Tuning your toms really comes down to a form of art. It’s something you have to do a lot to get good at. The problem is that most of us drummers don’t change our heads out enough to really give us good, solid practice. This is why, understandably, it’s the more commonly misunderstood aspect of great sounding drums. Like I’ve said before, there is no right or wrong when it comes to tuning.
However, there are some really good foundational tips that I personally believe will save you a lot of time.
After you’ve properly aligned your head and hoop to the shell, finger-tighten the tension rods all the way around the hoop. Once the rods are snug, begin turning each rod 1/4 turn using a criss-cross pattern.
This example provides a few choices depending on the number of lugs your drum has. Continue to make the turns in small increments in this same pattern until you hear a resonant tone and all wrinkles have disappeared. This criss-cross pattern helps evenly position the head over the bearing edge properly, allowing for easier tuning.
Seating the Head
Don’t jump ahead quite yet in trying to achieve that perfect tuned drum. Before you begin the actual tuning process, you will need to seat the head. To do so, simply press with the center of your palm like you’re giving CPR to the middle of your drum head. Once you do, you’ll hear normal crackling and popping. Seating the heads will dramatically change the way your drum tunes and sounds. When you properly seat the head, the ring around the heads will sit perfectly in the channels of the rims and will conform to the shape of the bearing edges.
Once seated, the tone will dramatically be lowered and additional wrinkles may appear. Again, turn each rod in the criss-cross pattern again until a tone is present. Repeat this step a few times until the tone of the drum will not dramatically change after you’ve pressed in the center with your palm.
Once you’ve seated the head properly, the real fun begins. This is where you’ll begin dialing in and fine tuning the sound.