How to tune a drum set

Drums set 101: How to tune a drum set

After setting up your new drum set, you need to tune it. It is not like tuning a guitar or a piano; tuning a drum set is different. Perhaps, it is one of the most important skills that every drummer should learn.

Even experienced drummers some experience difficulty in tuning their drums. With the information, know-how, and practice, beginners, as well as experienced drummers, can learn the techniques.

So, how do you tune a drum set?

How to tune a drum set: the things you need

Before tuning your drum set, you will need the following:

  • A drum head
  • A drum key
  • A drum, of course
  • And patience

Wise selection of drum heads

Tunings a drum set starts with choosing a good drum head. Before the 1950s, drum heads were made of calfskin. Today, they are made of plastic and Mylar skins that give these drum parts a wide variety of looks and sounds.

Choosing the drum heads depends on the drummer’s choice of music. For jazz, the drum heads are usually single ply for a dry feel, and singing tone. For rock music, the drum heads should be thicker and double ply to endure heavy hitting.

Steps on how to tune a drum set

When you have selected the drum head of your choice, have put them on the tops and bottoms of the drums, and stiffened them down evenly, you are ready to tune your drum set.

Tuning a drum set is not like tuning a guitar or horn. It can be done to any pitch you want. Most drummers tune each drum according to each other, while other drummers tune the drums to specific notes.

The small drums are tuned to higher pitches, while the larger ones are tuned to lower pitches. Generally speaking, here are the steps on how to tune a drum set:

  • For the bottom snare drum head, turn off the snares, get your drum key, and tension a tension rod down. Give it one more half turn and turn to the tuning rod directly across the drum head and do it again. Move clockwise around the drum. Keep on tightening the rods. When you have completed your way around the drum head, do the process again
  • Repeat this cycle two to three times until you get the desired, even musical tone. If it is very hard to turn the tuning keys, you have enough or too high a tone
  • Turn the snare drum over and do step 1 again until the tops of the snare drum head are fairly tuned, and close to the bottom head. While you tune, you will hear an alarming crack; this is the head’s plastic rim losing its slackness. Some drummers prefer to tune the bottom head a little higher than the top head. This is a matter of personal choice
  • Then, tap the drum all around its head with the drum stick, about 2” from each lug into the head. The notes should be similar in pitch. Adjust the drum tune by loosening or tightening each rod
  • Go around the drum kit and repeat the steps 1, 2, and 3 with the bass drum and the tom. Set the snare drum tone as the ceiling and tune all the other drums lower. Give each drum a tuning that provide its best tone. Each tone should be clear and fair without odd or annoying pitches
  • Then, fine tune the entire drum kit. Make sure that the snare drum has a nice, cutting crack. The high-ringing tone should integrate well with the toms. The bass drum should have a punchy and round sound, with a pleasing low thump that can be felt in the chest

Tuning a drum set involves a technical process with a touch of personal preference. The tones and pitches you give to your drums should speak best to your music.

If you have additional queries on how to tune a drum set, asking an experienced drummer, or watching instructional videos will help you. It is always best to refer to reliable sources to make the whole process correct and convenient.

If you have properly followed the steps, it should be time to rock and roll!