Drums are a vital part of the music. Drums create rhythms, melodies, and sound effects to produce the desired effect that the composer wants. With so many different types of drums out there, it can seem daunting at first when trying to figure out how to tune them properly.
Here are 5 things you need to do when tuning your drum
- Fasten the Tension Rods
- Give it the Tone You Desire
- Adjust the Tension
- Fine-Tune the Bottom Drumhead
- Maintain your Snares
I will teach you everything you need to know on how to tune drums in this article. First things first, there are some materials you need to prepare before tuning your drum.
Materials Needed to Tune a Drum
The drum key is an essential tuning kit for any drum. It is a lifesaver tool for any drummer. Since the drum key is affordable, I recommend that you have several at your disposal.
Drum keys are easy to carry and tune your drums everywhere you go. This includes tuning your drums while at the studio and gig. I use the Evans Torque Key to adapt and to get the tension I desire. Alternatively, you can use flat pliers or a small socket wrench instead of the drum keys.
I recommend using tuning apps to play different sounds and tones as reference points. You can purchase tuning aides with applications that play tones to help you tune your drums. For instance, the Drum tune application detects the pitch your drum generates and enables you to get the notes you desire.
Although as a professional drummer, you should not rely on tuning aides and applications. However, tuning aides can improve how your kits sound and ensure your clients remain entertained.
An example is a DrumDial, which is a long-running mechanical staple for drummers. It enables you to match the drumhead’s tension.
In addition, I use the Tune-Bot to adjust my pitches and save the notes I like on the device.
What Is The Best Way To Tune A Drum?
Fasten the Tension Rods
I usually start with tension rods nearest to me. I turn them halfway using the drum key, ensuring that I turn opposite tension rods.
After turning the opposite rod, proceed to turn the tension rod left to it. It would be best if you then fastened the diagonally opposite rod. Follow this pattern to avoid bending the rim and damaging the drum.
Continue with this pattern until all the tension rods are fastened and tight. Adjust the tension rods to ensure that you have the targeted tone.
Give it the Tone You Desire
Most professional drummers usually hit their drumsticks or fingers on the side of the drum to identify an overtone. You can apply this technique and fasten the tension rods to get a matching pitch. Furthermore, you can record while hitting the body of the drum and identify overtones.
If the drumhead is new, consider tensioning it higher than your target pitch. Proceed to press hard with your fist in the center of the drum. You should feel the head drop.
Consequently, the snare will generate the correct pitch. It is best to tighten the top head more than the bottom head after adjusting for tone.
Adjust the Tension
The next action is to make sure that the tension is even across the drum. You can achieve this by tapping around the drum with a drumstick an inch away from the tension rods.
You can fine-tune the tension rods to ensure that the drum produces the same tone on all its sections. Fasten or loosen the tension rods depending on the tone generated after tapping on the drum.
If the overtones generated bother you, consider dampening. Types of dampening that you should think about are drum gum, moon gel, and o-rings. However, I will discourage you from using dampening for poor tuning and advocate for fine-tuning your rods.
Fine-Tune the Bottom Drumhead
Tuning the bottom drumhead might slightly differ from the top head. The adjustments depend on what you prefer. You can match the pitch or vary it.
You should follow the same tapping process near each tension rod. I typically mute the top head when establishing the tone of the bottom head. You can mute it by placing the top head on a drum stop while tapping the bottom drumhead.
You can periodically smoothen wrinkles on the bottom head. I recommend using a napkin or cloth in the straightening process after banging the head. This process ensures that the wrinkles do not interfere with the uniform production of tone and sound afterward.
Maintain your Snares
The snares are essential and require routine maintenance. Ensure that the snares are in pristine condition whenever you play the drums.
Avoid tightening the snares too much. Fasten the snares and ensure that they lay flat across the drum’s skin. This can cause it to bow at the center of the center. Conversely, a loose snare would cause a rattling sound, which is something every drummer avoids.
How To Tune A Floor Tom
Tune to the Body
Although it might seem unnecessary, most drummers know the importance of banging the body a couple of times. The body of the drum can help you detect the pitch of each drum. Thus, it would help if you kept tuning the tom until you reached your target pitch.
I recommend that you begin with the smallest tom as you make your way up. This ensures that your top drumhead is closer to the pitch level you want. You can move to the other drum and follow the same procedure to match the top head pitches.
Watch out for a Single Smooth Tone
It would help if you smoothened the drumhead with a clean cloth. In addition, tap around the perimeter to assess for evenness of tone. During this process, you should listen keenly to the sound produced.
Ideally, the tone should be smooth. Additionally, it should fade into a single note. You should experiment with the sounds from your kit and compare them to those produced by the top and bottom drumheads.
It would help to tune the heads to match their pitch and generate a resonant sound. Expect the sound to drop if you adjust the bottom drumhead to a lower pitch than the top.
Expect a constant tone when the bottom head has a higher pitch and is tighter than the top head. In addition, the tone will have little resonance.
Start with the Bottom Head
I recommend that your tune the bottom drumhead first. This is because the bottom head is usually the section that produces the projection. Moreover, it sustains the projected sound more than other parts of the drum.
Tuning the drum kit is the most critical step. This is because the batter heads of the drum will not sound right if the bottom heads have an inaccurate pitch. Furthermore, tuning the bottom heads makes it easier to tune the top drumheads.
