Advance Drum Tuning
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Advanced Drum Tuning

Dateline: 08/19/97

Last week we covered the recording of electric bass, this week we get into some advanced drum tuning techniques.

Tuning is the thing

Some of you use a house drum kit when you record. Whether it be your own kit or one you have access to, accurate tuning can make your recording experience a pleasant one. In an earlier feature we talked a bit about the importance of tuning drums. Now we get down to the meat and potatoes of tuning. I'm sure you've all heard the joke about the drummer who says "You mean you can tune these things?" It's the last thing a drummer learns if at all and it's THE most important thing in recording. If you have garbage as your source, even the best signal path won't help you.

I have to give all of the credit for the following information to the DW Drum Company. A student of mine compiled their data for a recording business presentation. I've just paraphrased it for you here.

Theory and Execution

Each shell of a drum kit has a resonant frequency. The frequency can be found by removing all the hardware, suspending the drum and tapping it to find the tone. This can then be matched to a tuning fork etc. as a tuning source. Once you find the resonant tone you use this to tune the drum heads.

The important thing is that no two drums of different sizes overlap each other's timbral frequency range. Ultimately you want a set that's matched in tone. The intervals far enough apart so the drums complement each other without the sympathetic vibrations causing problems. Bigger drums such as the kick and low tom should be a fifth apart where as you get smaller and smaller it can be a fourth apart. DW matches their drums in this way and sells the sets with complimentary midrange timbres and traditional intervallic relationships. However you can find the pitch of any drum in the way I described above.

Once the pitch is found you can then match the upper and lower heads to this pitch. Then using a precision tuning device such as the Drum Dial you pitch the upper head up and the lower head down a bit from the shell's pitch. This makes the drum heads ring with a sympathetic tone and have a desirable sustain and timbre. When you tune a whole kit in this fashion and memorize the settings on the drum dial, it's just a matter of keeping the kit maintained properly. It's science when you use the proper tools. I can't stress enough the importance of getting into recording on this ground level. You can't expect merely a knowledge of consoles and microphones to get you through a session. It's important to know a lot about guitars, drums, humans etc. to get you great results. Keep your eyes here for more info along these lines.

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