Keeping your instrument in tune is essential for all musicians, even for those who never play a melody. When your drums are in tune, they resonate with a clear tone with just the right amount of overtone. Drum tuning is an art, and each drummer has their unique approach. Your drum teacher will likely show you at least one method, but as you grow as a musician, meet other drummers and improve your techniques, you’ll also develop your own preferences in tuning. There are, however, a few practices to avoid when tuning your drums, whether you play drum set, timpani, or frame drums.
Tune Andante, Not Presto
The first mistake many beginners make is trying to tune drums too quickly. Drum tuning is a delicate art, and you will use your senses of sight, touch, and hearing to check for the proper tension on the drum head, the centering of the drum head, and for a clear, resonant tone. Set aside time to do it right. Ask your drum teacher if you can practice drum tuning in your lessons, so you can master the basics of his or her recommended technique. Fine tuning, when your drum head is close to the proper tuning, may take most of your time. Go slowly, with small turns and cranks. Stop to listen frequently. And remember that drum heads need time to fully adjust to their new bearings. If you are tuning a timpani, it can take days for the head to fully adjust.
Be Aware of Too Much Dampening
Be careful with adding dampening on tom drums. Dampening can muffle the effects of improper drum tuning and muffle the sound of the drum too much. While this can seem tempting when you’re in a hurry, it makes it harder for you to get a feel for proper tuning.
Let Freedom Ring – Or At Least Your Snares
Keep snares loose so they can ring freely. Unless you are going to use the drum like a tom with the snares off, proper tension on your snares is nearly as important as proper tension on your drum head. When the snares are too tight, they will sound partially muffled – because they are. Experiment until you get the proper tension for each snare.
Steady As She Tunes
Playing drums is an intensely physical experience, and so is drum tuning. You want to be steady on your feet and capable of a broad range of movement. Avoid wearing boots or heels, as these tilt your body and make it harder to stay balanced. Wear clothing that you can move comfortably in, including kneeling, squatting, and sitting on the floor.
Sweet Spots for Sweet Sounds
Another common mistake is not identifying the “sweet spot” on your drums. Many beginning drummers tune for proper visible tension, but don’t seek the best tone from their instrument. The “sweet spot” is where the tone is clear and well-balanced. This might be the note your drum is tuned for, so if you’d like to try to get a better sound out of your drum, ask your teacher how to tune it to the note. Listen to where your drum sounds best, and remember that next time you tune your drums.
Want to see how it’s done correctly? Check out this quick drum tuning tutorial:
Playing an instrument means learning from your instrument. Because of the way a drum is constructed, it’s often easy to see exactly what might be causing a lack of resonance. But the ways that you will learn to correct this can involve a lifetime of learning.
There are a few mistakes in drum tuning, but many ways to tune drums correctly. Talk with other drummers, read books on drums and other percussion, and you’ll find your overall musicianship improve!
Photo by Jens Bergander