Consider a Rotisserie
You should get something that rotates and turn the drum as you tune it. The key benefit of placing the drum on a rotating surface makes it simple to adjust the keys on your drum without hitting any problems.
You can opt for a spinning surface, such as the lazy Susan. Alternatively, you can use a bar stool or a rotating chair that ensures you get comfortable while tuning.
Tuning a Bass Drum
When tuning a bass drum, remember that it is all about response and attack. Therefore, you should begin by fastening it enough to remove the wrinkles. Bear in mind certain styles of music like jazz that need you to treat the drum like the tom to achieve a target pitch.
- Tune the drum on the sides, batter sides, and then detune the drumhead. As stated earlier, the drumhead should be pressed hard at the center by your palms.
- To muffle the bass drum, consider using an internal muffling system or a beach towel.
- When you want to tone up your bass drum, consider using a mallet and matching the pitch on every part of the drumhead.
- Ensure you bring every section up to the desired tension. You will not be searching for high tones for drums because they are designed for a specific attack.
- You should run your fingers on the edges of the bass drumhead and ensure there are no wrinkles.
- Then, proceed to tune the resonant head similarly to the batter head. The drum’s resonance and actions on the batter heads rely on whether a hole exists on the reso head.
The purpose of the hole is to allow air to escape. Therefore, the harder you hit the batter head, expect a higher proportion of air to be expelled.
Changing the Drumhead
Use a Drum Key
If you like playing the drums, purchasing a drum key is essential to have in your tuning tools. To start changing or tuning the drumhead, you to stick and turn the keys. Then turn off the snares and use two keys opposite of each other on the same drum.
The benefit of using two keys is faster tuning and achieving more even tension around the drumhead. Move diagonally around the drumhead to change the drums quicker.
Loosen the Tension Rods
Using the key, you should loosen the tension rods. Ensure you reduce the rods opposite to each other. After giving them a turn, use your hands to loosen the tension rods.
Avoid loosening them one at a time. This helps prevent bending the rim because of unequal tension on the drumhead.
However, opt for loosening the two tension rods sitting diagonally opposite to each other. Follow this pattern for all pairs of diagonally opposite tension rods on the drumhead.
Remove the Rim, Drumhead, and Tension Rods
After removing the drumhead, rim, and tension rods, clean the interior bits with a dry piece of fabric. I usually clean the edges of the drum and inspect the drum’s lugs. The lugs need to be tight enough to avoid causing a buzzing sound.
I recommend checking the mounting hardware to avoid irregularities in sound production. In addition, clean the drumhead. While at it, check out for dentations and inconsistencies on the drumhead.
Seat the Drumhead
Take the new drumhead and place it on the cleaned drum. Then proceed to put back the tension rods and rim on the drum.
You can return the rim to the original place it held on the drum. This is because it has most likely taken shape to fit in the said position.
After placing the tension rods on the rod, tighten them using your bare hands. You will use the drum key once the tension rods become tight.
To ensure that this process is smooth, lubricate the drum lugs and tension rods. You can use paraffin wax or petroleum jelly as the lubricator.
Break in the Drumhead
This is an essential part of tuning your drum. It ensures that your drumhead does not go out of tune. It is achieved by pushing down the drumhead at the center with your fist.
You can gently push against the drumhead approximately five to ten times. No need to worry about the cracking sounds you might hear because you cannot break the drum.
Ensure that the tension rods are tightly bound on the drumhead. If there are any loose tension rods, proceed to adjust them accordingly.
Muffling and Dampening
Most drummers muffle their drums because they are designed to generate natural tones that might resonate more than you desire. You can dampen the drum by placing something inside or on top of it. This helps minimize the additional harmonics that emanate after playing the initial note.
Dampening provides you control over the sound beyond what tuning offers. Apart from reducing overtones, dampening can make your drums quieter. Dampening can help you make your drum ring less, have a quicker response, and sound slightly different.
Muffling on the other hand involves placing a towel or blanket inside the drum. Alternatively, you can purchase a drumhead with a dampening system to muffle your drums. The following items are needed when muffling your drum:
How to Tune Drums Related FAQs
How Often Do Drums Need To Be Tuned?
The answer to this really depends on how often you play your drum. Professional drummers on tours normally tune their drums at least twice or thrice a week, to ensure the absolute best performance for their drums.
It is also not uncommon for hardcore drummers that play for more than 9 hours a day which may require tuning at least once or twice within the same day.
What Notes To Tune Drums To?
This depends on whether you are performing live or playing it in the studio. When you’re playing live, you want your drums to sound good, regardless of the key, but in the studio, it sounds great to have your drums tuned to the key of the song.
In order to get the best notes, you must find the range where each drum sounds its best. It’s usually a spread of 2-4 semitones where the drum sings like a bird.
No matter what plans you have for your tuning scheme, it is vital to adapt your scheme to what notes are suitable for your existing drums This is to prevent ending up with some drums louder than others or some other issues.
Can Drums Get Out Of Tune?
Yes, drums get out of tune when you are a frequent user. Factors like a loose drumhead, change in humidity or temperature can affect the sound quality.
To prevent drums from getting out of tune, it is recommended to change your worn-out drum head often as they contribute about 80% of the drum sound.