3 Tips for Tuning Your Snare Drum

Drummer Daily - Podcast for Drummers

If you’re fighting with a snare drum, trying to get it to tune properly, today’s podcast episode is for you!

Hey guys. This is Daniel. I hope you’re doing well. I’m kind of laughing still. I just was talking to my wife about how awesome it is that there is a … I’ve been looking at the stats for downloads for the podcast and how many people are listening to this and I’m amazed that we’re not too far into this and there are already quite a few of you who are listening every day and downloading it. I was like “Man, there’s this many people listening to the podcast or who want to hear what I have to say.” She was like “That’s kind of scary.” I was like “Yeah, that’s true.” People are actually wanting to listen to what I have to say every day it is kind of scary, definitely scary for my wife so that’s funny.

Today I’m really pumped. I wanted to share with you some more practical tips like I promised last episode. Today I want to share with you three tips for a snare drum. Disclaimer on this: This is not THE way to tune a snare drum, this is not necessarily the best way, according to experts, whoever. This is how I tune my snare drum and I thought it would be worth it to mention it to you. I think I have alluded to this before in a previous episode. Here are my three tips, and if you saw me live on Facebook earlier today I mentioned these as well.

The first tip is this: Don’t approach tuning your snare drum like you tune a tom. A lot of people are fighting against the tone coming out of their snare drum a lot of times and the reason why they are fighting against it is because they learned one way to tune a drum and they use that method on every drum they tune. Snare drums are snare drums, toms are toms. They are made different and they are called different names because they are meant to different than each other. If you are tuning your snare drum the same way you tune your toms, then you most likely are fighting with tuning your snare drum.

I have heard some feedback from a few of you who have already said “Yes, please talk more about this because I’m fighting with this all the time.” A lot of people run into that problem. They’re tuning their snare drum the same way they tune their toms and that is a problem. The way that I tune a drum is like this: I first … Well let me back up because there is another tip. Before I get to how I tune my drum I want to share with you another tip that kind of goes along with this. A lot of people are always trying to tune their snare into a frequency or a tone range that that drum is not made to go in.

I have a 6.5-inch deep snare drum and a lot of people think “6.5-inch deep drum, that’s meant to be tuned low.” The reality is that depth doesn’t have as much to do with the low frequencies coming out of your drum as other factors do. If you think about a concert bass drum, the proportions of a big bass drum in an orchestra, a big, booming sound comes out of that but you think about the relative depth of that drum to how big around it is, or it’s diameter, and it’s really not that deep of a drum but you still get a low sound so that kind of proves the point there that it’s not just the depth that’s going to make your drum sound deep.

Think about a marching snare. Marching snare drums are super deep but they have a really high sound that comes out of them. It’s more about this other factor and the other factor is how think your shells are. The thicker the shell the higher the frequency naturally that wants to come out of the drum, just as a kind of general rule. There are exceptions and different types of wood or metals and stuff. The reason why my 6.5-inch deep drum sounds deep is because it’s made out of cheap aluminum. The aluminum is very lightweight and very thin and it resonates a lot so it actually is a lower pitch. Play around with your drum. Pretend like you don’t have a desire for your drum to sound a certain pitch. Bang around on it, tune it up and down and kind of figure out where it sounds the best, where the best sound comes out of it. Tune it up or down from there a little bit to get to the spot that you want it to go in.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to force a drum to sound a different way than what it’s naturally meant to do but if you’re having to fight with your drum all the time to get it to sound a different way, if you can afford it, maybe look at a different drum. If you can’t, I always think that a good-sounding drum outside the frequency that I want is always better than a really bad-sounding drum that’s down low or whatever or really high the way I want it or think it should be. Don’t fight your drum on the tone that comes out of it, kind of go with the flow with it.

Back to how I tune my snare drum. Like I said, this is the way I tune every snare drum and this is just the way that I’ve developed over the years. The way that I tune a snare drum is first I tune the top head and I tune the top head to whatever tone I think the drum speaks at, like I said before, based on the drum. You use that judgment, tune the drum, tune the top head that way. The bottom head, I actually tune my bottom snare drum head super tight. I mean like you push on it and it almost feels like a tabletop, almost no give at all. Be careful with some older drums because you don’t want to to over-tune a drum, you can actually do some damage to some old drums with softer woods and things like that and you obviously don’t want to break a head either. When you have a brand new head and you’re putting it on a drum you don’t want to ruin it with tuning it up too high and too tight and just ripping the head or whatever, so be careful with this.

