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Articles

Drum Sets for Sale Home
::
Drumming For Beginners - Articles
::
Buying Your First Drum Set – A Beginner’s Guide
::
Prepare for Gigs – On Your Knees
::
How to Be A Successful, Silent Drummer – Changing to Electronic Drums
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Soundproofing Your Garage – A Rough Guide
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How to Play the Drums - Tutor Methods
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Learn to Play Drums - Best Foundation Course
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How to Tune a Drum Set

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How to Tune a Drum
This is good for snare drum tuning, bass drum tuning or for tuning toms.

Why should you tune drums?

Before learning how to tune a drum, it's important to know why and when to do so. Drums, just like any other musical instrument, will go out of tune if neglected. If your drum heads aren't tuned on a reasonably regular basis (assuming you're playing them quite a bit), they'll begin to sound out of pitch and dull.

Untuned heads become damaged faster. Every stick strike loosens the batter heads which settle over the shells and become baggy as time goes by. If they aren't tuned up on average every few weeks, the heads will gradually become un-tunable and will need replacing more often. (And of course your drums won't sound as good).

I couldn't believe the difference a proper drum tuning session on my first Pearl Export made to their sound. It wasn't until someone actually showed me the right way to do it that I realized that my drums weren't supposed to sound as bad as they did!

When should you tune drums?

On average, drums should be tuned every few weeks, depending on how much they're played. Of course this is a generalization, so if you're uncertain, the following signs should indicate that a re-tune or replacement is in order:

  • When the batter head coating starts to wear off
  • When the head cannot be tuned no matter how hard you try
  • When the batter head is dented
  • When it's holed!
  • When the drum starts buzzing when struck

How to tune a drum
The Drum Tuning Key - Make Sure You Have Two!

The only thing more important than having a drum tuning key is having two drum tuning keys. As you'll see in the diagrams further down the page, when tuning a drum you'll need to turn opposing lugs evenly (and in a certain order), so it makes good sense to use two tuning keys simultaneously which will make the process faster and more accurate.

The tuning key diagram below shows what a quarter and eighth turn looks like. A sixteenth turn is half an eighth, which will become relevant later.

Drum Tuning Key

The procedure shown in this article is good for pretty much any drum tuning scenario, but many drummers like to start with the 'voice of the drum set', the snare drum.

How to Tune a Drum:
Snare drum tuning - first clean the drum

First turn off and remove the snares and remove both rims and heads. The top head is called the 'batter head' which tends to be tuned for pitch, and the bottom head is called the 'resonant head' which tends to be tuned for... you guessed it... resonance.

This is a good opportunity to thoroughly clean the drum shell inside and out, as well as to clean both heads. Much of drum tuning is down to personal preference, and some like to start with the bottom head when tuning a drum - but we'll start with the top (batter) head.

How to Tune a Drum:
Start with batter head - place the drum on a carpet

Place the snare drum (bottom down) on a carpet or similar absorbent surface. Place the batter head over the shell and make sure it can move freely around, and is not 'baggy' around the shell.

Apply pressure evenly with both hands around the edge of the batter head before placing the rim over it.

How to Tune a Drum:
Start to tighten the lugs - use an appropriate tuning pattern

Depending on how many lugs your drum has, start to hand tighten them two at a time, using one of the suggested tuning patterns shown below. Make sure that you always tighten opposites (see the color-coordinated number sequences).

How to Tune a Drum:
Suggested 8 Lug Drum Tuning Pattern:

How to tune a drum - 8 lug drum tuning pattern

How to Tune a Drum:
Suggested 10 Lug Drum Tuning Pattern:

How to tune a drum - 10 lug drum tuning pattern

How to Tune a Drum:
Suggested12 Lug Drum Tuning Pattern:

How to tune a drum - 12 lug drum tuning pattern

Once the lugs are hand-tight, lift the drum off the carpet and strike the batter head with a stick to check for distortion. Continue to tighten the lugs evenly in quarter turns evenly until the drum is free of distortion. When done, place the drum back on the carpet.

How to Tune a Drum:
Start to equalise the pitch - tune up, not down

Press your finger in the centre of drum head to muffle it and lightly strike the head with a stick about two fingers in from each lug with equal force, moving around the head and listening for differences in pitch. Choose an area of pitch which you're happy with and continue adjusting tensions on the other lugs until all sound the same. As the sounds become closer, the turns on the tuning key should get smaller - one tiny sixteenth turn can make a significant difference to pitch as the head becomes tighter.

Always tune up, not down. This means that if you need to loosen a lug to match the pitch of another, loosen it below the pitch that you need, and then tighten it up again to match, as a guitarist would when tuning a guitar string. When the pitch is the same all the way around, the drum is 'in tune with itself'.

Now stretch the head very firmly with your fist by pushing down in its dead centre. Expect lots of creaking and cracking! This can be quite disconcerting, but if the head is not faulty, it shouldn't break.

How to Tune a Drum:
De-tune, then re-tune - place the drum in a stand

With the drum in a stand (or off the carpet) loosen the lugs evenly in quarter turns until the head buzzes when struck. Now re-tighten the lugs evenly in eighth or sixteenth turns, hitting the head between turns until a clear, distortion-free tone sounds at the pitch you desire.

As before, even out the lugs until all are at the desired (same) pitch so that the drum is in tune with itself again. And that's it!

How to Tune a Drum:
Now tune the resonant head - choose a resonance that produces the right sound for you

The bottom 'resonant' head is tuned in the same way as the 'batter'. The relative tension of the heads (whether one is higher, the same or lower than the other) determines the drum's resonance, and is a matter of personal preference. Generally the top head will be tuned to the desired pitch and the bottom head tuned to produce the appropriate resonance.

The key here is to experiment and find a sound that suits you - the more drum tuning you do, the better (and faster) you'll become.

Once the resonant head has been tuned, replace and turn on the snares, adjusting their tension until you're happy. And that's your snare drum tuned for the next performance!

More drumming articles:


© 2009 Nick B Davies

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