As a drummer, tuning drums is part of the job. Tune your drums, while being a craft in and of itself, is largely dependent on the type of sound wanted.
The thing to remember, you can tune your drums to the key of a song. This will give the sound of your set a sense of belonging within a composition. For instance, if you’re playing a tune in A-Minor, you can tune your set to that key. Alternately, if the tune is in a major key, you can also tune accordingly.
But, before we even think about melodic drum tuning, there are a couple basics to consider.
Drum Tuning Basics
The basic skill of tuning a drum head is very similar to putting on a tire.
First, you want to place the head on the drum and hand-tighten the lugs just enough to barely hold the head in place.
Second, push on the head with your fist. You’ll see there are wrinkles on the drum head. Choose one lug and start to tighten slightly but not all the way. Completely tightening one lug at a time will skew the head. Switch to the opposite side of the lug you just tightened and tighten it the same amount. Continue to tighten the lugs in a criss-cross pattern. This will keep the drum head even. Once you complete the first round, start again at the first lug, move to the next lug on the opposite side of that one, etc…until you’ve been around a couple times. Once the wrinkles on the drum head are gone, you will have a secure and, for the time-being, ready-to-play drum.
Tuning Without a Tuner
The essential point to consider when tuning drums, do they all sound good together. Once you’ve got your drum heads securely in place, you can start creating a pleasing relationship between them.
Assuming you understand the idea that drums can have notes, you can take a couple simple approaches. Without a tuner you essentially choosing a pitch then go from that drum and establish the pitch for the rest.
It’s important to know when tuning a drum, you always follow the “changing tire” rule. Starting with one lug, then move to the lug on the opposite side of the drum. Keep up this criss-cross pattern until all have been adjusted.
Now you need to think about intervals. One of the most common interval sets is a major triad. Start with your first drum, then tune the next one a whole third from the first, then the next drum a fifth from the first, and so on.
The same rules apply when tuning a drum into a minor key. However many drums you have to tune, you simply tune the second drum in relation to the first, the third in relation to the second, and so forth.
Tuning With a Tuner
If you’re lucky enough to have a drum tuner (most serious drummers do) you’ll be able to identify the exact note which your drum is tuned.
This makes it easy to tune to, say, F-Major. Your first drum, most likely your snare, will be tuned to F. Place the tuner either on or near the drum, and give it a hit. The reading you get from the tuner is the note to which the drum is currently tuned.
Make the slight adjustments on the drum lugs to bring the note up or down. Remember to pay special attention to tightening or loosening all the lugs in the same “changing tire” fashion. Once F has been tuned, move to the next drum. Tune that drum to the third tone in F-Major, A. Move to the next one and tune it to G, the fifth in F-Major.
Again, you can change the notes based on preference, scale, or tune. It’s important to remember there is no hard-and-fast rule to tuning drums. Many people will find tunings they particularly like or use different tunings to achieve different effects.
Now that you’re all tuned up, get playing!