Drum Tuning: The Basics

Once you’ve figured out your sound, chosen your heads and refreshed the resonants, it’s now time to get these toms tuned (we’ll cover the snare and bass drum later). Tuning brand new heads can sometimes be a bit tricky and tedious. In fact, I could probably write an entire book on tuning tips. However, I like to keep things simple and that’s exactly how I approach tuning.

I had the opportunity to work at my favorite drum company out of Nashville, TN – Pearl Drum Corporation for several years. I’ll never forget watching and listening carefully to Gene Okamoto’s method of tuning drums. Gene was the product manager for Pearl Drums and let’s just say he knows his stuff. To this day, I still use this exact method and it never lets me down.

If you find yourself wanting to pull your hair out when you’re tuning your toms, my hope is that these simple tips will help you save some major time and headaches.

Rim and Head Position

Before you throw brand new heads on your shells and start tightening those rods, pay careful attention to the position of the head relative to the hoop. Most shells, hoops and drum heads have a logo of some sort. This is perhaps a decal, print or badge. The key here is to line each of the logos up before tightening the rods. The head logo lines up with the hoop and shell badge.

Over time, the hoops can slightly bend and conform to the position on the shell. Not only does this just look better, this simple habit will ensure that the three components are always consistent each and every time you change out those heads.

Criss-Cross Pattern

Using a criss-cross pattern, simply adjust the lug in small increments to seat the head evenly on the drum. Once a tone is heard, you can begin tuning. 

Tune to the Drum

Dial in each lug to bring the drum 'in-tune with itself.' By tapping your finger near each lug, you should be concentrating on a consistent note around the head.  

No Right or Wrong

When it comes to tuning drums, there’s no right or wrong. This is only the way that I learned and what works for me. By all means, feel free to experiment and find a method that works best for you. The only point I will make is if you’re taking an exceptionally long time tuning each drum, something is not right.

If you follow these tips step by step and the drum just won’t tune, there may be a bigger problem with the shell itself. If your shell is fine and you’re taking longer than 15-20 minutes per drum to tune, start over. Take the head and rim off, re-position and begin again. Sometimes when you spend too much time tweaking the tension rods, the head can become off balanced and not centered on the shell.