How to Tune Your Drums

One of the things you will come to understand very quickly as a drummer is that the sound of your drums must match the ideal you have for the music in your head. Any discrepancy between the drum sounds you envision for the music and the actual ones being produced from your kit is going to be a roadblock in the creative process. Not only that, but a poorly sounding kit is going to be unappreciated by your band or performance mates as well. Learning to tune a drum properly is an essential skill for any drummer, and you should become proficient with it as soon as possible.

Pick up any one of your drums – even the bass drum if you’re so inclined. Around the drum shell you will see a number of steel housings attached to the drum. These are called lug nut housings and, as you might guess, the slim threaded bolts that pass through the rims on either end of the shell are called lug nuts.

 Lug nut housing / lug nut / bass drum rim clip (below)

A well-tuned drum is the sum of 2 quality drum heads and lug nuts with the correct amount and distribution of tension securing both those heads by means of the rim. That’s it –it is not any more complicated than that but getting it right requires much practice and a trial-and-error approach.

Drum key (below)

First things first, you’ll need a drum key. This T-shaped key will fit the lug nut head exactly and allow you to tighten or loosen the lugs with ease.

TUNING THE DRUM

You will begin tuning any drum with both the batter (top) and resonant (bottom) heads loosely secured onto the shell by each rim and each lug nut only slightly threaded into its lug nut housing.

Step 1 – Tighten each lug nut as much as you can tighten it BY HAND and NOT WITH THE DRUM KEY. This will give you a nice base from which to begin setting the tension on each lug.

Step 2 – (Refer to images below)

USING THE DRUM KEY, tighten the #1 lug on the BATTER head for 1 FULL TURN of the drum key. Next, do the same for lug #2, the one directly ACROSS the drum head.

Apply the same full turn now to the #3 lug, followed by the #4 lug. Then 5 followed by 6, etc. ALWAYS PROCEED TO THE LUG ACROSS THE DRUM HEAD – NEVER TUNE THE HEAD FROM ONE LUG TO THE ONE NEXT TO IT.

Step 3  – Apply the EXACT same procedure to the RESONANT head on the bottom of the shell. (for reference, the resonant head is the one you DO NOT strike when playing the drum)

Step 4 – Follow the same procedure and order on both the batter and resonant heads, but this time you are only turning the key ½ turn.

Step 5 – Repeat again, this time turning the key on each lug for only ¼ of a turn.

At this point the lugs should be coming to a nice tension point. You are now at the point where you will need to add a more finite and definitive touch to the tuning process. Let’s take a look at how we do that:

Step 6 – Take a stick and strike the center of the batter head. The sound is flat, right? Not to worry, it should be – there is insufficient tension on the lugs. Rather than tighten them up in the same manner we did before however, we need to take a reference point on the lugs individually now. Here’s how we do that:

Step 7 – Take that same stick and tap the drum DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF lug #1 on the batter head, about ½ an inch in. Make a mental note of the depth and pitch of the sound it makes. Now move across to lug #2, again directly ACROSS the head, and do the same. Is the pitch higher or lower than the one at lug #1? Is it the same?  If it is in fact the same, nice touch – that’s what you’re aiming for at this point. If it is lower, tighten lug #2 in SMALL INCREMENTS until it matches the sound at lug #1. If it is higher, tighten lug #1 in the same small increments until it matches the pitch of #2.

Step 8 – Follow the exact same process as Step 7 for lugs 3 and 4, directly across from each other as always.

Step 9 – What you want to do now is take a median sound measurement between lugs 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. This is quite easily performed. Take your stick and strike the batter head BETWEEN lugs 1 and 2 and about ½ of an inch below where you struck the head for the individual lug tunings (more towards the center of the head but NOT at the center – again, only about 1 inch below the rim.) Measure the pitch and then do the same for lugs 3 and 4. Make the necessary adjustments so that you have a uniform pitch between the two spots.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE HERE THAT THIS PART OF THE PROCEDURE IS ONLY TO SET A BASE TUNING THAT WILL MAKE IT MUCH EASIER TO “SWEETEN” THE DRUM IN THE FINAL PART OF THE PROCESS. UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE NOT SETTING A FINAL TUNING WITH THIS PART OF THE PROCEDURE.

Step 10 – Follow the same procedure as steps 8 and 9 for lugs 5/6 and 7/8 and again for as many lugs are on the rim. Now follow the same exact procedure ( steps 7,8 and 9) for the resonant (bottom) head.

Step 11 – Now you are able to reap the rewards of your efforts – a nicely tuned, responsive drum is just around the corner!

Take your stick and again strike the batter head directly in its center. How is the sound? Does it need to be higher? Lower? Because you have established a base tuning across both heads, you can make matching finite adjustments to EACH INDIVIDUAL LUG to bring up (tighten) or bring down (loosen) the drum. Again, ONLY make each adjustment IN THE ORDER SPECIFIED ABOVE (1-2 3-4 etc.) and remember that adjustments made to the batter head MUST be made to resonant head as well.

This is just a guide to basic tuning, but it is worth relating here that often times a drummer will find that tuning the resonant head lower than the batter head creates for a desirable sound. This is particularly true of rack and floor toms, and occasionally the bass drum. The snare drum is usually best served by a uniform tuning. You’ll figure out what you yourself like over time, but you’ve got the basics down now.

Now all you have to do is PRACTICE!

thanks to www.drum-sets-for-sale.com for the illustration.  They are a great site and great people.  Give them a visit!

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