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How to Tune a Drum Kit in 6 Steps

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 16, 2020 • 2 min read

Tuning is an important part of caring for any instrument—even unpitched instruments like drums—because it ensures that that the instrument doesn’t sound flat or sharp. If you're new to drumming, this guide will walk you through the steps of the drum kit tuning process.



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Why Is It Important to Tune Your Drums?

A standard drum kit is comprised of a snare drum, a kick drum, a hi-hat, tom drums, and cymbals, each of which (the cymbals aside) can be tuned to different unfixed pitches. Regular drum tuning essential to prevent unwanted overtones or play a particular style of music that calls for a specific pitch.

How to Tune Drums in 6 Steps

There is no right or wrong way to tune a drum set, and each expert has their own technique for doing so. These step-by-step tips give a general overview of drum tuning, and you can use them for any drum set.

  1. Purchase a drum tuner. Drums aren't tuned to a specific pitch, so many experienced drummers tune their drums by ear. However, if you’re a novice drummer, it’s worth investing in a drum tuner to help you out.
  2. De-tension the drum head. Drum sets typically have two types of heads—the batter head (top head) and the resonant head (bottom head). Turn the tension rods on the side of the drum counter-clockwise until the heads are loose. Wipe down the heads and clean the bearing edge (where the edge of the drum shell meets the skin). Once cleaned, replace the drum heads and screw the tension rods back in.
  3. Tighten the head. Using a drum key, tighten the tension rods on the side of the drum. Turn each tension rod the same amount of times, either a half-turn, full turn, or more. You'll want to tune the lugs in a crisscrossing pattern: For example, if your starting point is 12 o'clock, the next rod to tighten is at 6 o'clock. Then move to 3 o'clock, followed by 9 o'clock and so forth. Once the drum heads are secure, you can adjust the pitch by tightening or loosening the tension rods. For a higher pitch, tighten the rods clockwise. For a lower pitch, loosen the rods counter-clockwise. Use the drum tuner to gauge the tension of each lug.
  4. Check the pitch of the drum and re-adjust. Chances are you'll need to play around and fine-tune the tension rods until you reach your desired pitch. Slap the drum head after turning each tension rod, both in the center and an inch or two from the rim. Tighten or loosen the tension rods until it sounds right to the ear.
  5. Dampen your drums. Dampening, or muffling, gives your drum sound a purer tone without overtones or unwanted pitches. Spreading a dampening gel on your snare head, floor tom, or other drums can help achieve this. You can also use a cloth, an old drum head, or a pillow for your bass drum.
  6. Repeat. Repeat these steps with all the drums in your kit.
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