After seating the heads properly, it’s time to dial in these toms with some fine tuning. Tuning the toms can be a very frustrating experience. However, the method I have learned and continue to use is very simple.
Keep in mind, there is no right or wrong here. In fact, if you asked 10 drummers how they tune their drums, you’ll probably receive 10 different answers. I learned this simple method a long time ago and it works for me.
Smallest Tom First
When tuning the toms, I always start with my smallest tom. If you only have a rack and floor tom, this will be super easy for you. On the other hand, if your smallest tom is an 8″ and your biggest floor tom is an 18″, you have to think about the wide tonal aspect from top to bottom. I feel that starting with the smallest tom helps keep everything in perspective. For example, if you tune the floor tom too high your smallest tom will be tuned far too high to compensate and will sound choked and out of balance.
Place Tom on a Rug or Carpet
When tuning, I find it works best to place my tom on a small rug or piece of carpet. First of all, this protects both the hoop as well as your hardwood floors from getting scratched. Secondly, the carpet will actually muffle the head not being tuned so you can focus in on the head that you’re fine tuning. If the tom is sitting on a desk or hard surface, you’ll hear the opposite head resonating and this will make tuning dramatically more difficult.
I’ve met a lot of fellow drummers that actually tune to an exact note. This is an ok method, but has simply never worked for me. All drum shells have a very unique tonal quality. Different woods, room size, venue, ply thickness, etc. all contribute to the sound. That being said, a great tool to use for fine tuning is the Tune Bot, which works great to dial-in things after tuning the drum to itself.
Using your finger, tap on the drum head near each of the tension rods. Using the criss-cross pattern we talked about before, adjust each tension rod in very small increments until each section of the head has the same pitch all the way around.
The key here is to use very small increments. If you go too tight, too soon, you’ve lost the sweet spot. If this happens, loosen and start again. Now, turn the drum over and tune the opposite head in the exact same way. For me, tuning both heads to the same pitch allows the drum to be in tune with itself and demonstrates the best tone and resonance.
That’s it! The point to fine tuning your toms is to listen for that ―sweet spot. The more you practice tuning your toms, the easier it is to identify when the drum is in tune with itself. Try it out the next time you replace those heads.