Great Drum Tuning Article

In Drum Building Resources, Drummer resources, General Updates by PhilipLeave a Comment

I recently came across a great article about drum tuning technique that I wanted to share. This is a very in-depth explanation of some of the techniques I use to tune my own drums. If you follow Tomas’s directions you’ll have great sounding drums in no time.

Check it out the full article here –

Here is a very interesting section from the article.

The pitch of the shell

   This will impact the tuning dramatically. Each shell will vibrate at a certain frequency. You can determine that frequency by picking up the shell without heads, holding it loosely, and striking it with a soft mallet (you can also do this with the heads on, striking the shell with your knuckle, but it’s harder to hear the tone the shell produces without some practice). When the head is being tuned, try starting at a low pitch and gradually increasing the tension (make sure the head remains tuned to itself during this process). You’ll notice that some pitches ring right out, while others seems dead. What’s happening is the resonant frequency of your shell (the frequency at which the shell vibrates) will either contribute to the vibration of the head, or else it will cancel it out. It’s basic wave physics:


Complimentary Waves


Out of Phase


   The object is to find those pitches where the shell and head will work together within a range. There should be more than one (maybe even three or four), depending on the quality of the shell.

The pitch of the opposing head

   This is very important. Add another wave to the images above, and you get the picture of the complexity a bottom head can bring to the picture. For this reason, some folks just don’t use a bottom head. However, the bottom head – if used right – can be an important tool in creating and developing your sound.

   You have three options when it comes to the tuning of the bottom head:

  • The same pitch as the top head.
  • A higher pitch than the top head.
  • A lower pitch than the top head.

   Each of these options produces a different sound. It’s important to remember when raising or lowering the pitch of the bottom head relative to the top head that only a slight variance is necessary! If the two heads are too far appart in pitch, they will cancel each other out and the sound will be dead.

The two heads the same pitch

   This will produce a warm, round tone with lots of sustain. “Bong.” The attack can be sharp (depending on the tension of the batter head), and the decay will be long, with no variation in pitch as the sound dies. Overtones are usually not affected.

The bottom head lower than the top head

   The decay and sustain are diminished somewhat, the sound is rounder, and the tone deeper – even if the pitch is the same (remember, when you raise or lower the pitch of one head relative to the other, the pitch of the entire drum – when struck while suspended – will either raise or lower. To keep the pitch the same, you will have to change the opposing head in the other direction). The pitch will remain constant through the decay. Overtones are minimized a bit.

The bottom head higher than the top head

   Here’s where things get interesting! The effect is similar to bottom head lower in terms of sustain and overall tone, but the pitch of the drum will drop somewhat through the decay! This is how you get that cool “bwow” sound! (There is another way to do this – see Special Effects below). Overtones are minimized a bit.

   Rob Varro, drummer and educator from Ontario Canada, e-mailed me and explained why this happens:

   When you strike the top head of a drum, the air inside the drum is immediately compressed. This causes the bottom head to resonate. The top head, for a fraction of a second, is muted slightly by the stick contact. Therefore the bottom head actually produces a full tone before the top head. So if the bottom head is tuned higher than the top head, you will indeed hear the pitch of the bottom head first, followed closely by that of the top head, giving the effect of a pitch bend or “bwow” (I love that word).

   Thanks, Rob!

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