The Main Points Of Tuning The Drums | How To Get The Best Results Out Of Drum Tuning Every Time

by GuestPoster on January 13, 2011

If you are getting into playing the drums, or have been playing for awhile but do not understand how drum tuning works, let me tell you that a thorough understanding and application of this subject will utterly change the way that you sound on the drums for the better. I spent about the first five or six years of my drum playing career not knowing much about drum tuning, and just kind of giving my top drum head an occasional tightening every once in awhile, if it sounded like one of the lugs was flat. But a few years ago, I began to listen to my drums as I would any other instrument, and I understood that every drum, and even the drum heads individually have specific pitches that they can be tuned to, which can be controlled by using the drum key. It might sound strange, but drum tuning is pretty much the same as tuning any other instrument, just with a different apparatus.

The main problem I have when I am talking to different people about drum tuning, is the fact that many drummers claim to like their drums being out of tune. My argument for this is simply that by having their drums out of tune, they are really trying to approximate a tuning that could be achieved by just tuning the bottom head and the top head to a certain interval and it would sound ten times better, but they don’t know how to do this, so instead of taking the time to really tune their heads, they just “approximate” a good drum sound without really understanding much about the pitch relationships involved.

When you are setting out to tune your drums, there are basically three levels of drum tuning that you will be doing. The first involves tuning each drum lug to the others on its same drum head. To do this, you need to tap at the outside of the drum- about one inch away from the lug- and tune each lug using your drum key until it is good tuning with all the others. This is far as many drummers ever get with drum tuning, and it will make your drums sound better, but it is not until you get to steps two and three that you really unlock the sounding potential of your drums.

Step two of my drum tuning process is to tune the top and bottom heads to each other- either at the same pitch, or at an interval at your choice. I usually tune the top head about a fourth lower than the bottom, because I’ve found that this gives the drum a quick decay and keeps the sound from getting muddy, but is still a pleasing interval between the two heads. You’re going to need to choose one of your drum heads- I usually use the top- to be your “master tuning”, and then tune the other one up or down to that, depending on the sound that you are going for.

The third and final practice of tuning the drums that you need to know is tuning the drums to each other. Many people don’t take the time to do this properly, but it can make all the difference between your drum fills sounding musical or muddy. Common intervals (measured in the upward direction) which can be used between the different drums are major seconds, major thirds, and fourths, but it really just depends on the sizes of your drums, and you want to try to tune each drum so that it sits in the middle of its tuning range for maximum sustain and tone. The process of really tuning your drums to these different intervals can take several hours, but is well worth it as you shouldn’t have to do this more than once every couple of months.

In order to maximize your time and efforts, I’d recommend playing with the tuning ranges of your different drums before you really settle down to tune any of them seriously, and then record what different notes you want to tune all of your drums to (or approximate closely). Start and work from the bass drum up (not the snare drum, as many people do- and yes, the snare drum can be tuned to a pitch, too), because you won’t have to redo any of your work when it comes time to tune all of the drums to their specific notes. Tuning your drums can be a frustrating process at times if you don’t understand the workflow and what results to expect, but consistently investing some of your time into doing proper drum tuning is the best way to make yourself sound better on the drums.

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