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Drum Forums => Drum Forum - Drum Talk - Drum Techniques => Topic started by: KenSanders on April 18, 2010, 03:25:32 PM

Title: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: KenSanders on April 18, 2010, 03:25:32 PM
Tuning or tensioning your drums is a matter unique to your own style of playing and what your ears want to hear from your drums.  I want to comment, however, on a few “truisms” I have learned in my years of drumming……some things that work better for me at least. ;)

If you like pounding the hell out of your snare drum with strokes like driving nails into an oak beam, then none of this will likely be of interest to you.   :P

If on the other hand, you are open to trying some adjustments that might improve your finesse and sound then read on. ::)

I’ve found that each drum has a “sweet spot” where it sounds its best.  It’s often in the medium or slightly less than medium tension range; that I have discovered that note.

 A drum tuned to its “less than optimum sound” is NOT going to be “all it can be” for you. :o

So, I’ve learned that I can tune my drums UP (tighter) a little more and get richer musical tones and more effortless volume from them.  PLUS…the stick rebound improves, which in turn allows me to play better…..without pounding and slamming.

I am not alone.  Neil Pert and Dave Weckl are two well-respected drummers that have also resorted to higher tunings on their drums to facilitate better sounds and techniques.

Less muffling and tuning the drums up higher?  John Bonham was hip to that in the SIXTIES. He is an icon for a big and powerful drum sound. So, do you see my point?

It is more often than not, that the “near-field” sound that YOU hear as you play your drums…..is what you tune for.  BUT….that near-field sound is somewhat different from what the audience hears.  Because of this, we often believe that our drums are too resonant (from the player perspective) and tend to “over-muffle” them.  A key ingredient to a big resonant sound (which is the sound I personally go after) is DON’T MUFFLE so much.

I found there is also a world of difference in playing drums tensioned in the medium range versus drums tuned “loose” to the “flappy/wrinkly” point.  And I’ll add that I also (years ago) used to kill most of the drums resonance by applying some sort of muffling material.

For me, drums tuned way too low FEEL too mushy and, from just a few feet away, they sound lifeless. Plus I really have to hit them hard to get the sound out of them.  Now some drummers LIKE to hit hard on loosely tensioned heads.  I’m okay with that if YOU want to play that way.  However, my dynamic range and stroke techniques are much more difficult to control on drums tuned too loose and much too deadened. The power that I could produce with the flip of my wrist might take my whole arm to match on a loosely tuned drum.  I just don’t want to play that way anymore. ;D

I found that (for me) loose feeling…heavily muffled drums tend to have lower volume, and much less musical tone.  I didn’t want less tone….less power…and less rebound and feel for my sticking patterns.

So I asked myself….what if I tried tuning a bit tighter for a much more resonant “near field” sound and then applied a more relaxed stroke technique?  Would it sound better?  Would it feel better?  Would you have more control?

The answers for me were all “yes”.

Here’s one more thing to try.  I agree with Tomm and others regarding this point.  Have someone play your drums so you can hear them from an audience perspective.  If they sound way too deadened or “cardboard box” sounding from the audience perspective, then they’re probably tuned either too loose….or over-muffled for you.

The proof of whether any of this will help you is to try it.  When I tried it years ago, it was like getting accustomed to “power steering” after NOT having it for years.  I believe it is obvious that I have more comfortable and confident control over my vehicle when I have power steering.  Tuning my drums to create the equivalent of power steering was an improvement for my technique and my sound.

Now, as always in drumming, there are no hard-and-fast rules.  Some things work for you and some things don’t.  :-\

However, there is just no reason to HAVE to beat the hell out of MY drums all deadened down, when just tuning them up a bit and letting them sing results in bigger drum sounds and allows me more control and technical ability.

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: PASHA on April 18, 2010, 03:39:25 PM
Ken, this is an amazing way to "deliver the message" about different drum tuning approaches! - I will reference to it from the main Drum Tuning (http://www.drumsoloartist.com/Site/Drum_Tuning.html) article...


Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: vista1868 on April 18, 2010, 07:03:56 PM
I'd like to second this motion on Ken's part. I too use a tighter head because it allows me to be more intricate on my stick control. To further this, as Neil Peart has said, " If the stick wants to bounce, let it bounce" Well, that's it in a nutshell. Allow the heads to work for you. As Ken said, if your trying to drive the stick "through" the head, then this advice you probably won't use. Again Ken, excellent advice my friend. I also would like the people interested in these tuning approaches to go http://home.earthlink.net/~prof.sound/ And read up. I've had this downloaded for years stored in my favorites. Happy tuning!

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: KenSanders on April 18, 2010, 09:15:21 PM
Hey PASHA and VISTA.  Thanks for the comments and additional insights.

I went to the link that VISTA referenced and there is much more in-depth dialog about the concepts that I learned from trial and error back in the day. I suppose it is quite obvious that there was no internet or DVD's to assist me in my quest when I was going through my "dues paying" formative years.  :D

The link VISTA that references, DOES INDEED have very some worthwhile reading and it is fairly easy to grasp. Make sure that you check it out.

In the same link, the author also discusses microphones, which I'll briefly comment about too.

In addition to recording, most large venue (if not all) modern performances require appropriate sound reinforcement for the drums.  MY PREFERENCE is to capture the sound of my drums "exactly as is" and  NOT alter it. Therefore, my "close mic'ing distance is about 3" off of the snare batter head (with a high SPL Hypercardioid mic), 6" - 8" off of the batter heads of the toms and the bass drum mic placed about 2" inside the front head port hole.  Those distances allow the drum sounds to mature and provide those rich tones that sound musical. Live, I don't add reverb or delay effects.  The way I tune my drums, doing that would be overkill and sound really gimmicky. :o

I realize that some folks are of the opinion that placing microphones on a drum kit will magically make the drums sound incredible.  BUT remember when you mic an "ify" or "awful sounding" sounding drum...... what you'll get is just a louder "ify" or "awful sounding"  sounding drum.   ::) Some people can't appreciate the difference.  I hope as a drummer that you can. In other words, you need to tune your drums extremely well whether playing mic'd up or not.  ;)

Everybody chime in on this thread.  Dialog is healthy for all of us.

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: Tomm on April 19, 2010, 08:58:48 AM
Ken, This subject is easily one that everyone can relate to, and reflect their own experience and techniques.  You have a very good perspective on what you have expressed here on tuning and sound productions.  Your metaphorical reference to "power steering" with a better tensioned/tuned head will make the DSA Hall Of Fame. 
You made reference to finding the "musical tone" on the drum.  To me, that hit the nail on the head.  I have always tuned my drums to particular musical "notes".  Literally.  I have always had good musical pitch perception and I can segregate the note that a drum head produces.  By perceiving the perfect note for an individual drum you can always keep your drums in perfect tune.  If you don't have the natural perception to detect the note, I think the best way to do this would be with a tuning forks best, because they work on vibration too.
I haven't read the link that Vista prescribed yet, but I will soon, and surely chime in afterward.

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: KenSanders on April 19, 2010, 10:16:04 AM
Thanks for the comments Tomm.  I believe that
                           tuning + technique + talented imagination = great drumming.  8)

I want my drums to feel good when I play them and to sound good also.  A drum turned up “table top” hard will produce incredible bounce, but it will likely sound very, very choked,  A drum tuned down into the “low rumble zone” may have an up close cool sound..... but it will likely feel like you are  playing on a sponge. Either extreme is “too much” IMO.

A life with everything in balance  is a wise old adage.  I believe that our drum head tensions, and strokes need to be in balance as well.  ;)

As mentioned previously, with all drums, there is a tension relationship between the top and bottom heads that produces the optimum tone or note.  It is that note that will sound good and full with a gentle stroke, a firm stroke, or a full solid stroke.

There is also a volume threshold for all drums and cymbals.  That is the point where hitting the instrument any harder does not produce MORE usable tone.  As serious musicians who play drums, we want our instruments to be musical and not be compared to industrial strength noise.

