Following on from the previous article ‘Tips for tuning drums‘ which gives a simple step-by-step approach, here are some further tips you might like to consider…
Before you buy the new drum skins…
Do a bit of research into the type of drumhead you want to buy. Did your old drum skins need replacing because they were damaged? Does your playing style suit the choice of drumhead? If you are a heavy-hitter you might want to consider buying a head that will last longer. If you have a particular sound you want to achieve you might want to go for something a little more unusual/specialist. Ask other drummers, drum teachers and people working in drum shops for their advice (but be aware that you might get a lot of conflicting opinions). The manufacturers’ websites are usually pretty comprehensive with good descriptions of their products.
Check out the following websites for research (other drumhead manufacturers are available!).
Aquarian Drumheads – http://www.aquariandrumheads.com/
Evans Drumheads – http://www.evansdrumheads.com/
Remo – http://www.remo.com/
Inspect the new skin carefully. Look for for damage, consistency and flatness of the rim. If it has been dropped or damaged, return it to the shop. This is easier if you’re buying from an actual music shop, but if you buy online via mail order be sure to satisfy yourself that the seller is reputable and won’t send you damaged goods. Check their returns policy before buying in case you do end up having to return the drumhead.
Putting on the new head
One you’ve removed the old head, put a small amount of petroleum jelly or grease on the threads of the lugs to help prevent wear on the threads. It also helps the lugs turn nice and smoothly.
Place the drumhead on the drum, positioned such that the logo is at the top, facing you. Replace the hoop and ‘finger tighten’ the lugs.
Using your drum key, tighten each lug, going clockwise, opposite lug to opposite lug. This is the same process as described in the original article. Tighten until all the wrinkles have been removed and you start to get some tone out of the drum. Do not tighten any more at this stage. Although the head will not be in-tune, it should start to sound like a drum.
The next stage is to ‘seat’ the head. This allows the drumhead to stretch to an optimum position over the drum’s bearing edge. To do this, use the palm of your hand and apply fairly large amounts of pressure to the surface of the drumhead. This is not recommended if you are using animal skin, but this article assumes you are using the regular plastic type skins can be purchased from standard shops. The plastic skins may ‘crackle’ as you seat them – this is normal.
When the drumhead has been tightened to a point where the head can only be pressed in a small amount it is time to even out the tuning. It is important to mute the opposite drum skin (the drumhead on the other side of the drum) to stop it resonating and confusing the tone. Your drumhead might be too tight at this stage, but it is easier to tune down from here once the skin is evenly tuned. In fact, some people advocate tuning the drum up as high as it will possibly go as a method for seating the drumhead. The idea here is that a drumhead ‘cranked up’ to the maximum and left overnight is better than using your hands to stretch the drum skin. Both methods work – although the ‘cranking up’ method does require that you have the spare time to leave the drum overnight. You shouldn’t play a drum that’s been left ‘cranked up’ – you need to tune it down to the right skin tension for playing before using the drum.
The ‘tap’ test
For fine-tuning, tap the head about 2 inches from each lug. The tone you hear should be equal across the drum. You will probably find that one or two lugs are slightly high or low. If the tone of a particular lug is slightly low, tighten it by an eighth-turn. Adjust this way until it is at the same tone as the 2 surrounding lugs. You can find that you will be extremely fussy with this, and it can go on and on until the lugs sound exactly equal. My advice would be don’t spend too long being over-obsessive with this. Get it fairly close, but tiny adjustments won’t make a lot of difference considering you hit the centre of the drum most of the time.
Some potential problems can still occur, even if you’ve followed all the points above. If you get mystery buzzes or rattles when you strike your newly-headed drums, check it’s none of the following…
- Is the drum mounted properly on its stand? Check the toms are spaced so they are not touching other drums or stands.
- Has something accidentally got trapped inside the drum? A loose washer or bolt might be bouncing around inside. There’s no option but to take the skin off again and clean out the inside of the drum.
- Trouble getting the pitch of the toms correct? As a very rough guide, the toms should be pitched a third apart. They don’t need to be tuned to specific notes (unless you want to), but you could use a piano or guitar to help assign the pitch of the toms.
Please feel free to post your comments or questions relating to this article, or any of the other blog articles. We are a friendly bunch of drum teachers who enjoy being able to help out. If you have enjoyed reading our blog and you are thinking about learning drums, please get in touch to discuss your requirements for drum lessons