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11 Tuning Tricks for Your Snare Drum

Shaping the tone the drum produces is an important tool for every drummer. This can be done through different options like miking, muffling, processing, and more. The most holistic option is tuning. This helps the whole kit sound just right and produce the right sound. This will ultimately help ensure you perform the best and maximize projection. There are a number of tips and tricks when it comes to tuning your snare drum. If you are ever in doubt about how to tune your snare, you can always get help from the Drum Center of Portsmouth.


1. Understand the Drum  

The first key element behind tuning your snare is understanding your drum. There are several shell types that will play into how you end up tuning the snare. Common snare materials include hardwoods like maple, birch, cherry, oak, walnut and mahogany, as well alternate materials like carbon fiber, fiberglass, and acrylic. Metal snare drums continue to be incredibly popular: you will hear brass, steel, copper, bronze and aluminum on many of your favorite recordings.  Understanding how the material plays into sound production is important for tuning. For example, metal-shelled drums can result in more volume and ring than wood. Different types of metal will also produce different sounds. Steel will be brighter than than copper, and aluminum is drier than brass.  


2. Snare Drum Ring and Buzz - Learn to Love It!  

Drummers often hyper-focus on eliminating ring when tuning. In some situations, however, some ring is good. Ring works in live situations, even when miked. Removing the ring will give the drum a very pronounced, focused sound with a more limited dynamic range.  The articulation will be enhanced at lower volume however. Keep in mind the ring will end up being absorbed by the band. If you are experiencing a “buzz” sound, this typically is referred to as “sympathetic snare buzz”, which means that the bottom head of one of your toms is tuned to the same pitch as your bottom snare head.  You can reduce this with specialty snare wires, like the Puresound Equalizer wires, but don’t expect them to save the day.  If you let the buzz bug you, you will drive yourself crazy!  Consider this: on Roland V-drums, they have a built in “snare buzz” feature on their bass drum samples.  It’s ok for you to get comfortable with it, people expect to hear it. 


3. Begin with the Resonant Head

When tuning the drum, start with the resonant head. Keep in mind the resonant, or snare-side, head is often very thin. It might be weaker than other heads but still light enough to seat itself. This should be installed and centered in a way for two-key method and settled in place.  


4. Tune Just Right  

When you start to tune, start with finger tight. This just means to tighten using your fingers rather than with tools. There should be wrinkles between the lugs on each side of the snare bed. Instead of removing the wrinkles through tight tuning, use two keys on each side with enough tension to remove wrinkles.  We tend to tune our bottom head very tight.  When we say “very tight”, it’s typically tighter than most would expect.  When placing the wires on the bottom, be sure to position them evenly on the drum so when the throw off (switch to turn wires on or off) is engaged, the wires have an even tension across the drum.  A common mistake is for people to make the snare wire tension VERY tight, but this chokes the sound of the drum. Aim for medium tension. 


5. Use Your Ears  

For a drummer, this might be obvious. However, tuning involves listening throughout the process to make sure you hit the right tone. Take each lug up by quarter-turns until they are at the preferred tightness. The head will start to produce a toppy or tinny sounds with a slight ring. Heads have to be evenly pitched and it takes a little bit more fuss to do this with the snare.  

Pitch is based on preference, but most of the time the drum works best if the resonant head is fairly tight, no matter the size. Ultimately, use your ears to determine where to stop.  


6. Control Snare Right with Tuning 

 Are you spending a lot of time recording in the studio? There is a way to tune your snare for a fat, dry sound ready for recording without damping. Start by tuning your batter head until you find the stick and body response you want. Next, take the bottom three screws nearest where your stick strikes and detune them. The center screw should be finger tight and the other two about a half-turn tighter. You can play with this based on taste. If you have lost any pitch in this tuning process, compensate using screws furthest from the detuned screws. Now you have tuned your snare for a controlled and cutting sound. It will still have plenty of tension for double strokes.  


7. Move to the Batter Head  

Now is time to switch focus to the batter head. The method is fairly the same but some say that leaving the head on overnight so the drum forms to the head is optimal.  Your mileage may vary, we aim to get it sounding good out of the gate so we can use it! You will want to keep the batter head tight with the two-key method. You can take the batter head up in half-turns two or three times depending on diameter. The head should be evenly tuned and continue with smaller turns until just right. The focus of the batter head is to have the right feel but find the perfect amount of ring.  


8. Keep the Top Head Tuned Lower  

A trick to tuning just right is to tune the top head slightly lower than the snare side. This can create a slight pitch difference, as slight as a third or fifth. This approach can be simplified by listening for a harmonious and pleasing pitch difference. You can mute one head and tap the other to make the necessary adjustments.  


9. Leave the Resonant Head Alone  

A top trick for the snare drum is simply to leave the resonant head alone. At this stage of the tuning process, the adjustments should primarily be on the batter head. The resonant head should be set and left alone. Right now, you are focusing on what is “out front” versus what is facing you.  


10. Self-Assess 

Hopefully by now the snare is tuned perfectly. If not, self-assess and determine if one of the following things is at play:  

  • Too tight batter head 
  • Inappropriate head for drum and style 
  • Wrong snare for the desired sound 

If one of these factors is at play, revisit and readjust. You may need to loosen the batter head or you may need a new snare.  


11. Play It Out  

You have probably been sound-checking while tuning, but now it is time to play. This is a great time for a final assessment to make sure everything is where it needs to be. There might be a few slight adjustments left at this point. If the snare is rattling too much, tighten the adjustment knob by quarter or half-turns. Play between each adjustment until it is perfect. If it is too tight, you will hear the poor tune and choke the drum.  

From here, get ready to play, record, or just jam out. If you have larger issues than just tuning correctly, come visit the team at the Drum Center of Portsmouth