The Kick Drum: Tuning to the Lowest Possible Pitch

I believe that the snare and kick drum are the two most important components to your kit’s sound. I've covered snare drum tuning, now let’s get into some specifics on how to properly tune that kick drum.

Tuning your kick drum begins in the same way that you tune your toms. The bass drum is nothing more than a huge tom turned on its end. Most bass drums come standard with a logo head for its resonant side. For the batter side I would choose something that will define your sound the best. In my experience, the majority of studio sessions and typical live situations call for a nice low end punch.

The Back-Beat

The next time you’re in your vehicle or have your ear buds in, focus on the bass drum. The kick drum is the back-beat of the entire track. It’s what makes that ―oomph in your stomach. When the kick drum is thin and weak, the song has zero life to it. Ask any mixing engineer in the industry today and you’ll know the importance of a great sounding kick drum. No amount of EQ or compression will matter if the source isn’t great to begin with.

Lowest Possible Pitch

Like the snare, the kick drum requires a little more attention to detail. Muffling and head choices all contribute to the sound and feel of the drum. The more important aspect to a great sounding kick drum is the pitch.

When it comes to tuning the kick drum I use one simple, proven method that I learned years ago: tune to the lowest possible pitch. No matter what size kick drum you have, achieving the lowest possible pitch is simple:

  1. Position and seat the head the same way you would your toms. Using a criss-cross pattern, tighten each tension rod until there is a noticeable tone, while seating the head.
  2. Once seated and centered on the rim, press in the center of the drum head with your palm. While pressing on the head, begin turning each tension rod until a small wrinkle appears. Repeat this same step until you see wrinkles all the way around the head.
  3. Now, release your palm from the head and – Voilà! – the wrinkles disappear! This is the lowest possible pitch you can achieve out of your bass drum.

Repeat the same steps for the resonant or logo side of the drum. I typically keep the resonant side a bit lower in pitch than the batter side. Last, fine tune things by turning each rod every so slightly to make sure all wrinkles are smoothed out. Re-seat the head and repeat steps if needed.

That’s it! Tuning the bass drum to the lowest possible pitch is what gives it that bottom end it was designed for.