retailers
Most drum retailers are experts in drumkits and come from an orchestral or rock background. With the best will in the world, they are not in a position to give sound advice. They have learned all they know about samba drums from reading advertising copy in catalogues or listening to salesmen, and from customers who know next to nothing about samba before buying their equipment - a case of the blind leading the blind.
Your supplier needs to know in depth about Brazilian samba, not just 'world percussion'. Ideally you want someone who has learnt directly from the world of Rio samba or other Brazilian drumming cultures.
A good retailler should hold stock of their samba drums, and should also have spare parts, in stock, for the samba drums they sell. They will be able to create bespoke samba kits from stock, and to supply drums with either hide or nylon heads.