How to Tune Drums

There’s a good chance that you found this page by watching gospel drummers on the internet. Many drummers around the world are captivated by the amazing chops that many gospel drummers play. But there is more to the sound of gospel drumming that just chops. The tone of the drums is extremely important in gospel music and this article will explain how you can achieve that same tone when tuning your drum kit.

Tuning a drum kit more of an art than a science. Therefore, specific techniques and processes are less important than the end goal. There are many ways to tune a drum kit, but only you will know when the sound is perfect for you. So let’s explore a few options and see if they help you achieve that gospel sound.

Step By Step Tuning

Step 1: Start by removing the old drum heads from both sides of the drum shell. In order to do this, you must first loosen the lugs on the drum hoop and remove it. Wipe down the bearing edge of the drum with a smooth cloth to get rid of any dust and debris. The bearing edge is simply the edge of the drum where the drum head sits. Many bearing edges are a cut at an angle so it should be easy to find.

Step 2: Next, place the top drum head on the drum shell and spin it to the position that you desire. Place the drum hoop on top of the new drum head and place all of the tension rods in position before tightening them. Now tighten each tension rod with your fingers to hold the drum head in place.

Step 3: Now use your drum key to turn each tightening rod two times. It is not necessary to work across the drum tuning opposite rods during this step because the turn hand turns of the drum key will not provide defined tone. In other words, don’t expect the drum to sound good at this step.

Step 4: Now that the drum head is positioned and secure, begin tightening the tension rods 1-2 turns at a time working across the drum to tighten rods directly across from each other. For example, if you begin tightening the rod in the 12 o’clock position, your next rod should be in the 6 o’clock position directly across from the first one. Continue this process around the entire drum hoop 1-2 drum key turns at a time until the drum head is tightened to your liking. Don’t worry if the sound is not perfect at this point. Try to get a general pitch and tone that you like.

Step 5: Gently hit the drum head near each tension rod, looking for any looseness and listening for any tonal improvements. Moving around to each tension rod, tighten or loosen each one to your desire. Many drummers either sing or use a piano at this step to achieve pitch-perfect tuning. When your drum tone sounds close, use a drumstick to tap all around the drum head, making sure the tone is even all around.

Step 6: Now flip the drum over and repeat steps 1-5 on the other side of the drum. Once both heads are in place and tightened, compare the bottom tuning to the top by tapping both sides with a drumstick. NOTE: It is common to set the tuning of the bottom drum head to a looser, resonating tone and focus your tightening adjustments to the top drum head.

Step 7: Repeat these steps for every individual drum on your drum kit.

Does the Wood Type of the Drum Affect Tone?

The short answer is YES. The type of wood used in drum kit construction is very important to the sound of that drum kit. This is why there is a huge variety of drum kits on the market. Different woods have different densities and therefore, resonate differently. Let’s discuss a few options.

Maple

Maple produces warm tones and resonates well to provide enhanced lower frequencies. This produces deep, booming sounds in toms and fat beefy snare tones. Maple is flexible enough for a wide range of tunings, making it one of the most popular wood choices on the market. Here is an example of a maple drum kit.

Birch

Birch is known as a dense wood, making the tone “sing” a little less than maple. Birch is well-suited for higher tones and tighter tunings. The sound is generally bright and punchy with a lot of projection. Here is an example of a birch drum kit.

Oak

Oak is a strong, durable, and less flexible wood that gives you all of the punch with less resonance. It provides a very “round” tone without the classic “boom” of maple. Oak is very articulate and pronounced, making it a top choice of recording studios, but less popular for churches and auditoriums.

Does the Drum Head Affect Tone?

The drum head typically has the biggest influence on the tone of a drum. Drum heads are the most adjustable or tunable part of the drum. It is the point of impact for the drumstick and the source of vibration for the sound wave. Popular brands include Remo, Evans, and Aquarian. High-quality drum heads can make a cheap drum kit sound amazing. Let’s look at a few drum head options.

Single Ply

As the name indicates, single-ply drumheads are made with a single sheet of Mylar material. They are thin and provide maximum resonance, making them a popular choice for drummers who like a long tonal decay from their toms. This is the preferred drum head for the bottom side of the drum (resonant head). However, many drummers who play lighter genres prefer single-ply drum heads for the top drum head as well (batter head). The high resonance works great for jazz and fusion styles. The Remo AmbassadorEvans G1, and Aquarian Studio X are industry-standard single-ply drumheads.

Dual-Ply

Dual-ply drum heads offer a reinforced layer to reduce resonance without sacrificing tone. They are perfect for hard-hitting drummers who prefer big attack with fast decay. The overtones are more controlled while the attack is very pronounced. The dual-ply drum heads are preferred in gospel music where chops are often fast and prolonged ringing tones are less desirable.

Clear and Coated Drum Heads

Coated drum heads affect the tone. Many jazz drummers prefer coated drum heads on snare drums because it accentuates the sound of brushes and reduces the ringing sound of the tone. Clear drum heads provide a much more “open” tone, which allows the drum to sing naturally. Coated drum heads on toms reduce the brightness and provide more warmth to the tone. Neither is better than the other, but experimentation is necessary to discover your preferred drumming voice.

Dampening

In addition to the dampening provided by dual-ply drum heads, many drummers prefer to use other means to eliminate resonant overtones. Some drummers place their wallet or gaffer’s tape on the snare drum, while others control the sound with 3rd-party products. One notable dampening option is the gel pad.

This inexpensive option can be a big problem solver if you’re looking to eliminate the ringing overtones of single-ply drum heads. It can also provide a muting effect when used with dual-ply drum heads. The cool thing about gel pads is that they have a sticky surface and can be applied directly on top of the drum head to improve dampening. Since they a small, they don’t take up much room and leave plenty of hitting space on the drum head. Additionally, they can be moved around on the drum head surface to provide the preferred sound.

Conclusion

As with most aspects of musicianship, style is everything. Tuning your drum kit requires knowing your personal taste and applying it to your style of music. These basic tips will help you configure your drums to sound the way you desire. Try them on your drum kit and make adjustments as you see fit. Looser tunings will give you deeper tones and more resonance. Tighter tunings will give you brighter tones and less resonance. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to what feels right to you. Experiment with these tips and gadgets and take your time to find your perfect tone.

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