Every drummer knows that their drumheads aren’t going to sound great forever. Replacing them may not be that hard, but tuning them is a real skill. The best way to learn how to tune your drums is by doing it. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the basic principles involved in tuning bass, tom and snare drums. It’s also good to be aware of the fact that while there are tools that can help you, tuning drums is not an exact science. That’s why it’s important to pay close attention to the sound throughout the tuning process.

How to tune your drum kit



Loosen the tension rods gradually. Loosen the first one a little bit and then loosen the one directly opposite it a little bit as well. Then move on to another rod and continue in the same way. Your goal is to ensure that the tension remains fairly equal as you loosen the rods to prevent the hoop from bending. Using two drum keys can make the process faster. Once the tension rods are loose enough, you can remove the hoop and then the drumhead. Give the shell and the tension rods a good clean with a dry cloth to remove any dirt as that can affect the sound. This is also a good time to check whether any parts are loose by tapping the drum and tightening up anything that needs it. You’re now ready to install your new drumhead. At the bottom of this blog, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to do this. Before we get to that, however, we’ll be presenting some useful background information about drums that anyone wanting to tune them should be aware of.

Background information: how does a drum work?

In order to tune your drums properly, it’s important to have some knowledge about how drums work and which factors influence their sound. This includes things like the material and thickness of the shell, the shape and thickness of the hoop, the number of tension rods, which types of drumheads you use and the combination of batter and resonant heads.

Batter and resonant heads

Most drums in a kit have two drumheads: the batter head and the resonant head. The influence of a resonant head on the overall sound is often underestimated and yet, it actually plays the biggest role. Resonant heads are mostly single-ply and can be transparent or coated. The batter head determines the pitch, the basic sound and the attack. The shell and the resonant head on your drum can best be compared to an amplifier and an equaliser, respectively. All of the parts of a drum combine to give it its sound, so you should take the time to consider exactly what you want or need and spend plenty of time when tuning to get the desired result.

Shell material

Toms are always made of wood and different types of wood have different sounds. Compared to maple, mahogany produces more prominent lower frequencies, while the mid and high tones are fairly similar. Birch, on the other hand, has less pronounced low frequencies than maple, but emphasises the higher tones better, while the mids are roughly the same. The thickness of the shell also plays a role in the sound with thinner shells offering more resonance. The finish of the drum’s interior affects the sound as well and the smoother it is, the better the resonance will be. Any outer coatings and the way the drum is constructed are other things that can influence its sound.

Hoops and tension rods

Hoops and tension rods are other parts that play a role in how your drums sound. Hoops with sharper edges produce more overtones. Wider hoops give the drum a shorter, fatter sound and you’ll hear rim clicks more clearly too. The number of tension rods has a big influence on the way you tune your drums. A drum with eight tension rods will sound fatter and produce more overtones than a drum with twelve tension rods, for instance. The greater the distance between the tension rods, however, the more difficult it is to tune them equally. A drum with more tension rods tends to stay in tune better.

Drumhead types

These days, brands like Remo, Evans and Aquarian produce many different types of drumheads. Single layer, double layer, coated, clear, with dots and without. If you want to play with brushes regularly, you should go for coated drumheads rather than clear ones. You should also be aware that some double-layered drumheads have a layer of glue between them and you may hear cracking sounds when installing them. This is perfectly normal.

Tighter, looser or equal tension?

When it comes to resonant heads, these can have a tension that’s tighter, looser or the same as the batter head. If your toms don’t sound good because they have too much sustain, for instance, it’s worth adjusting the tension of the resonant head first to see if that alleviates the problem before you try anything else. Often, this is the quickest and easiest way to solve issues without having to use tape, dampers or adjusting the batter head. The sound will be higher, thinner and have more sustain, the tighter the tension is. If you’re looking for a deeper, more explosive sound from your floor tom, for instance, you’ll find that a looser resonant head tension works better. With lots of experimentation, you might just be surprised at some of the sounds your drums are capable of producing. The more you practise, the better you will get and it’s definitely worth the effort.