To sound their best our drums must be properly cared for. We want to preserve their shell integrity; their roundness; their bearing edges; and replace heads as needed to assure they have the potential to sound their best for us.  Finally, we need to tune them for their best musical note.

It DOES take some time, but you can find the head relationship on every drum where it sings its best musical note.  I believe the time and search is worth it.

A properly tuned drum kit will sound incredible at all volume levels and feel effortless to play on.

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: Reno on April 19, 2010, 08:29:03 PM
very interesting thread, and the link is great too.

I've mentioned before that my dad played - he didn't play often and wasn't very good, he just knew a few 50's and 60's style 4/4 beats. It was amusing to us kids because it was noisy and groovy, you could tap your foot to it etc, but it never inspired me to want to learn to play drums.

Then my folks had a party, and one of the guests was a drummer. So the kit got packed up to the living room, and this guy started playing to songs on the stereo. That got my attention big time, suddenly there was a method to the madness and noise. I wasn't allowed to come down and watch, so I just sat on the stairs and listened. It couldn't be called a drum lesson in the conventional sense, but it taught me 2 of the most important things I needed to know:

Drums have notes, not as many as a guitar or piano, but notes all the same. The guy (who's name I never knew) did a brilliant job (to my then untrained ear) of the song In A Gadda Di Vida. It was that song that made me want to pick up the sticks and learn to play. The other thing I learned that night is that to get the full range of sound and all the nuance out of a drum kit, you have to be able to play just as well quietly as you can play loud. This guy played very quiet, you had no problem hearing the song over his playing and it was a really crappy stereo..
In short, I learned that a drum set is a musical instrument, not a jungle gym. The sticks are so light that even a small child can move them with the same speed as an adult, given the practice and direction (or a goal).

Anyone can whack a box with a stick. Playing a melody is something else entirely. Ron Bushy's solo in that famous Iron Butterfly song and Neil Peart's YYZ are two 'in your face' examples of actual musical compositions played solo on the drums. They have melody, they have a recognizable tune.

To this day I tune by note. But I don't just bring the drums into tune with themselves, I tune them against each other as well. Sometimes I tune them to the notes of open guitar strings (i have 6 toms, so this works out quite well). Sometimes I tune them so they make chords. But I always tune them so that certain pairs sound great when hit together, and frequently get something of a 'bass line' going on the low toms. Sometimes I use a 'reference tune' for tuning them, for example the (simplified) melody to 'Orinoco flow' gives a really cool note spread on the toms.

Talk about memories..

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: Tomm on April 20, 2010, 10:40:26 AM
Ken, your reference to the relationship with the top and bottom heads is a very good point.  You can't tune your first strings to a twelve string guitar to an E and an E#...somebody will notice.  In retrospect, as Reno pointed out about actual chorded tones, you could probably get by with, or create a great sound, if you tune the top head to C, and the bottom head to the same drum to a G or D, or any other note that fits the progression.  COOL.

The volume threshold is also a good point.  Too loud takes a well tuned drum tone and turns it into poorly executed BLAM!

Cymbals..whole different subject.

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: KenSanders on April 21, 2010, 07:03:42 PM

Cymbals are indeed a whole different topic.  And I hereby confess that I am a bonafied cymbal fanatic.  ;)

Why don't you start a new thread regarding your thoughts about cymbals.  I have no doubt that it would facilitate a lot of valuable dialog.

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: Tomm on April 21, 2010, 09:36:39 PM
I will do that Ken...keep an eye out for it later tonight I hope.

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: cosmodrum on April 29, 2010, 06:02:57 PM
Thank you for this post. I have also gone for that flat,"wet" sound and then I sat in on someone else's kit that was tuned higher, and, all of the sudden, my sticking and sensitivity improved, chops were more easily executed. It had been years and I had forgotten what difference the tuning can make. Thanks again!

Title: Re: One approach to tuning and technique
Post by: KenSanders on June 27, 2010, 09:41:05 PM
Yep Cosmodrum......that's what usually makes drummers a beliver.....actually playing drums tuned for tone and response.  As I said previously, I compare it to having a vehicle with power steering, instead of having to physically struggle to do a simple manuveer.  ;)