Welcome to our free instructions! We have also added advanced features, instructions and discussion forums to this site. Basic toms are covered in this article, while complete snare and bass drum tuning instructions are available here.
It is best to start with a new set of heads, but for purposes of learning you can simply take the existing ones off of your drum kit. Use your drum key to remove all of the heads with the exception of the bottom, or 'snare side' head of the snare drum. Once your heads are removed, place your shells on a smooth surface (a glass tabletop is best) to inspect your 'bearing edges'. All 'batter side' (top) edges should rest flat against the surface of the table. (If you DID remove the bottom head from your snare drum, you should notice that there are dips in the bearing edge where the snares meet the shell. This is normal.) Any warping or nicks out of the bearing edge can make proper tuning difficult. Assuming they are all good on both sides, we can proceed with tuning your new heads.
With the 'print' of your thumb (you may wish to use gloves), turn the rounded part of the head inside out in order to 'break in' the head. This loosens up the head, breaks loose any over-applied adhesive and makes the head more pliable to tuning. (THIS STEP IS NOT ADVISED FOR 'SNARE SIDE' HEADS AS THEY ARE VERY THIN AND DAMAGE EASILY.)
Put your new (or original) heads and rims back on each drum and tighten the tension rods 'finger-tight' only.
Tighten each rod 1/2 turn with your drum key, moving always moving to the opposite lug until the majority of wrinkles have disappeared from the head. Continue this process until you can start to hear tone when you tap the drum. (DO NOT USE A DRUMSTICK ON A 'SNARE SIDE' HEAD. THE RECOMMENDED STRIKING IMPLEMENT IS A PENCIL ERASER. 'SNARE SIDE' HEADS ARE VERY THIN AND DAMAGE EASILY.)
In order to 'seat' the head, you will need to apply pressure to the center of the head with your open hand. This will ensure that the drum head's hoop seats properly in the groove of the drum's rim. (You may hear a crackling sound, similar to the one heard when you did Step 2. This is perfectly normal.) Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the drum maintains tone after the seating process. (THIS 'SEATING' PROCESS SHOULD NOT BE USED ON 'SNARE SIDE' HEADS.)
Set the drum on a carpeted surface, with the head you wish to tune facing up. (This will help muffle the 'resonant side' head so you can focus on the head you are tuning.)
Tap the head about 1" in from each tension rod with your #2 pencil's ERASER and listen to the pitch produced. (A pencil eraser is better to tune with. It eliminates a lot of the overtones that a good whack with a drumstick produces, allowing you to better focus on pitch.)
Keep track of which lugs sounded higher or lower than others. You will notice that the 'opposing' lug will usually have the same pitch. (This is not the case on some drums smaller than 10 inches, as they don't always have an even number of lugs.)
Loosen each rod where the pitch was high (1/4 turn) and tighten each rod where the pitch was low (1/4 turn).
Re-seat the head again. (See step 5.) Repeat steps 7, 8 and 9 until you are comfortable that the drum is in tune with itself. Once you have done this, tighten the drum head using opposing tension until it produces the pitch you want.
Perform steps 4 through 10 on the bottom, or 'resonant' head of each drum.
Only the basics of drum tuning were covered here, but as you can see, the right tuning method and a fresh set of good quality heads can make all the difference to the sound of your drums. We believe that before you can build confidence in your playing, you must first have confidence in your instrument. A poor sounding instrument can't help but produce a poor sounding performance. The concepts for tuning snare and bass drums are quite similar to the above instructions, but each presents some unique challenges. Even more so, bringing all of the drums together requires some planning in order to achieve sonic harmony. You may wish to click here for more advanced tuning concepts.
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