My Thoughts on Tuning your Drums. (Part 3)

Welcome to part 3. In this issue we will be looking at the toms. Finally we get down to fitting that first drum head.

(All pics are of my Drum Kit and me 🙂 courtesey of James Grice.)

But first a list of the topics covered in the last edition, and if you haven’t read it please take a look before reading this:

  • Drum Preparation
  • Drum Key Technique

I tend to start with the smallest tom as it’s the highest pitched and then work my way down to the floor tom or biggest rack tom.

Right then down to it. First things first check you haven’t got a dead drum head before you start. Grab the new head and tap it in the middle you should get a very dull but slight tone out of the new head, If you don’t and instead get a duff sound the head is dead and not worth using. (the chance of this is very, very small but still worth mentioning)

Now place the head over your drum it should go straight on without any struggle. (I normally line the logo up with the support arm, Just my preference. And I start with the batter head.) Then were going to place the hoop on over the top this is normally a tighter fit and can require a slight push to get it on properly.

Now we need to do up all the tension rods so they are “finger tight” what I mean by this is to tighten the rods using only your fingers and get them all as tight as possible. When doing this it’s best to still use the opposite tensioning pattern mentioned before but this time screw 2 down at the same time. I.E 1 & 2, 3 & 4. Keep going till all the tension rods are finger tight. You may have to go round the drum a few times because as you tighten more on the tension rods others will become loser.

“Seating the Head”

This is a very important part of the tuning process and I can’t stress that you do this enough. It helps to “bed-in” the drum skin allowing it to be tuned easier and to maintain that tuning longer, not to mention improve the life of the head. At this point the skin should still be fairly lose. All you need to do to seat the head is to hold 1 hand over the other (as you would giving CPR) and press down hard on the centre on the head (don’t worry about pushing to hard you wont break it) I would do this while the drum is on the floor though. Do this between 7-10 times. This will help pull the head evenly over the bearing edge stretching the head out but maintaining the shape and improve the relationship between the head and the rim.

Repeat this process with the resonate head.

Turn the drum back over and its time to begin tuning the Batter Head some people will place the drum on a pillow or soft carpet to mute the sound from the resonate head while doing this.

Before reaching for the drum key just check round the drum again making sure all the rods are still finger tight. After seating the head you might find they can still be tightened. The main reason we get the rods to a finger tight state is to insure that roughly the same tension is on every tension rod. This makes it much easier to tune. (Remember the grease in the preparation part. This is where it helps a lot. If the Rod isn’t free to turn in the Lug you won’t be starting with equal tension over the whole head.)

Batter Head

Now take the drum key a using the opposite tension technique mentioned before go round all the tension rods and make a half turn with the drum key (a 180* rotation) its never really a good idea to do a full turn as this can stretch the head making it very hard to tune.

Now a half turn probably isn’t enough to make the head start to resonate so repeat the process again but this time only doing a quarter turn (90* rotation) Try and be very careful not to under or over turn the key. We want to try and keep the tensions as close to each other as possible.

By this time the head should be starting to resonate. By resonate I mean you should be able to hear a clear note from the drum. If not take the head up another quarter turn.

Now you need to check the drum head for wrinkles and crinkles. If you can see any around the head (they will normally be close to the tension rods) tighten ever so slightly the rods they are closest to. The goal being to eliminate all of them leaving a flat drum head. This is where that drum key feeling I mentioned comes into it. Feeling the tension and making very small adjustments.

Once all the wrinkles are removed hit the drum with your stick in the middle. Do you like the sound? If so move onto the next part. If not you will need to keep making turns on the tension rods using the opposite tuning technique. Once all the way round check the sound again. If still not to your liking keep repeating this until you have reached your desired tone.

Now you can stop there and this is fine for a quick tune. But if you really wanna make your drum sing read the fine tuning section.

Fine Tuning

Now its time for the fine tuning to do this take your drum stick and hit the drum about an inch away from the first tension rod then repeat this all the way around all the tension rods at the same distance from the rim. They will all probably be producing a slightly different tone (it will take you time to be able to tell the differences between the tones and notes.) Your aim is to find the highest pitched Rod. This is the Rod we will tune the others too. It’s always easier to tune up than down.

Now for fine tuning the drum we move away from the opposite tuning technique. The tension is already pretty even across the drum and we will be making such fine adjustments that you won’t damage the drum. We also need to be able to here how each Lug corresponds to the one next to it. So starting with the highest pitched tension rod, move to the tension rod to the left and hit about a inch into the drum. Is the pitch the same as the previous Rod if so great move on to the next. If not it will be lower as we have already established the first Rod is the highest. To start keep taping at the same point around a inch in from the Rod. And start slowly turning the drum key trying to match the original Rod. Periodically checking the previous Rod to make sure you find the same pitch. Once they match move on to the next Rod and repeat the process all the way round until you’re happy that all the Rods are at the same pitch.

We do this to eliminate some of the unwanted overtones from the drum. As now no matter where you strike the head, (and lets be honest we very rarely hit the drum dead centre all the time) you will get the same tone. And not loads of different variations of the same tone.

Resonate Head

Now to tune the resonate head. This is just as important as your batter head, And should not be rushed. You do this in exactly the same way as you do the batter head. But remember what ever changes you make to this wont just alter the sustain but the overall note and tone of the drum.

I tend to pitch match both heads. This is just my preference as I believe it creates a better tone and improves the resonance of the drum.

  • If your resonate head is tighter than the batter head the drum will “dry out” faster.
  • If your resonate head is loser than the top it will have more sustain but will create a downwards pitch bend

All of this is once again down to your personal choice. Also the drum itself can play a big part. You might simply not be able to get the tone you want out of certain drum sizes.

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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 March 9, 2012, in Drumming Bits and Bobs., My Tuning Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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