First thing’s first: You’re the boss. There’s no magical Super-Secret-Drum-Code saying what you have to tune your drums to. Some people tune low, others tune high. It’s completely up to you. Personally, I tune to the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes in the key of C (C, E, G).
Before you start tuning, it’s a good idea to take the drumhead off completely and wipe down the rim and shell with a dry cloth.
Once that’s done, put the head and rim back on. Screw the tension rods back on by hand until they’re secure enough. Now get out a drum key. They generally look like this:
Mine’s a little different:
I love, love, LOVE this tool. It works like a ratchet, and it makes tuning much easier. It’s nifty if you’re picky about tuning. /rave
Pick a place to start and tighten that tension rod. From there, do the rod directly across from it. Next, tighten the rod that’s to the right of your original rod. And continue the cycle. By going across and clockwise you’ll avoid pulled heads.
Pulled heads are nasty buggers. That’s where the actual “head” part of the drumhead rips apart from the metal hoop that it’s attached to. This makes tuning useless because the head can’t tighten anymore.
You should be hitting the area that you’re tuning and listening for the change in pitch. It’s extremely helpful to remember how far you turn your drum key (1 full rotation, ½ rotation, etc…) and to use that on each rod before you do the more fine-tuning (Pun totally intended). If you keep a consistent rotation, you’ll make tuning so much easier on yourself.
The fine-tuning is done mostly by ear. You’ll have to hit around the circumference of the drumhead and listen for inconsistencies. Be sure to not only hit around the head, but also across it (like the way it was tuned).
Also, don’t forget the bottom head! Even when the top head is in tune, if the bottom is out of tune the whole drum will sound bad. I’ve heard some people say to tune it higher than the top. This has always produced a rather nasty sound, in my opinion. You actually should tune lower than the top head.
I remember when I first started drumming and someone would say how far out of tune a drum was. “It sounded just fine to me…” I would think. Your ears will become accustomed to tiny tune-y details the more you sit and really listen to the pitch of your drums.
Next Week: Tuning (Pt.2) – Muffling/Dampening.