How To Tune Drums

The first step is to determine the drum  sound you want to hear.  If you are not sure find a few of your favorite recordings with the sound your prefer as a start point.  There is no one correct way to tune drums, and if it doesn't please you, keep trying.  Trial and error will teach you.  With experience you will find a sound that is right for you.

Tuning is greatly influenced by the quality of your drums.  True roundness of the drum shell is very important.  The bearing edges must be perfectly flat and precise.  Think of the hoops as the bearing edge's other side.  I believe the shell's wood type is of much less importance compared to the other factors when learning how to tune your drums.

For example, a slightly undersized shell, 1/4" less than the stated diameter of the drum is a big plus.  The heads when allowed to float on the bearing edge makes drum tuning easier.

Proper tuning of your drums requires lugs that are smooth to operate without de-tuning or backing out easily.  Diecast hoops are more rigid and tend to hold tuning a bit better than normal flanged hoops.  Many higher priced drums include these.  Wood hoops although pricey are worth considering as some drummers feel they produce a warmer sound.

Drumhead Selection

Once you feel confident that your drums are 100% Tuning Capable, the next really important factor is the Heads.  This is absolutely the Heart and Soul that brings your drums to life. To my ears head selection has much more influence on the tone than shell material, drum depth, lugs, or hoops when learning how to tune drums.

It can be a bit overwhelming deciding on heads with the seemingly endless choices from Remo, Evans, Aquarian, Ludwig, etc.  Study the company websites to get an idea of the various tone qualities of different types of heads in their product line.

Go to your local music store and tap on the available demo drum sets.  Remember that what you hear in a music store will differ from your sound at home.  Always inspect new heads for defects before purchasing.  Do they lay perfectly flat on a glass surface for example?

Many drummers use drum muffling / tone-control devices such as the "Ring-Arrestor" to eliminate ringing and overtones and focus the tone.  Head distortion or buzzing, especially on larger toms can be controlled by this type of muffling.

Tuning Steps

When you install a new head check the bearing edge and remove any particles or dirt that may have built up while playing.  Place the head on the shell and turn it slowly to check for inconsistencies in the head or the shell.  If ahead is imperfect from the factory, your drum tuning is doomed from the start.

Before replacing the tension rods add good quality nylon washers which helps the drum head stay in tune.  Finger tighten the tension rods until there is resistance.  Then key, tighten lugs in a criss-cross pattern to assure even tension and head seating.  Press the center of the head to seat it on the seat properly.

Before replacing the tension rods add good quality nylon washers which helps the drum head stay in tune.  Turn all the tension rods by hand only until there is resistance.  Using your drum key, tighten them in a criss-cross pattern to assure even tension and head seating.  Press the center of the head to seat it on the seat properly.

When the head becomes tight tap just in front of each tension rod about an inch or so from the edge of the drum.  You will be listening for an even pitch from lug to lug.  Try different tension combinations of  batter and resonant heads.

Find the sweet spot tone-wise and use even tension on both heads.  This will give you a pure tone which is in tune with itself.  Use slight variations between top and bottom tension to alter sound your taste.   A suspension mount on the toms makes a noticeable improvement in the resonance.  The head is free to vibrate without choking.

Other Considerations

It takes a few days for the heads to settle into their tuning.  This is due to the stretching of the plastic.  Room acoustics is a big factor that is sometimes overlooked, especially during recording.

Sound absorption materials change sound dramatically and alteryour perception of the drum tones.  Sound waves are easier to control when thereare less reflections from hard surfaces in a muted room.

Trial and error is the best teacher when trying to figure out how to tune drums.  Experiment with different heads, tuning and muffling combinations.  Take notes as you go and consider writing a personal tuning manual.  Your 'Ultimate Drum Sound' will be accomplished before you know it.

Assuming you have quality drums and heads, the "secret" of tuning drums is you and your Amazing Ears!  Good luck and keep a Happy Beat!

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