Playing drums is more than just hitting them with a stick. You need to tune your drums properly and train your ear to capture the right sounds at all times.
But you cannot start using tuning directly just with your ear. It takes a lot of time to train this. Luckily, many instruments can help you put.
Even the most experienced drummers begun with instruments before they could learn to individually tune the bass, the tom, or the snare.
Don’t worry, though; you can also learn these methods. That is why I have put together this guide to help you learn to arrange of tuning procedure.
By the end of this guide, you will know how to seat, dampen them, tune to the desired genre, and much more.
In summary, you will learn to:
- Get your gear ready for setting.
- Seat, tension, and fine-tune each drum head.
- Check your sounds.
- Tips on specific drum tuning and dampening.
The importance of proper drum tuning
I have been visiting a lot of drum forums, and I have been a member of several. One of the biggest topics of discussions that always come up is the right way of tuning the drums.
Different users come up with different advice on tuning the toms, the snare, or the base. And I am always surprised that everyone is convinced that they are right.
In my experience, though, I can tell you there is never the right or wrong way of doing it.
You see, each one of us has preferences. And what might work for you may not work for another person. This means every player must work with what suits their drumming needs and according to the particular piece of music they are working on.
Don’t get me wrong, though; there is indeed some physic that can be generally regarded as best sets. It is all about getting the drums to maximum performance and giving your audience what they need.
Drum tuning is, therefore, important and necessary. You want to ensure every sound you produce is pleasing to the ear you are playing for.
There are two rules that I always offer aspiring drummers, and which have helped me along my drumming journey.
One, that pure pitches lead to better sounds. This is particularly true when talking about toms. A fraught head produces dissonances from the rod to the tension, which may not bring out the best sounds.
And two, that better drums tune easier. Let no one lie to you that you can tune even the worst drums to sound excellent. Quality shells, bearing edges, and hardware give out better sounds and are easier to adjust. This is the best way to get the best out of drums by investing in quality first.
Drum tuning is basically just setting your drums on the right pitch. Many, if not all, drum kits come with tuning keys, which are used to make your drum heads tighter or lighter.
How to tune Drums
Step 1: Get your heads ready
Technology in modern drummers has made things a lot easier and better. The drums now come with two heads featuring the batter and the resonant (top and bottom).
As you may have already guessed, the batter side is the hardest part, because it is often hit. While the resonant side and much lighter.
Starting with the resonant, which is not commonly used, remove this part. Or you can silence it on your knee, or a carpeted surface. I usually use the DW Tuning Table, which is more efficient.
Now loosen all the tension heads that come pre-tuned. This will leave the counter hoop free. Ensure that rods are loose but still threaded in the lug casing.
Next, tap the shell and the note for frequency resonance. Not you can twist the hoop from back to front, severally place the tension rods at the center, and in an upright position. This process gives you the least resistance when you start searching for the perfect pitch.
Use your finger to pull the shaft of each tension rod until they are sturdy. And you can follow any order for this.
Step 2: Seating and tensioning
Use your drum key to turn the starting tension about two half-turns. This leaves the drum heads ready for tensioning, but not ready for starting.
Now move across the head to the other side and give it the same number of turns. While moving anti-clockwise, skip a rod, then provide the pair of rods two half-turns too.
Here, you are looking for equal-tensioned pair on the heads. Ensure you have true shells and hoops and that your lug threads are greased in the right manner.
All the tension rod must be equally tensioned. Also, the pitch of the head should be as close to the resonant pitch as possible. You can use a soft cloth while applying gentle pressure to regularly smooth out wrinkles.
Step 3: Getting the fine tunes from the head
If your shells have achieved the near-resonant frequency, they are ready to start tuning. Remember, the initial step-ins very important.
Use your finger to tap the head’s edge, just a few inches from the hoop, and in direct contact with the tension head. You need to put your ear down for the pitch while doing this.
Now, I know that sometimes picking the pitch may be hard, but place rests a finger on the center of the head to set aside the tone appropriately.
After this, try tapping in front of the rod near it. Listen again, and you will notice the pitch. If it is tuned higher or lower than the forest one, adjust appropriately until you get your right pitch.
Now, move around the head from rod to rod while tuning until there is a smooth sound on each on them. Once done, the drum should start singing as you come close to the resonant frequency.
Once done, turn over the drum and do the same with the resonant head. Ensure you are getting the same pitch or a minor third up or low from the top head.
Now set it slowly until you have something that gives you the right taste.
Step 4. Check you sound
The steps above have included only the tuning theory. However, it is essential to note that different drums and shells are made differently.
For this reason, sometimes the sound you get even after careful tuning may not be what you are looking for.
Don’t worry; consider it just an experiment. Now raise or lower your batter head to one full tone. Continue and detune a single rod.
If you still don’t get a satisfying tune, try muffling. This will get you in a better position to make your drumming enjoyable.
Drum tuning requires a lot of patience and care. It may seem like it’s taking a lot of your time, but the result with inspire you to become a better player. The aim here it top get the right tunes for any music style you play.
Step 5: Tuning individual drum heads
Tuning the snare
There are many discussions on the best way to tune the snare; however, some of these methods may not make sense, until you get your hands down.
However, tuning the snare should be easy and straight to the point.
Start by tightening the tension rods in a diagonal pattern. When doing this, I always begin with the rod closest to me; then, I turn the drum key a half a turn clockwise.
