How To Tune Your Drum

Learning the Essentials


You could be the best player in the world but if your drums are out of tune your gonna sound like crap. Unfortunately, most drummers think tuning is a bit of a mystery so they never quite get the sound they’re after.

Good news is, your not like most drummers. You’re a ninja and you have this handy guide that I’ve prepared for you to get the best sounding drums possible. Enjoy…

Develop Your Ear

Before learning the mechanics of drum tuning it’s important to know that getting a great drum sound, requires a great ear. Us drummers understand rhythm very well, but when it comes to tone we are somewhat lacking. And, until we develop our ear and sense of tone we will never be able to get the best sound out of our drums.

So, we start with our ears!

In a recent interview, Bob Gatzen suggested that learning a second instrument (Piano, Guitar, Voice) is probably the best way to develop our sense of tonality. By learning to hear, play & sing pitches we will improve our connection to the drums and our ability to tune.

Clean Your Hardware

Before you put a new head on it’s best to give the shell, the rim, the lugs and the new head a quick clean. Remove any dirt or woodchips with a dry, lint-free cloth – this will help to prevent any damage to the drum shell and warping of the skin.

Seat The Head

First things first with a new head is to seat it. A lot of old school drummers tighten a new head all the way up then tune it down from there. The problem with this approach is that over tightening a head can damage it and then you’ll never get a good sound. According to Bob, the best thing to do is tune the head up, play it for a bit (it will go down naturally), then tune it up again. This will break the head in naturally.

Tune The Top Head

Start working on the top (batter) head with the bottom head muffled so that you are just hearing one head at a time. You will also want to work with the drum off it’s stand. Refer to the diagram below and tune across the head as opposed to around the head – A-B, C-D, E-F – using quarter to half turns. As you tune play 1-2 inches from the rim to hear the pitch at each lug. The final goal is to have each lug pitched evenly.

Tune The Bottom Head

Once you are happy with the sound of your top head, the bottom head is much easier. The pitches should be pretty close so all you need to do is copy the pitch of the top head on the bottom using the same technique. Some drummers like the bottom head to be a pitch or two lower than the top so experiment to find your personal preferences.

Find Your Sound

The final sound of your drums will depend on the sounds that you like and the kind of music that you play most often. It’s important to develop your own distinct voice that sits well in the music so don’t be scared to try different drums, heads and combinations. Your local retailer will be able to help find the right products for you.

Practice Often

Developing your tuning skills is much like developing your playing skills – you need to practice often to become a master. Head down to your local high school and offer to tune their drums for free. Look for colleges, community centres and churches where you can do the same. If you have students, tune their drums as well. Look for as many opportunities as possible to develop your ear and your tuning technique.

Keep Learning

Your knowledge of drum tuning doesn’t stop here. You should keep reading books, picking up DvD’s, and talking to other drummers, techs and sound engineers. You will learn much more and you will get much better. It takes years to achieve mastery so stick with it and you will get there eventually.

If you put these simple steps into practice you will have better sounding drums right away. The more you practice, the better you will get and the deeper your knowledge will become.

Now Kill It! DN

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