#126: 3 New Ways to Check Your Drum Tuning

3 Tips for Drum Tuning

One of the hardest parts of drums is even being able to hear the different pitches between the lugs. I know that’s the hardest part for me. So here are three tips for alternative ways to be able to hear those differences, and get much better at tuning drums in the process!


Today we are going to talk about, I think what everyone who listens to this podcast, I get the most requests about this topic and so I was like, “I need to do more on this because people are asking for it.” That is drum tuning, and I’ve done some other things. In fact, if you go to ProDrumAcademy.com, at least if you go there while, fairly soon after this podcast is released, you can sign up for a … You can fill out a survey, but then it will send you a bunch of free drumless backing tracks right away. In that survey, some of the questions I ask is what’s the thing that you struggle with the most in your path to becoming a pro drummer, and there’s a lot of people, a lot of you, who have struggled with drum tuning, and so I thought let’s do some quick tips on drum tuning today.

And so I know that the biggest, the hardest thing about drum tuning is hearing the pitch difference between lugs. I know that, it’s hard for me. I’ll tell you that much. Over the years, I have developed a few different ways that make it a little more obvious depending on the situation. What the pitch is, it’s coming out of each individual lug, and then also I’ve not only come up with these on my own, I’ve also combined some methods from some other people that I’ve learned from along the way and so I can’t take full credit for these, but these are some … A couple of different ways to try things. If the traditional, just tap it with a stick doesn’t work, what else can we do?

Okay, so first things first, for the sake of this description let’s just say we’re tuning a snare drum, just to keep everything consistent. The first thing I will say to you about tuning is, especially if you’re going to start tuning, you’re going to … You know, you want to get it right. The best way to do it is to make sure that your drum is sitting on a carpeted floor, so it’s not on the stand of any kind. It’s the flat part of the drum, the whatever head you’re not tuning. Put the drum down flat on the floor, preferably on a carpeted floor. Then the next thing is, in the case of a snare drum, turn the snare wires off so you’re not hearing a bunch of snare buzz. Those are the two most important things.

So once we’re set there, there’s a lot that goes into tuning and we’re going to get into all that, I promise you. But for now, the part is, obviously we always want to try to have all of the different lugs, all of the different tension rods, is actually what they’re called. By the way, people always refer to those as lugs. You might know this, but I didn’t know this for a long time. Lugs are actually the pieces of hardware that attach to the drum down in the shell that receive the screws. The screws that you’re tightening are actually called tension rods. So fun fact. That was a bonus fun fact for you.

All right, so we’re going to … We want to make sure that all of those tension rods are tightened evenly, or that we’re getting the same pitch from all of them individually so that the drum can speak, because the drum sounds its best most of the time when all of those are tuned as closely as possible and you’re getting the same frequency basically, the same tone, from each of those spots next to the tension rod out of the drum head.

So, a lot of people like to just use a drumstick and just tap around close to those tension rods. I might say lugs here, but you know what I mean, just around those spots where you tune the drum. So most guys just take a drumstick and just tap around the edges and it’s really hard to hear. So some of us have learned one way to get around that or to help us get some of that fundamental tone of the drum away, because we don’t want to hear the whole head resonate. We want to try to isolate as much as we can, the coming from one specific lug, and so what we do, some of us do, and I definitely do this most of the time, is I just put one finger gently resting in the center of the drum and that kind of kills a lot of the general tone of the drum and let’s each individual lug kind of speak for itself a little more specifically.

Now, the downside to that is that unless you’re really careful, you could accidentally start pushing a little bit with your finger or that your finger moves or whatever, or you’re not quite in the center and then what happens is is that you start, without realizing it, ever so slightly changing how you’re touching the drum. That actually changes the way the drum sounds, which then makes it really hard to get an even comparison between different lugs because you’re actually not, for lack of a better term, you’re not comparing apples to apples. You’re changing some other factor in between checking them, which doesn’t help you really know how close those two lugs are tuned together.

