Contrary to popular belief, tuning your drum kit is not something that you can arrange by just turning a few screws. Tuning your drum for the first time – and I assume first-timers are the ones reading this material – is a much more complicated process. It also means getting to know every piece of the kit.
Although there are some basic rules, through the first tuning you should learn how your snare drum reacts to resonance head tuning, how the position and material of the pedal affects how your kick drum batter head behaves, and so on.
Tuning your drum is like a second date: you already played a few grooves, but the game is just starting to get really serious. When starting out with tuning your drum kit for the first time, you should make sure you have everything you need to actually be able to tune your drums. You will need a following: a drum key.
It usually comes in the shape of a letter T and it is a very useful tool to adjust tension rods. Speaking of tension rods, you should make sure that you have all the tension rods close – whenever I disassemble a drum I lose one or two.
Of course, you need the shell of the drum and the two counter-hoops. When you have all these, you only need to make sure that you have some top-notch drumheads around; otherwise you will not have what to tune.
Contrary to what you might believe, writing “top-notch” in the previous sentence was not a manifestation of sarcasm: the drumheads that manufacturers usually provide with freshly bought drum kits are usually single-ply heads of quite low-quality that are only set up for decoration purposes – you should change them immediately.
Tuning your drums should not be something that you do every second. Temperature and use affect the status of the drumheads. However, once your drums are in a setting that you like, the seasonal tuning that you should do only involves minor adjustments.
Whenever you buy a drum kit, chances are it is equipped with factory drumheads – usually single-ply, low quality heads featuring the manufacturer’s logo. Yet, no matter how cool having Pearl or Tama drumheads might look like, you should opt for changing them as soon as possible. Really, you should not even spend time trying to achieve optimal sound by trying to tune these heads.
Some people might imagine tuning drums as a series of turning some screws until you decide that it was enough. That is as far from the actual situation as possible: tuning your drums, especially for the first time, is a real act of care and patience, a process that usually takes hours to finish. Tuning your drums for the first time is like getting to know your drums.
To begin this process, you first have to remove the original drumheads from the drum shell, by loosening the tension rods until you can remove the counter-hoops so that the drumheads are removable. After that, you should clean the shells and the counter-hoops, so that no dirt remains there that might damage the new drumheads.
When all this is done, you are ready to set up the new drumheads: the process is identical for both the batter and the resonant head. You put the drumhead above the shell, making sure it fits nicely. Then you put the counter-hoop above the drumhead, insert the tension rods, and tighten them until you get a quite tense had that produces sound when tapped. Wrinkles always appear during this initial phase, do not worry about them.
As I said in the introduction: tuning your drum for the first time is like getting to know it. Be patient and show some care. The more time you spend tuning your drum the more experience you will gain and the better your drums will sound after all. It is really worth your time and effort.
Many drummers take their drum heads for granted. You buy a drum kit, and there are already drum heads installed. Then when they break, you simply go by new ones and replace them. All of this seems simple enough, but there is so much more that you are missing.
Understanding drum heads is pretty easy. First off, you should understand how they work. Drum heads act as a membrane, carrying the vibration of your hits throughout the body of the drum. This simply means that the heads are the part that conveys the message of vibration throughout your drum.
Without them, quite simply, you wouldn’t be able to achieve that well known and well-loved drum sound. The tighter your membrane is pulled, the better. A tight drum head is stronger, whereas a floppy, loose drum head is weak. Tight drum heads allow for better resonance and help prevent damage. A looser drum heads is far more garbled and likely to break. That being said, be sure to go for quality when buying a set of drum heads.
Cheaply made drum heads may cost you less, but they will have far shorter life spans than good, high quality drum heads. If you are still on the fence, think of it this way; better drum heads mean better playing as they allow your stick to rebound. Cheap drum heads don’t.
Here is the part that most drummers don’t know; you drum heads should be changed semiannually. This means that twice a year you should be replacing your heads to keep them fresh and stable. For all of you drummers who wait to change your drum heads until they break, you should seriously reconsider.
Bad drum heads put unnecessary stress on the wood of the drums themselves, which can in turn warp them, allow them to crack, or damage them in other ways. As for your snare drum, its drum head should be changed quarter annually.
That means four times a year you should go out and buy a snare drum head replace your old drum head with it. Why? Why? It is because the snare is used more often and undergoes more abuse than the toms.
As a drummer, drum heads are your best friend. You want to treat them as such. Keep your drum heads fresh and tight. This will help your drums themselves last and also help your playing.
Set a schedule. A good way to be sure that you will change your drum heads is to buy all the drum heads you will need at the beginning of the year. Change one set right then and there, and then mark on your calendar the coming dates on which you will need to change your drum heads. Be sure to stick to these dates as well; you drums need proper drums maintenance.
Guitarists and bassists both know the importance of tuning and changing strings, adjusting intonation, adjusting saddle height, and keeping a well-nourished fret board among other things. As a drummer, it is your duty to put the same care into the maintenance of your drums!
When the drumhead is tense enough, you should tap the head close to the tension rods and try to eliminate the differences in pitch. Where the sound is lower, tighten the tension rod; or, if you have already exceeded the desired pitch, loosen the rods where the sound is too high.
Throughout this process, keep in mind that modifying a tension rod has its effect on the whole surface of the head, not just its immediate area – you have to check again and compensate what has changed.
Achieving an even sound is not too hard on any member of the drum kit. However, making the whole kit sound in a balanced manner, creating a pleasant atmosphere is rather hard. The first seemingly successful setting will probably not work when the other members of the kit are also – seemingly – finished.
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