Tuning Your Set
Unlike guitars or pianos, drums can be tuned any way you want! However, to sound their best, they need to be tuned carefully. Follow the instructions below and you’ll have great sounding drums in no time!
1) Tune each head evenly: Choose any drum (other than the snare drum…we’ll save it for last) and loosen all of the tuning rods on one side then retighten them finger tight. Tighten each rod 1/2 turn using the criss-cross sequence shown below.
Repeat this procedure until the drumhead is free of wrinkles and a tone is produced. Tap the head next to each tension rod as shown and listen to the sound.
If the sounds you hear are the same note or pitch all the way around, you’re in luck—this is what you want! However, chances are you won’t be this lucky and the sounds will be “high” at some tension rods and “low” at others. Our goal is to get them to be the same note all around…here’s how we do it. At the places where the pitches were “high,” loosen the rods by 1/8 turn. Where the pitches were “low,” tighten the rods by 1/8 turn. Again, tap the head at each tension rod and note your progress. Continue this procedure until the head has the same pitch all around, or as drummers say, “is in tune with itself.”
Turn the drum over and repeat the entire process on the other head.
2) Tune the heads to each other: Next we need to tune the top and bottom heads relative to each other.
Note: There are three ways that this can be done: 1) the top and bottom heads can be tuned to the same pitch; 2) the top head can be tuned higher than the bottom; or 3) the top head tuned can be tuned lower than the bottom. There’s no right or wrong method…experiment to see which sounds best to you.
For now, we’re going to tune the top and bottom heads to the same note. Select a drum and tap the top and bottom heads to determine which is higher. If the pitches are the same, you’re in luck—go to the next drum. If they’re different, do the following: lower the pitch of the “high” head and raise the pitch of the “low” one*. Repeat this procedure until the top and bottom heads are tuned to the same pitch. Move on to the next drum.
*Once a head is in tune with itself, it can be tuned higher or lower by tightening or loosening each tension rod by the same amount. Most of the time, the head will remain in tune with itself; however, if it should change, simply fine-tune using the tuning procedure we practiced above.
3) Tune the drums to each other: You’re now ready to tune the whole set. The smallest diameter drums are tuned the highest; the largest diameters, the lowest. Many drummers like to tune their toms a 4th apart. If you want to try this tuning, sing the first two notes of the wedding march, “Here Comes the Bride.” “Here” and “Comes” are a 4th apart. Use these notes as a guide.
If you prefer the “free-form” method of tuning your drum, go right ahead…as mentioned before, there’s no right or wrong notes to tune drums. However, every drum has a range of pitches where it sounds best. Tune it too high and it’ll sound “choked;” tune it too low and it’ll sound “flappy.” Experiment until you find the notes that work for you.