I tune my bottom snare head up and what I do is I actually tune it up high for a couple of reasons. Number one: The bottom head when I tune it up high like that it actually kind of naturally muffles some of the extra honky-sounding tones that come out of the drum so it naturally has a shorter note that comes out of it, which is for me more desirable. The second reason is, I actually use my bottom head as a means for controlling snare response. I think I saw an article a long time ago, an interview with Dave Weckl I think, who mentioned that he does this too. I’m not like a drummer’s drummer so I don’t know much about these guys so I could be making this up for all I know. I read in some magazine some guy did it. I tried it and I was like “Hey, this actually works.”

Depending on the amount of snare response I typically like to have, I tune my bottom head up or down and think about the way that the softness of that head is interacting with loose or tight snare wires that are sitting against it. I use the bottom head as a means of controlling snare response as well. I like my bottom head super tight and I like my top head to kind of control the tone of the drum. I don’t actually think much about the interaction within the top and bottom heads as far as tone goes. I don’t have an interval that I tune the bottom head a fourth higher than the top head or whatever. That’s how you get a lot of tone out of your drum and I actually don’t want a lot of ringing tone out of my snare. I get that as good as I can get. I don’t really like to de-tune one lug or anything like that like a lot of guys do unless I’m in the studio and I’m only one song one time. De-tuning stuff like that doesn’t really work when you’re playing live for an hour and a half every night. You’ve got to make a choice to take care of your drum and make sure the sound is going to last for the whole set. That’s a basic overview of how I tune my snare drum.

The third tip I have is, it’s more of just an observation that you might want to make too. If you have ever played your drums, tuned them up or whatever, and then been in a bigger room where you can get far away from your drums and then have someone else play your drums, they’re not coming through a PA, they’re not miked-up or anything, you might actually notice that the pitch that’s coming out of your drums that you’re hearing when you’re far away from your drums, you’re far away from them, is actually lower than what it sounds like when you’re sitting right over them. I think this has to do with what they call the Doppler effect, it’s the scientific thing where soundwaves that come out of something, they spread out the further they get as they move away from you or something. I don’t know, I could be making that up too. I’m not an expert on anything so don’t listen to me.

I will tell you this: Stand over your drums, sit over your drums, play them and then get somebody else to come play them and you stand out in front and you will notice the drums sound lower in pitch than they do when you’re sitting on top of them. The reason why this matters is if you’re playing in church or in a big auditorium or somewhere like that, the people in the room are going to be hearing the sound of your actual drums coming out of the drums, they’re not going through a mike set-up or anything like that, they’re actually going to be just hearing the natural drums. Even if you’re playing a jazz gig in a restaurant or a wedding reception, make sure that you’re tuning your drums in a way that’s going to be best, it’s going to sound its best for the people who are listening and hearing the drums, not just to you because you’re actually there playing for other people to hear so make sure that you take that into consideration when you are setting up and tuning your drums.

All right. This episode is a little longer than some of the other ones I’ve done so far but I hope you got a lot of info out of this. I know it’s a lot of info, rapid fire, so maybe you can rewind this. I know if you’re on an iPhone listening to this you can play me at half-speed and maybe that will help out. Just know that if you play me at half-speed you’re going to have to sit here for twenty minutes instead of ten. I hope you’re doing good today and I will talk to you again tomorrow. Bye.

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Rich May 18, 2018

Great explanation. I found also if I stand in front of drums with a stick and hit my 12 inch tom it sounds much beefier than behind. You can even stand up behind and hit the drum it sounds really good. But we can’t stand and play. Unfortunately they don’t as good behind sitting. Even a matter of a few inches with snare dramatically. Stand over snare. Sane thing. Sit and it won’t sound nearly as good. More Tiinny and less better. Lack of a better word. I now tune higher. As long as the drums are not choked. And go from there. They don’t sound bad behind but not as good as in front like you mentioned. The snare is a diff beast. Because depending what type of music. Slow ballads. Or if you need a more pop sound. Too much to adjust constantly. I have a 6.5×14 brass snare. It’s bright. But I wanted to be able to some lower end punch. Or at least some more depth. Not just hi crack. I put new heads on today. Coated amb. And amb reso. Tried a little looser reso but didn’t have much snare response. Ended up cranking the bottom up a bit. And keeping batter slightly lower in pitch. But still kinda med tight. It sounds ok to me. Prob better out in front. I’m sure if I used a reverse dot maybe I could get a more punchy sound. As those can eliminate high frequency. Anyways. Any other tips would be greatly appreciated. I play mostly light jazz. And church music. Modern stuff.

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