Tuning is one of the most overlooked areas of drum performance. You could be the best player in the world, but if you’re kit sounds bad then the performance can lose its impact.
The key to a tuning is creating even tension over the drum head. Each head, or skin, must be in tune with itself and each drum must be in tune with the rest of the kit.
How to tune a drum
1. Loosen all the lugs (the bolts that hold the rim and head on) or if replacing a head, put on the new head and re-fit the rim and lugs.
2. Now you want to finger tighten each of the lugs so they are all roughly the same tension. Also make sure that the head is ‘nested’ correctly on the drum. If it’s a new head be sure to stretch it in so it doesn’t go out of tune immediately.
3. Next, grab your drum key, ready to start tightening each lug up properly. To maintain even tension over the head, you need to tighten each lug the same amount. It’s best to measure in full, half or quarter turns; eighths if you’re being really precise. Rather than going round the drum lugs, you should move diagonally between them to maintain evenness.
4. Start by tightening each lug a full turn and continue until all of the wrinkles have gone from the head.
5. To check if all the lugs are of even pitch, tap near each one with the drum key and tighten or loosen to get the right pitch. It’s best to keep your fingers on a ‘control’ lug and reference all the others to this one.
6. Every drum has an optimum pitch range which gives the best resonance when it is played, and therefore the best sound. By trial and error, it is possible to find the pitch range and get the optimum tone from the drum.
7. Once you have tuned the top head, repeat the same steps for the bottom head. Your aim is to get both heads to be the same pitch to make the drum sound its best.
1. A good ear for pitch is useful for getting the lugs to sound the same. Try and work from the initial sound of the drum when it is hit and also the overtone pitch that is produced.
2. Cheaper kits can be very hard to tune, especially if the shells are poorly made. Upgrading the heads can do wonders as the ones supplied with the kit are not always of the best quality. Remo and Evans are the main head manufacturers and discounted kit packs are available.
3. Snare drums need to be tuned to a higher pitch than the other drums, therefore more turns of the key. Don’t be afraid to tighten the head, it is very unlikely that it’ll break under high tension.
4. When tuning the bottom head of the snare drum, place a stick under the snare wires to stop them vibrating on the head. This makes it a lot easier to get an even pitch.
Tuning the whole kit
The toms need to be in tune with one another to make fills and rhythms sound good. You can tune to specific pitches but this can be difficult as every drum has a different resonant frequency. You should aim to get the high tom and floor tom to be a fifth apart and the mid tom somewhere in between. The bass drum can be tuned an octave below the high tom. The pitch of the snare varies depending on the style of music and what snare sound is required.