look at a basic and common set up for a drum kit. This will comprise a bass
drum or more commonly called a kick drum, a snare drum, one or two rack tom
toms (normally mounted on the bass drum) and a floor tom tom. Although the
correct name for the latter two is tom tom, they are commonly referred to as
just ‘toms’. The set up will also include a set of hi-hat cymbals and usually
at least one crash cymbal and a ride cymbal. Again, this can vary enormously. One other really important component of a kit is something to sit on while you are playing! A stool, more commonly called a 'throne' is a staple element of a drum kit.
it may seem that a drum is just a shell with a head on it that you hit and get
a sound from, it is actually so much more. The tone and pitch of a drum is
determined not only by the tensioning of the head but the shell itself. The
shell diameter, the depth, number of plies, thickness and the type of timber it
is made from play an important part. This has to be considered but correct tuning
can mean the difference between a bad sounding kit and a great sounding kit.
When drums are recorded in a studio, hours can be spent getting them to sound
right. It can take as long to get a good recorded drum sound as it does to
record the rest of the band but the effort is worth it.
playing live, a badly tuned kit can be a nightmare for a sound engineer just as
a well tuned kit can be a pleasure to mic up and mix. The result is a pleasure
to listen to.
drum in a kit is different. There are different diameter shells, different
depth and different materials and thickness of construction and different heads.
All of these factors come into play when tuning correctly.
first basic rule to understand is that each drum has its own ‘resonant frequency’.
This will determine the optimum tuning of each drum to get the best sound out
of it. There is a whole science behind this involving audio dynamics and
physics but we won’t go into that here.
you need to tune the drum heads to get the best sound out of them. With any given drum it has a set diameter,
depth and thickness. The only things you can change easily are the heads and
the tension of the heads. A good well tuned head on a lower quality drum can
still achieve a good sound.
start with a few basic ideas.
drum is basically made up of a shell, a rim, a head and tuning lugs.
on the type and quality of the drum, the number of tuning lugs will vary. Most
drums have an even number of lugs but some cheaper drums may have 5 lugs on the
toms. The more tuning lugs, the more accurate you can tune the drum and the more likely it will hold its tune.
the right head can be daunting with so many varieties on the market. There are
clear, coated, pin stripe, spotted, hydraulic and more. There are many
different brands but the two most popular for amateur and professional alike
are Remo and Evans. Within each basic
type there are variations such as the Remo clear or coated Ambassador, Emperor,
and Diplomat etc.
If you are a beginner
the best bet is to speak to your drum dealer and tell them what type of music
you generally play and they will suggest the best options on the right heads
To get the right heads that suit you best, you should experiment
over time with different types and you will find what works for you.
you have your heads, let’s get tuning.
It is best to start from scratch, which is to have the lugs, hoops and heads
completely off the drum.
with the small rack tom. Check that
the rim or edge of the drum is flat and smooth and, while you’ve got the heads
off, check that all of the hardware screws are tight.
nip them up with a screw driver. Be careful not to over tighten though as you
may damage the metal cast lug housings.
the drum shell bottom down on a carpeted floor or on the table on a thick
towel. Place the top or batter head on the drum rim making sure it fits
correctly with little or no side ways movement. Place the hoop over the head
and push firmly down with your hands on opposite lugs moving around the drum.
This will help seat the head.
basic principle is to tighten opposite
lugs. The diagram below for a 6 lug drum shows the order in which
the lugs should be tightened. Use the
same method when removing heads. This will prevent possible warping of the
the lug screws and finger tighten them evenly. Now start at lug No. 1 and with
your tuning key, turn each lug one half of a turn. Now place the heal of your
hand in the center of the head and push firmly down. You may hear the drum
head crack a little. This is OK. This cracking is the head stretching on its rim. If you
stretch the head now it will not happen as much in the course of playing and
will hold its tune better. Turn each lug in order a ¼ to ½ a turn at a time
until no wrinkles or creases are evident and the head is smooth.
You should now tune the head to itself. This is
to ensure even tension at each lug. With a stick, tap the head about an inch or
25 mm in from each lug. Listen to the pitch at each one and adjust so they are
all the same. At this point, small
adjustments may be necessary at different lugs that may not need you to work with the ‘opposite lug’ sequence.
Sounds easy but it takes practice to hear the slight variations that can occur.
Once the head is tuned to itself, push again in the center of the head with the heal of your hand. If the head
cracks again re-check the pitch at each lug ensuring the head is still in tune
lift the drum by the mounting bracket and hit the drum in the center of the
head. Like how it sounds? Time to experiment a little. Tighten the lugs further
a ¼ of a turn at a time in the order shown above. Hit the drum again. You may
need to vary tensions until you get the pitch that sounds right. If need be,
loosen the lugs off again but keep the tension even and in the order as above.
The important thing is to regularly check that the head is still in tune with
itself by tapping close to each lug and ensuring an even pitch.
you have the pitch sounding good it’s time to install the bottom head. Flip the
drum over and rest the top head on the carpet or thick towel. This will now act
to dampen the top head and minimize it interfering with tuning of the bottom
head. You have three basic options on how you tune your bottom head. Each
option will provide a different result of the overall sound. Experiment a
- Tune the bottom head to the same
pitch as the top.
