My Thoughts on Tuning your Drums. (Part 5)

Things you may need: Guitar Tuner

In this issue of tuning your Drums I will finally get around to looking at the last drum on most peoples kit. It is of course the ever elusive subject of Snare Drum Tuning. The snare is by far the hardest drum to tune. What makes it hard I hear you say? “Snare Buzz” I will hopefully try to give you some tips Ive picked up through my years of drumming to help you eliminate this Problem and I will attempt to do this without the use of any dampening. As I believe this to be cheating and if a good kit is tuned properly this shouldn’t be needed anyway for a live sound. But saying that obviously there are instances when recording that you might need some external dampening but I will be looking at this in my Drum Tuning Extras addition.

Just a quick recap on the topics covered in the last issue.

  • Base Drum Tuning
  • Base Drum Dampening

Ill start with a quick note on head choice. I will say that you should always go with a Coated Batter Head here. It gives you much nice warmer tones and control. Also when using brushes you need that rough surface to the drum. My preference is a thicker head with a built in dampening ring. Some think like a powerstroke 2 by REMO or a EC 2 by EVANS. At the end of the day it’s down to personal preference and taste. So experiment with all that’s out there.

Snares Drums are also made of many different materials and sizes. So what might work on 1, might not suit another.

I will be doing an accompanying video with this issue as I go through tuning my own Snare Drum with a brand new head to show you exactly how to apply the techniques Ive previously discussed.

Snare Drum Anatomy

You may need to change your snare wires before we start the actual tuning is they are damaged or pulled out of shape. To do this please view my little tutorial on changing snare wires by clicking here

As with before, we will start by tuning the Batter Head. To make this easier to hear we will at this point release the snare strainer to remove the snare wires from the drum. My main tip I have for you is to keep the snare drum tuned away from the same notes as the 2 high toms. You can use a guitar tuner to determine the notes of the high toms thus allowing you to tune the snare in-between these. I have also found that tuning the snare drum to a C note or C# gives a great overall tone, and fits in very musically within any musical environment. I tend to do this as the snare is probably the most addible drum and definitely the most played mounted drum. It’s very easy to establish part of your style and musical identity by the way you tune and play your snare. If your snare has a nice “crack” sound to it you will always be remembered for it by fellow musicians. I also like quite a high tuning on my snare. As such I tend to have the batter head very tight over the drum. But you can try tuning the drum to a low and a medium pitch. To here how my snare sounds click here to view my Drum Cover of “thriller”

At this point we will go through the motions from the 3rd issue. Checking for snare imperfections and to get a basic tune on the drum. This normally takes longer with the snare due to the fact they normally have more tension rods attached to them.

Now for the “fine tuning” as I mentioned before I like my snare head nice and tight. Not only for the sound but for the feel and the ability to bounce the stick easier for nice crisper drum roles. With my style I also use a lot of rim shots (this is where you hit both the Rim of the drum and the middle of the head at the same time). So the tight head really helps with the sound here.

At this point I normally take out the tuner and set it to a C note I will then hit the head about an inch away from the rim at all the points were there is a tension rod attempting to find a pitch close to the C note. After finding this I will then “fine tune the drum taking this rod as the reference for the other tension points on the drum. Thus resulting in a drum tuned to the pitch of C. Now as I said before this is just my preference as I find it gives the best sound for a snare. But this is totally up to you if you chose to apply this method or not. If not just follow the normal technique for “fine tuning” the drum. But can I recommend that you at least try it once and see what you think. And remember to keep the pitch of the snare away from the pitch of the 2 high toms this should eliminate a lot of the “Snare Buzz”. Also “external dampening” can help with this issue if its not possible to eliminate it by tuning. We will look at this later.

Now moving to the resonate head. This head is purpose built for a snare specifically and as such need a certain amount of care. It’s a good idea to loosen the snare wires all the way by turning the knob on the snare strainer. This will allow you to place a drum stick between the snares and the rim of the drum to keep them away from the resonate head at all times while tuning it. This is indicated in the picture below.

As before we will use the same technique trying to match the pitch of the batter head. You can go slightly above or below depending on your preference and the amount of sustain you like. Be very careful though when it comes to “fine tuning” as the resonate head on a snare drum is extremely thin. Never play it with a full stroke as you will dent it. And tap it very lightly while pitch matching to make sure no damage occurs.

Once you have a nice sounding Drum its time to take a look at the snares and there relationship to the resonate head. The snares are what give the snare drum the Buzz sound you hear after hitting the drum. As the name implies they are a very important aspect of the Snare Drum. Ideally you want to play with the tightness of the snares until all the snare wires are touching the resonate head from start to finish. You don’t want to see any bowing in the snare wires as this would mean they are too tight. Also any noticeable sagging would mean the wires are to lose. I like to get my snares as tight as possible without any of the above occurring same as others might like it as lose as possible. As Ive stated before its all personal preference.

And there you have it a nice sounding snare drum and hopefully if you have followed the whole series on Drum Tuning you have a very nice sounding Kit.

Now I am going to be doing 1 more episode in this series just to go over a few points that can possible help you in a recording setting and get a tad bit more oomph from your drums as well as some different types of equipment that can help speed up the process.

 I will also be doing a whole new blog about setting up your drums and tips on saving those cymbals. No one wants to crack a £200 cymbal.

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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 April 5, 2012, in Drumming Bits and Bobs., My Tuning Advice and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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