Drum tuning: step-by-step

Step 1: Begin with the resonant head. This should be mounted to the bottom of the shell so make sure you have it the right way round. Place the drumhead carefully on the shell and replace the hoop and the tension rods. Tighten the tension rods evenly by hand until they are all finger tight. Do not use a drum key at this point.

Step 2: Now, take a drum key, or preferably two, and give the first tension rod a half turn. Then do the same to the one directly opposite it. Continue in the same manner until you’ve tightened each of them by a half turn. Repeat this process another five times so that each tension rod has been turned three times fully once you’re done. Note that this process applies to new drumheads only. It’s important to do it in this manner so that the drumhead slowly stretches out evenly over the shell. At this point, its sound is not important.

Step 3: Now lift the shell up and strike the drumhead. If it has a clear sound without any distortion, continue on to step 4. If the sound is not clear, give all the tension rods another half turn, before striking it again and listening to the sound.

Step 4: Place the shell on a soft surface that will absorb the sound. Gently strike the drumhead about 3 cm in from each tension rod and listen to the sound. You want the resonance at each point to be the same and if it’s not you’ll need to make minor adjustments. Be aware that a new drumhead can take a while to settle so you should check the tuning again after 24 hours to see if it’s still ok.

Step 5: Now you need to mount the batter head which determines the tone and the attack. Again, place the shell on a soft surface that will absorb the sound with the resonant head at the bottom. Mount the batter head on the shell in the same way you mounted the resonant head. Once you’ve tightened the tension rods sufficiently by hand, you should push down on the centre of the drumhead with enough force to stretch it. As we mentioned in the Drumhead types section, double-layered drumheads often have a layer of glue between them and you may hear cracking sounds when doing this. This is perfectly normal.

Step 6: Now, with the shell still lying on a surface, turn each tension rod using a drum key a quarter at a time. Again start with one rod and do the one opposite it next. Continue in this manner until all the tension rods are sufficiently and equally tightened and the drumhead has the sound you want. You should check the sound regularly after each stage of tightening. Again, you want the tone to be clear with consistent resonance near each tension rod, so make any minor adjustments where necessary. Once you’re happy, you can go on to the next step.

Step 7: It’s important to be aware of the effect each drumhead can have on the other. If you find that tightening the batter head no longer affects the pitch, then you need to look at the resonance head again. Turn the shell over and re-tighten all of the tension rods making sure that the resonance still sounds consistent near each rod. After this, you should be able to tighten the rods on the batter head again. You may have to repeat this process a few times to get your desired pitch.

Step 8: At a certain point during the tuning process, you probably noticed the drum’s optimal resonance. This is the frequency the shell produces. You’re likely to find this point more quickly with more experience. Now, we can continue with getting the desired tone.

Step 9: By varying the tuning of both drumheads, you can find your desired tone and you can try different things to achieve this. By slightly loosening the batter head and tightening the resonant head, the sound will be punchier and have more attack. If both drumheads have the same tuning, the sound will be more open. When the batter head is tighter than the resonant head, the sound will be looser. Experimenting a lot and listening well will help you get the desired result. A well-tuned drum shouldn’t need really need any dampening material. If you do want to use dampening, however, we suggest using dampening rings, gel or external mufflers rather than tape. This is because tape doesn’t just dampen a drum’s resonance, but its sound as well.

Step 10: Repeat steps 1 to 9 for all the shells in your drum kit and bear in mind the pitches between different shells. Make sure that the bass drum and the snare drum work well together. Then you can add the toms and floor tom to the mix. Things normally work best when there are three or five notes between drums. If your bass drum is tuned to a C, for example, then you might tune the floor tom to a C as well, but an octave higher. In this case, you might then tune your first tom to a G and your second tom to an E or an Eb. The snare drum would then also be tuned to a C at an octave higher than the floor tom. This is just an example as the tuning will ultimately depend on the size of the shells and the natural frequencies they produce.

Good luck with tuning your drum kit! Do you not succeed or do you have any questions? Leave your comment below!

Also see:

» Drumtools
» Drum Heads
» Dampening
» Silent Drums
» All drums & accessories

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