My Thoughts on Tuning your Drums. (Part 1)

Hello all, this will be the first issue in a multi-part blog about the ever-elusive subject of Drum Head Tuning.

I think there are two types of people that hit drums. The First been the person that plays drums, they are normally good at what they can do but lack the fundamental knowledge of differing techniques, and are missing a basic structural knowledge of music overall and a drummers relationship within a band. The other being a “Drummer”. This person not only has spent years honing different skill sets and abilities within his/her trade. But has also taken the time to understand music as a whole and how to play to compliment the piece of music being performed. Be it with different techniques like using brushes, or just being sensitive to the piece of music by not over playing or being too loud.

Ive never understood why some “drummers” shy away from this very important aspect of drumming. A nice sounding kit not only sounds great to people listening to you but you will find you will actually want to play and practice more. You will also find yourself being more creative around the kit. I find it has that affect on me anyway. Tuning is also a very good pass time. Hours just seem to fritter away.

I’d like to start by saying this is only a loose guide to tuning and meant to help beginners and expert players alike. It’s definitely not the be all and end all of the subject. Tuning is very specific to the drummer playing the instrument. There are lots of variables that can change what you need from your kit and your sound. I.e. Room Size and ‘Music Style’. It’s down to you to find the sound you like and above all experiment with it. There are lots of things that can be changed to alter the tone and resonance of a Drum and lots of fun and time can be spent playing with it. Im just going to attempt to guide you through the basic progress and talk about how I achieve “my sound”.

Im going to start with a tad bit of vocabulary and the anatomy of the drum so you can understand what im talking about at all times.

Resonance = the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.
Dead Drum Head = The head stops resonating or contains pitting from the stick strokes and as such you will not be able to tune it correctly.
Batter Head = Top drum head
Resonant Head = Bottom Drum Head

To start tuning your kit you will only need 4 things Your Drums, A Drum Key, Your Drum Sticks and yourself of course. But before we even begin to talk about tuning the drums there are a few things you need to do to prepare them to help the tuning process.

I would suggest that if you haven’t recently done this that you re-skin your whole kit, both top and bottom. This can be a costly exercise, especially if you have a rather large kit. I recently replaced my batter heads and it cost in excess of £70 (this didn’t include the base drum head) I only change the resonant heads every 3rd time I replace the batter heads which I try to change every 6-10 months depending on condition. The resonant heads don’t receive as much damage as the top heads. There is no direct impact on them. But they do flex with each hit and as such do die after a while.

Be aware that the Batter Head (top drum head) controls the attack of the drum, while the Resonant Head (bottom drum head) as its name states controls the resonance of the drum.

Now there are lots of heads to choose from out there so im going to try and make the choices a little clearer for you. There really is no right or wrong way of choosing what head to buy, it’s all down to personal choice. I would suggest you go with 1 of the main manufacturers though which include EVANS and REMO, These are the 2 industry leaders with both making outstanding products with a huge range to choose from. At the moment im using EVANS as they sit better on DW drums but I do use REMO’s on my PEARL master’s kit. Both are great manufactures and Ive never had a problem with either.

Types of Drum Heads:

There are 2 main types of drum head.

  • Single ply drum heads which gives you a brighter sound and better stick response but are much harder to tune to low tones and has a tendency to go out of tune more frequently, but are able to produce a louder volume ideal for live stage work were a real punch is needed.
  • Twin ply drum heads which have a flatter sound due to reduced high end frequencies but stay in tune for longer and are easier to tune. Also because of the added thickness tend to last longer and be more durable for the harder hitting players among you. But are slightly quieter than their counterpart.

Sub Groups:

This is then broken down into further sub groups.

  • Clear Heads give you a much brighter and vibrant sound and faster attack.
  • Coated Heads provide more warmth and bring out the tonal qualities of the individual drum more but have less sustain.

You can also get heads with dampening systems built into them to try and control the overtones and to help keep the head ridged. These heads are usually found with a thicker DOT in the middle or some sort of supporting hoop round the edge of the head I prefer these types of head as they seem to hold there tune longer and stand up to been moved from place to place. These are unfortunately often more expensive than normal heads.

Resonant Heads are slightly different to batter heads and manufactures make specific heads for this very purpose these are normally 10mil single ply head and cheaper than the batter head. The resonant head dictates the sustain and overtones of the drum. It also can affect the pitch quite significantly. But you are able to use normal batter heads on the bottom if you choose

Once again it’s all down to preference I would suggest trying out different heads each time you swap them to find the ones that suit you the most. Also don’t just pin yourself to a particular brand as different brands sound better on different drum kits.

At this moment in time im using EVANS EC2’s Clears on my toms and G2 Coated on my snare with the standard DW resonate heads. I find this works best for me as it provides the sort of tones I like.

Ill leave it there for this part of the series to allow you to research what type of drum heads you need for your requirements. I will say though that there are other factors that affect the sound of a drum. These can be stick choice, room size, ambient temperature and room clutter. What might sound great in your practice room could sound bad when gigging. It’s always a good idea to tune to the environment your in.

In the next issue I will be looking at finishing the preparation for tuning and drum key technique.  

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About ajbennettdrums

I have been playing drums for over 20 years now and currently have over 9 years of teaching experience. I am comfortable playing all styles and am a proficient sight reader of music. I started playing drums at the tender age of 7 and I vividly remember exactly what it was that got me into drumming. One Sunday afternoon I was watching a documentary on classic 80’s bands, equipped with huge Drum Kits taking up most of the stage. I then proceeded to empty out a tonne of boxes in my room, cut holes in them and sticky-tape bits together to create my first drum kit (using pencils as sticks). At that point, my dad thought it would be a good idea to send me off for Drum Lessons and from that moment on I have never looked back.

Posted on February 22, 2012, in Drumming Bits and Bobs., My Tuning Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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