Table of Contents

Drum Tuning Basics - Tuning the Untunable

Drum Tuning Basics

Regardless of whether your drum is six inches across with a rawhide skin or two feet in diameter with a coated mylar head, the fundamentals of getting a good sound out of your drum are the same. You need to tune your drum to its sweet spot in order to sound its best. The sweet spot is simply the pitch where the drum resonates best. This spot varies from drum to drum based upon its size, the construction of its shell, and the type of head that you use.

Finding the sweet spot is fairly easy: Just adjust the pitch a little bit at a time until the sound is clear and without a lot of overtones (higher pitched sounds that the drum creates, which are usually hidden behind the fundamental tone of the drum). After it’s tuned well, you shouldn’t need to dampen (stop from vibrating) the head with tape or an internal system in order to lessen overtones because there won’t be any.

Tuning a Drum With Lugs

Got a wrench and a few minutes? Well, that’s all you need to tune up your lug-tuned drum. Lug-tuned drums are by far the most common style these days and for the most part, they’re pretty straightforward to tune.

Start with the drumhead and the rim off your drum and the drum on the floor. First, wipe the edge of the shell with a dry cloth to get off any dirt or dust. Next, put on the head and then the rim over that. Then follow these steps:

Repeat this procedure on the bottom head if you have double-headed drums. I usually like to get both heads turned to the same pitch, but other people tune the bottom head slightly higher or lower than the top head. You can experiment and see what you prefer.

Tuning a Drum With a Rope System

Rope-tuned drums look hard to tune but they’re really not. In some ways, they’re actually easier to tune than drums with lugs, because you don’t have to worry about getting the drum in tune with itself.

The process for tuning a drum with a rope system is pretty simple. All you have to do is untie the loose end (this is usually the long section) from the rope so that it’s free. You can find this section by noticing where the end of the rope is that’s strung around the drum. To raise the pitch, feed the loose end of the rope under the next two vertical strands (you need to keep the rope taut where it was initially tied off).

Next, loop the rope back across the second strand to the first and go under that one again. Hold the drum securely (I usually rest my knee on it) and pull the rope tight until the first strand crosses the second and the rope is straightened out. Continue this procedure until you have the drum at the desired pitch. Then, tie off the loose end of the rope again. Now you’re set to play!

Tuning the Untunable

Many of the frame drums that you find are untunable. That is, they don’t have a hardware system that allows you to adjust the tension on the head. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t adjust the pitch of the drum n you can as long as the drum has a natural skin head.

Because natural hide heads are affected by temperature and humidity, you can use these factors to adjust the tension on the head of your drum. Higher temperatures and lower humidity result in the head becoming more tense, thus producing a higher pitched sound. Likewise, lower temperatures and higher humidity result in a lower pitched sound. In most cases, you find that your drum drops in pitch, sometimes to the point where all you get is a ithudi when you hit it. This is especially true with thinner-headed drums.

To raise the pitch of your untunable drum, place it in sunlight for a little while until the head warms up a bit. You can also hold it over a heat source for a couple of minutes (some people use a hair dryer). Be careful though: If you put the drum too close to extreme heat or leave it in the hot sun too long, the head will break.