- Tune the bottom head to a
slightly higher pitch than the top.
- Tune the bottom head to a
slightly lower pitch than the top.
personal preference is to have my bottom tom head slightly lower pitch than the
top. This way I get a fuller sound with slightly less sustain that works with
three options will create a different movement of air within the drum and therefore
varying vibrations of each head depending on the tension of the heads.
the same procedure for the other toms. You may need to re-tune your smaller tom
if you get a great sound from your next down tom but don’t have an even pitch
variation between the drums. Leave the one that sounds great and adjust the
others. If you change the tension of one head don’t forget to change the other
as well to maintain the option 1, 2 or 3 you have selected.
tuning the snare, it should be remembered that the bottom head is designed
basically to give the wire or strainer something to vibrate on. It will effect
the air movement within the drum but a snare is generally tensioned fairly tight.
The bottom head should be tuned to obtain the desired snare effect. The tighter
the head, the more the snare will vibrate. With the snare, my preference is to
tune the top head quite high and the bottom head higher than the top. Use the
same technique of opposite lugs and tuning the head to itself as for the toms.
remove the bottom head you will first need to remove the strainer. When re-installing the strainer, adjust it to ensure that when you flick the tension
release lever the strainer is actually off the head and will not vibrate
against it. Try different variations of tension of the strainer to get the
sound you prefer. Again, experiment a little to get the sound that best suits
your particular drum and your style of playing.
The bass (kick) drum
is a different beast again. Start with both heads removed. As with the other
drums, this is a good time to check all of the hardware screws are tight. Place
the drum face down on a carpeted floor. Place your new batter head on the drum.
This is the side you will hit with the pedal beater. Install the rim and lugs
finger tight. Tighten in sequence as with the toms to just past the point of
being loose ensuring the head is sitting flat with no wrinkles. Tune the head
to itself as with the toms. It is best to keep the kick tuned to a fairly low pitch.
the drum over. Depending on the type of front head you are using you may want
to install some dampening material at this point (see below). If you have a
head with a hole in it and the hole is big enough, you can install dampening
material later. A hole in the front head serves two purposes. Firstly, it
allows a mic to be place inside the drum for recording or live playing and secondly, the hole allows the free movement of air from the drum when
it is hit and minimizes the front head vibration. You will basically get the predominant sound
from your kick from the batter head only.
dampening your kick drum, for most styles of music, you will want a nice fat
thump with no overtones. Again, the best way to get a good sound is with proper
tuning and minimal dampening. When dampening is required it is best to use
material lighter than a pillow or blanket which are a simple favourite. Use
material such as Dacron or a light blanket folded and placed so it sits on the
bottom of the drum, when in the playing position, and is just touching both
batter and front heads. The advantage of this type of dampening is that it can
easily be altered or removed if the room or sound you need calls for it.
are many other alternatives and everyone will tell you their favourites. Ask around,
experiment. Other types of dampening can be strips of felt placed under the
head when installing or strips of gaffa placed on the back of the head inside
the kick. There are also many different types of kick heads which provide
varying levels of dampening in themselves.
with the kick drum, other drums in your kit may tend to give annoying overtones
regardless of the effort made to tune them. Muting or muffling drums is a
common practice for differing reasons. It can be done to eliminate or reduce
overtones or ringing or to get a flat, less sustained sound and shorten decay.
types of heads will achieve this to a point such as pin stripe or hydraulic
heads. They are designed to give you a flatter sound with less decay.
If you have a good quality kit it is quite possible to
tune them, with the right heads, to not require any further dampening
treatment. However, this may be required on occasions depending on the drum and
the room it is played in. The room will
affect tone but not pitch. If the room is bright it allows sound
to bounce back off walls and ceilings affecting the overall kit sound. If the
room is flat, that is absorbing the sound, less bounce back will occur and the
drums will have a more ‘dead’ sound.
have to be careful not to overdo the dampening affect as this will kill the
natural sound of the drum. For toms and sometimes the snare, my suggestion is
to keep this to a minimum by using small pieces of gaffa tape. Gaffa is the
muso’s friend and no stage set up can be properly achieved without it. It is
also the drummers’ friend for weeding out those nasty overtones.
with this. Place a small piece of gaffa tape on the head and over the edge of
the drum rim as shown below. This will cancel some of the ringing or overtones
by limiting the vibration of the head and shortening the decay but will still
allow most of the natural tones of the drum to come through.
This will be sufficient in most cases but
further dampening can be achieved with strips of gaffa placed across the edge
of the head and over the rim. Again, it’s best to try and tune your heads properly
to avoid the requirement for substantial dampening.
trick is to place a small piece of gaffa in the centre on the bottom head as
shown below. Fold the gaffa in a ‘T’ shape with the tape vertical section hanging
down from the head when the drum is in the normal playing position.
first tuning a drum, start with both of the heads off.
good quality heads.
the opposite lugs as you go, not sequentially around the drum.
the head during the tuning process.
the head to itself with even pitch at each lug.
the heads to the resonant frequency of the drum.
dampening only if required.
Keep at it. The more
you practice tuning the better at it you will become and the better your drums will sound.