Like all instruments, drum sets need to be tuned in order to be on pitch. There are no right or wrong ways to tune a drum set. The right way is simply whichever way you prefer to get the sound you want.
In this article, we'll go over some of the most popular techniques and how they can benefit your sound.
1. Replace the Heads
If you are installing new batter (top) heads, the first thing you are going to want to do is to remove the old head and to replace it with this new one. After the fresh head is on, put the rim over it and hand tighten the tension rods.
2. Check for Wrinkles
Place your fist on the center of the head and press down. Notice the wrinkles on the drum's skin. You are going to want to remove these wrinkles by further tightening the rods.
3. Tighten the Rods
For the proper method of tightening the rods, think of it like changing a car tire. Start with one tension rod and give it a half turn. Then move to the rod directly across the head and tighten that one a half turn.
Then go clockwise from the original and give that a half turn, followed by the rod directly across that. Continue this pattern until you've tightened all the rods and eliminated all the wrinkles.
4. Seat the Head
In order to properly seat your drum's head, press its center with your palm. By doing this, you are pulling the flesh loop into the rims' channels. The head is now conforming to the drum's bearing edges.
Tap the skin and check its pitch. If you notice that it is producing a lower pitch than before, that means your head needed to be seated. Repeat the process of tightening and seating until the pitch remains constant.
5. Muffle the Sound
Take the drum and place it on something like a clean towel or rug. The head should be upwards facing.
This not only muffles other sounds that might emanate from the drum but also allows you to easily spin the drum around, giving you quicker access to the lugs.
6. Tap the Head
Using either your drumstick or finger, give a tap on the heads of each of the rods.
Note which areas of the drum sound high and which sound low. Typically, where one part of the head sounds high, the opposite end will sound low.
7. Adjust the Rods
For all the rods that sounded low, tighten them by giving them 1/8 turn clockwise. Tighten the ones that were high by turning them 1/8 counterclockwise. Reseat the head.
Repeat steps 6 and 7 until the drumhead gives a uniform pitch all the way around.
8. Tune the Bottom Side
Turn the drum over and tune that side using steps 1 - 7.
Now, let's get into more specific tuning.
Tuning a Bass Drum
Tighten the batter head to right above the wrinkle. Make sure that the beater sinks in. It shouldn't rebound easily. This way, you can stop any unwelcome double-strokes. After this, you can start tightening and loosening the tension rods until it sounds right to you.
Keep in mind that you usually need to muffle bass drums in order to get a good sound. Common items for muffling include things like blankets, pillows, clamp-on devices, and foam. Whichever way you choose to muffle your drum is up to you.
Some drummers prefer to cut a hole in the front-facing head. The bigger the hole, the less "boom" sound you get. The smaller the whole, the bigger the boom.
Tuning a Snare Drum
For the snare drum, tune the batter head as you would regularly tune a drum. When you get to tuning the snare (bottom) head, you have a few options. You can either tune the snare to match the top head, to be higher than the top, or to be lower than it. The most common method is to tune the snare head tighter than the batter.
It is generally a good idea to tighten the snare head until it starts to sound a little choked. When you hear that, loosen the rods about a 1/2 turn or so. It may be helpful to mute the snare wires while you tune. This can be accomplished by sliding your drumstick underneath the wires. Just be careful—you don't want to pull too much on the snare-side head.
Tune your Tom's batter head until it is on pitch. From there, you can tighten and loosen the tension until you get a sound you are happy with. Turn over to the snare-side head and tune that one to be one tone higher than the batter. This should be the general relationship between the two heads. Check every so often to make sure they are tuned accordingly.
Use a Drum Tuner
If you are concerned about pitch-perfect tuning, you may want to consider purchasing a drum tuner. These devices supply drummers with a visual representation of each lug's tension. Although most drummers still prefer to tune by ear, drum tuners can often be found in recording studios.
It is a good idea to check your drums every time you take them out of the case. Give them a good whack and check that they sound alright. How often you need to tune your drums is related to how hard you hit them and how often you play on them.
It's best to check them constantly like this so you can fix minor issues quickly instead of ending up with a completely off-pitch drum.
Want More Drumming Tips?
Check out our site, Drum Center of Portsmouth, for more informative articles on everything drums.
We have tips, guides, and all kinds of reviews on the latest drumming equipment and techniques. Have a question? Feel free to contact us today to learn more!