Be careful not to extend to the tension rod beside it. Instead, work on the rod that is directly across from the current one.
Now move to the tension rod to the left of the first one. From here, you move directly across the head and continue with following the same pattern.
Do this for all the rods until each one is evenly tightened for the right sounds. It may be a good idea to go over the rods several. Just to get the tone you need.
Now give your heads the tone you need. Some drummers use the drum stick of fingers against the drum body. Do this while listening for the overtone. Now, try matching the pitch while tuning the head. For new drums, you may want to tension the head tighter than the pitch you desired. Do this until you hear a drop in the pitch. Also, you are looking to seat the head and pitches correctly for the right crack sound.
Keep the tension even across the drum. You can do this by going around the drum and tapping an inch away from every tension rod using a drumstick. Now you can fine-tune the rods until every point you hit produces the same tone across the drums.
Next, tighten, or loosen the rods as per your tone. If some of the overtones are not pleasing, trying applying some form of dampening. For this, you can use features like moon gel, drum gel, and o-rings.
Dampening should not come as a solution to poor tuning. Only use it when you want to enhance your tuning.
Last, repeat the same procedure above with the resonant bottom. Consider your taste on this. You may want the same pitch as the batter or a slight variation.
Remember to keep your snares in good shape at all times. The snare is the most important part of many drum kits. Remember to always tighten them until you don’t hear the rattling sounds.
The toms and Kick Drum
The first step here is to work on the body of the drum. Taking your time to bang on the body several times brings out the sense of pitch in each drum. Hence, you want to continue tuning until you get the right tune.
Start with the least tom and get the top head close to the right pitch. Then move to other drums while matching the top head pitch until every drum is well balanced.
Now, keep your ear on a smooth single tone. Use the same procedure like the one you did with the snare. Keep smoothing out the head using a cloth, while tapping around the surface until you get an even tone. It is important to listen attentively while focusing on the sound. Your drums need to bring out a tone with a smooth and even fade on even singlet tone.
Note that a specific tension may be really good for your drums. But you will need to find it first. Therefore, keep experiment with different methods until you find one that is more useful.
When both heads are tuned with the same pitch, they bring out a resonant sound. When the bottom is pitched lower than the upper, you will experience a dropping sound. And if it is tighter, then you only get a constant tone without much resonance.
Other tips for tuning the toms and the kick
Start by tuning the bottom first. Note that this part of the head makes a projection and sustains any part of the drum. If you don’t take your time to tune the resonant, then the upper head will not sound as great. And many drummers make this mistake, thinking once you get the batter right, everything else falls in place.
When you tune the bottom first, make tuning the top much easier. The bottom with reverberating at the correct tone, making you focus on the top batter.
Try using something the rotates to set the drum on. This lets you turn the drum easily as you work. You may want to consider the rotisseries or lazy Susan. When you sue a spinning surface, it helps you to stay in one position, making things work faster. You can turn all the keys and change things without affecting the drum heads. You will also not be moving around on your knees, which is quite tiring.
Lazy Susan is a rotating table setting that will make your work easy and first. It is all about staying comfortable through the process.
Step 6. Tips for drum dampening
Getting the right drum sounds may involve retouching, just like photographers do to get the best finish. This is true, especially where mics are involved. They make it hard to get controlled, focused sound without treatment touches. Luckily, dampening or muffling solutions could make the best solution.
There are several things you can do to dampen your snare. Consider the following:
- Moongel. This is a dampener that makes your heads sound awesome without the overtones. They come with great control, more than just tape and cloth. It comes with reduced loss tone and volume. Also, it will serve you for many years.
- Rings, like Remo Control Rings, and Evans E-Rings gives you easy muffling for toms and snare drums. They are very useful for those who want to write out a set of notes and lists.
- Using your old drum head. Another great and easy way to dampen the snare is to place the old head upside down on the new head. Doing this will great deaden the tone, apart from dropping the pitch a few tones lower.
- Use your wallet. You will be surprised that everything you have around you can be used to dampen your snare sound. Resting the wallet on the batter head creates focus with your sound, creating a punch.
- Using tape and cloth. Now, if you are having problems with excess ring, then tap your drum with a stick as you trace the edge using your finger, just a few inches from the hoop. This way, you will find a surface where the overtones are not high. Put a piece of duct tape on that area or paper towels until you have the right tone.
- Dishtowel or t-shirt. If you are looking to greatly reduce the volume, try using a dishtowel. This an easy step that will make your work easier.
Tom and bass drum dampening
Dampening the tom and bass is quite easy. Using a few taps of Moongel on the batter head will remove the excess overtones. And if you touch on the reso head, you can create an errant ring. Simply experiment with the right place until the gel is in the right place.
Using an internal pillow will easy give you control over the bass drum. This is the simplest approach. But there are other methods like using the Pearl Bass Drum Muffler for more convenience.
Some accessories you may need
Tuning drums has never been easier. Today, you get all sorts of accessories that give you more control over the heads. Some of the most popular accessories include:
- Drum keys. Just like guitar keys, drum keys are designed specifically to fit each tension rod. You just insert and turn.
- Drum tuners. Before you train your ear to get the right tune, you can use the drum tuning products on the market. They are simple tools designed to easily get your drums in shape.
I never have a specific tone I call perfect for my drums. This is why I keep experimenting with different sounds. This helps you discover new timbres, letting you change your sounds until your drumming is on point. I hope this guide helps you get your touch.