Tuning the Snare Drum

Focal Point

The snare drum is the focal point of your drum set. It’s what keeps the song alive and driving forward. If the snare drum isn’t sounding good, the rest of the kit really won’t matter that much. Tuning the snare drum can be a fairly complex task. However, I like to keep things simple when it comes to tuning. The simpler you can make things, the less frustrated you’ll be and the faster you can begin playing those drums.

Before you even attempt to dial in your snare drum, make sure you have defined what kind of sound you’re after. Once you’ve selected your favorite batter and resonant heads, the fun part begins. Tuning a snare drum actually isn’t that much different than tuning your toms. What makes it a bit more complex is the variety of moving parts that make a snare drum sound like a snare drum.

Snares Off

One of more overlooked aspects of snare drum tuning is tuning the drum without the snare wires attached. Too many times the batter head is replaced and we instantly begin cranking down on the tension rods. If you’re changing out both heads anyway, tune the drum before you attach the snare wire bed. If your bottom head is in good shape, consider taking the snares off to tune the drum.

Follow the exact same steps in tuning your snare drum that I covered in tuning your toms. Using a criss-cross pattern, be sure to position the head evenly and seat the head. One big step to avoid when seating your drum heads is DO NOT press on the snare resonant head with your palms like you would when seating your toms. The thin head will immediately give in and leave a permanent dent in the shape of your hand. Please, don’t learn this lesson the hard way.

Three Tuning Methods

Tune both sides enough to produce a noticeable tone. The lowest possible pitch is a great starting point. Once a similar note is produced on both sides, begin the fine tuning process. There are three basic ways to tune a snare drum, depending on the type of sound you require.

Here’s a quick overview of the three sounds and tuning methods:

Bottom Head Tuned Higher Than Top - This type of tuning is my favorite as well as the more popular sound among session drummers. Tune the drum to itself by tightening both heads to be about 3-5 notes higher than your smallest tom. Once both heads are equal, simply tighten the bottom head to be a higher pitch than the batter. This will give the drum a nice crack, yet still controlled and articulated.

Top Head Tuned Higher Than Bottom - To achieve a nice full wet and fat sound out of your snare, try simply keeping the snare side tuned a few notes lower than the top head. This will give your drum a lot more feel and produces an excellent stick and brush response.

Tune Both Heads Exactly the Same - This tuning method will produce an equal amount of snare presence and produces a full-bodied, more resonant sound. This type of tuning is an excellent place to start before installing the snare wires.

TIP: Don’t crank things too tight quite yet. A really tight snare drum head can result in a choked and nearly lifeless sound.

Remember, once the snare bed is installed you can fine-tune the snare to your liking. Use these methods as a foundation and experiment from there.