A little about Drum Tuning!
Most of the information contained within this article is pretty much common knowledge in the drum world. LOTS of drummers will argue certain points that they don't agree with. It's all a matter of taste and preference. No two drummers do the same thing exactly the same way...
Drums, like any instrument, need to be in tune to sound their best. Tuning isn't hard but it takes practice to get it right. There is no standard pitch that your drums should be tuned to. It is all personal taste. The following will get you started on your way to a great drum sound. Remember the more you tune your drums the better you will become. Practice tuning as often as you can.
Proceed with caution: Drum Tuning is the process that will simply Make or brake your drum sound! It is recommended to remove the drum away from your drum set in order to eliminate resonance from heads of other drums in your set. - That will allow you to better concentrate on fine tuning your drum while listening to sound coming ONLY from that particular drum head.
The idea is to keep the tension as even as possible around the head, much like tightening the lug nuts when changing a wheel on a car.
1. Before mounting the head, check the bearing edge for roughness or bumps. It should be smooth to the touch. Look across it from one side. It should be uniform in height. If not, consult a MASTER woodworker.
2. Lay the head on the shell, mount the rim, and screw each tension rod in finger-tight. With a drum key, tighten each rod one full turn (360 degrees).
3. If you're using an old head OR a Kevlar head, skip to step 4. Set your drum on the floor (on carpet to protect the bottom of the the shell) and stand on the head. If you're a heavy person or if the head or shell is very delicate, just sit on the head. Now bounce up and down *slightly* for a couple minutes. You'll hear cracks and pops as you "seat" the head onto your bearing edge and as the resin used to hold the head into its bead cracks into shape. Slam the edge of your fist into the head about 20 times. This will pre-stretch the head so it won't go out of tune as quickly at first.
4. Tighten each rod about another full turn. Most of the wrinkles should be gone at this point. If not, tighten each rod a quarter turn until the head is smooth. The head should now produce some sort of tone when struck.
5. Tap the head at the edge beside each lug. If the pitch is slightly lower at one lug, tighten that rod until it matches the two points next to it. Repeat until the same pitch is heard all the way around the head. Getting the head IN TUNE now will make it easier to tune when you finally tighten it up to the desired pitch.
6. Tighten each lug a quarter turn and check the overall pitch. Repeat until the desired pitch is found.
7. One last time, tap around the edge and fix any inconsistencies in the tuning of the head.
8. If you use double headed drums, repeat with the bottom head.
Getting the bottom head of a tom to match the top head takes a little extra work. The easiest way to hear the pitch of each head at a time is to muffle one head while tapping softly on the other, then switch.
Snare drums are a bit different. Basically, the more tension you give the snare-side head, the better snare response you'll get. Tuning snare drums takes a lot of experimentation for each drummer.
Ok, lets go over the tinning process step by step
Tuning the Bass Drum
and the Toms
Place the drumhead on the drum shell first, and
then place the rim over the head. You'll notice that
the rim has holes in it. The rods (long pieces of
metal with threads on one end and another end
that your drum key fits onto) fit through the hole
and down the outside of the drum and into the
threaded hole at the top of the lug. The lugs are the pieces attached to the outside of
the shell of each drum. The drum key is used to
tighten or loosen the rods on the drum to change
the pitch. It's best to get a general pitch that's
somewhere in the middle of the range of pitches
that the particular drum you're working on is capable of. To do this, use your drum key to loosen all
the rods on both the top and bottom heads until
they are as loose as they can be. This will give you
a starting point from which to tune the drum.
If your drums came with the heads not on them, put the heads on the drums and tighten the rods into the lugs just enough so that they are threaded into the lug, but not so tight that there's any pressure. Then pick any rod and begin to tighten it just enough so that you start to feel some resistance. Then, go to the rod across the drumhead from the one that you've just tightened, and tighten that one as close as you can to the same amount of pressure as the first one. Pick another rod and do the same thing that you did to the first two. Then go to the rod opposite of that one, and do the same. It's very important that you always go to the rod that's across from the one you're working on when tuning up your drums.
If you tightened up all the rods on one side of the drum first, before going to the opposite side, your head will end up sitting on the drum like a seesaw, with one side of the head tightened down and the other side up too far away from the lugs to be tuned properly if you follow this procedure with all the rods on both the bottom and top heads of the drum, you're ready to begin tuning. Choose any rod and tighten it up just enough so that any wrinkles that you might see near the area of the drumhead that you're working on smooth out.
Once those wrinkles smooth out, repeat the procedure with the opposite rod. As you continue this procedure for all the rods on the drum, try to pay attention to how much you're tightening down on each lug. Ideally, you want to apply as close to the same amount of pressure to each and every rod as you can. If you do this to all the rods on both the top and bottom of the drum, your drum will then have a pitch or note that you can work with. It takes a little bit of experimentation to get the perfect pitch for each drum. If you have three toms in your kit, you'll notice that they are all different sizes. If you tune each tom to its ideal note, they will all naturally fall in a descending order of pitch. in other words, they'll go from higher to lower pitch according to their sizes.
Tuning the Snare Drum
You'll follow a different procedure when tuning the snare drum than you did for the other drums in the drum kit. When tuning the toms or the bass drum, you want both the top and the bottom heads of the drum to be at more or less the same the snare drum, you should tighten the bottom head as tight as you can within reason. There's no need to tighten the head so much that the drum implodes, but the tighter the bottom head, the better the snare response.
So, tighten that bottom snare head as much as you can without making a strength test out of it, and you should be good to go. To tune the top head of the snare drum, follow the same procedure that you did to tune the top head of any of the toms. Remember to always tighten the rods from one side to the other, just like with the toms. To get a nice, crisp snare drum sound, you can tighten each rod somewhat past the point where the wrinkles on the head disappear.
Experimentation is the key to finding the snare drum sound that you like. Some drummers like a very high-pitched sound from their snare drum, while other drummers prefer a lower, tubbier sound or anywhere in between these extremes. It's really a matter of personal preference when it comes to snare sounds. A good way for you to determine what kind of snare sound you might be looking for is to listen closely to the sound of the snare drum in the music that you like to listen to. Is it medium-pitched? High-pitched or low? This will at least give you a snare sound to shoot for.
Related Drum Tuning articles:
Tuning Basics to Tuning the Untunable
Bass Drum Tuning
Drum Tuning Discussion Group
Tunings for Jazz
Different Approach To Tuning And Technique