The Importance of Drum Tuning

Despite technology and modern inventions, this is the only tool you need to tune your drums:

Really. This is all you need (besides your ears and your touch, which you have built in.)

There is no magic or secret to drum tuning, other than just paying attention. Like most things, it's an acquired skill. You need to practice it. You need to tune a lot of drums. Just like you need to lift a lot of weights, throw a lot of balls, run a lot of miles, before you can get good at it.

The internet is a great help. You can find a lot of information on drum tuning (some of it contradictory), and all the head manufacturers have a lot of info on their websites. So this gives you a place to start.

Just grab your key and start turning some lug screws on 1 drum, like your high tom. Ask yourself things like, "What if I turn each screw up twice on the top head, what will that do to the sound?" Then try it. Listen. Play that drum for a while so you can get a feel for how it sounds. Then do it again. Try the bottom head this time. What does that do to the sound? Listen. Play that drum for a while. Keep working with just the 1 same drum until you find a sound you want. Then [hopefully you remembered how you got that sound!] see if you can recreate it on your other toms. Realize that the snare and bass have different functions/sounds/heads, but if you can tune your toms, you can tune them.

Of course, there are a lot of variables:

  • head types
  • drum size/depth
  • shell construction/material
  • personal playing style
  • and others

That's why there is no one-size-fits-all tuning approach. Everybody is different. But if you spend some time—time well invested—you can find a tuning for your drums that you can consistently repeat.

I do this with my students. I have them bring 1 tom in, and then we play around with it. I think a big thing they learn is not to be afraid of tuning.

All instrumentalists, besides pianists, learn to tune their instruments. So why not drummers?

~ MB


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