So, a way to counteract that is to take a moon gel or something like that, something that you use to muffle a drum, that’s not too large, and place that directly in the center of the drum. So instead of your finger, you rest another piece of muffling of some kind. What that does is that then allows you to take your hand off of it and let something that’s not going to move, sit there and do the work for you. Either way, the idea is that of course with all of these tips we’re trying to isolate kind of what we call overtone. Not the fundamental, the main tone the drum is putting out. We’re trying to hear these extra little frequencies that come off of the drum head, because a lot of times those are easier to tell apart, and so that’s the goal of that.

So, another way of doing this is, these are a little more unconventional, but these tend to work. These are kind of like, you know, you do the easy stuff first and then you get into the stuff that’s a little more obscure, but might give you a better clue. These really only work really well for very minute differences, but they will get you the last part of the way there, at least to get you an idea of where to go.

So the first of these second two steps, or these second two ideas, is to … This is a really simple one. Take your drum key, and it needs to be a drum key. If your hoops are … And this also only works on drums that are metal or have metal hoops, like a snare drum or any kind of … Most drums have metal hoops on them or metal rims. Take your drum key, your metal drum key and literally just lightly tap the rim of the drum with your drum key, and what you’ll hear if you listen closely is you’ll hear a ring kind of come out of the drums. You’re going to tap the rim close to the lug that you’re trying to listen to, of course. You’re going to tap around a few places and use that to compare the overtones you’re hearing.

You hear this interesting, really high pitch frequency that’s coming out and I feel like in some way it naturally resonates the part of the head that’s closest to that lug, that rim is that you’re touching, but you don’t get much of the fundamental tone coming out of the middle of the drum. By the way, you can combine this with the first one. You can leave that moon gel on the head when you do this. Yeah, just bang on the rim with your drum key. You’d be surprised what you can hear from that. Give that a shot and listen and see what you hear.

Then the third way, and this is probably the most obscure, but this one actually works really well, and it works better on coated drum heads than on clear drum heads or even, it doesn’t work so well on the smooth coated drum heads. You want the ones with the texture on them, the ones that make a cool sound when you play with brushes, those. But this works on those. What this is, is you want to take your finger and put it close to … Take your finger, put it on the drum head, but take your middle finger, and put it on the drum head close to one of the lugs that you want to listen to. Then quickly back towards you, drag your finger in a really quick motion, almost the same way you’d move your middle finger if you were snapping your finger.

So you want to move your middle finger, touching the drum head. One finger down on the head and then quickly scrape it back towards you in a snapping, quick twisting motion with your wrist. What that does is that will kind of pull a tone out of the drum as well that’s isolated to that one lug. What I like in this too, is if you’ve ever tuned a guitar or you’ve seen another guitar player do this, where they tune the guitar using what is called harmonics, where you’re again, getting not the fundamental tone, but a second overtone out of the guitar string. We’re doing the same kind of thing here with drums, the drum heads. We’re getting that overtone out without getting the fundamental tone.

So scraping or sliding your finger across the drum head is a way to get that overtone out without hearing the fundamental tone. That a lot of times, again, will give you a very … Sometimes it will make very small differences very obvious. Sometimes. None of these works all the time, but I think if you combine a few of these, you’re going to have a much easier time figuring out which lug you need to tune or adjust up or down, or kind of make those next steps.

All right, so tap on it with a drumstick, but put a moon gel or something muffling in the middle of the head. Bang on the rim with your drum key, or kind of do that snapping motion on the drum head to get that overtone. Those are the three ideas and so I hope that those help you out today.

Like I said, I know that tuning can be frustrating and I’m going to be putting out more resources around drum tuning really soon, so keep an eye out for that and come visit me over at DanielHadaway.com. We’ve got a lot of cool stuff happening and lots of new content added all the time. All, all the time. Also check your email. I’ve started sending out what I think are super valuable emails every so often and they are completely packed with content. They’re not based on promotions or this or that. It’s all based on inspiring you to become a professional drummer, leading you down a path with serious steps, serious tips. Lots of extra video content in these emails, lots of extra audio, all kinds of cool stuff, so go check that out.


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