What factors influence how you tune the drums?

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
I was chatting with some fellow drummers the other day, and one of them mentioned how odd it was that drummers who are really "into" gear generally tend to like higher tunings on their drums. I thought this was an interesting observation. We chatted more, and noticed a few other things:

1. New drummers like their drums to be very dry/muffled (probably because it sounds more like recordings)

2. Rock drummers and bashers like lower tunings, usually JAW is preferred, as it makes the drums sound "bigger".

3. Jazz drummers like higher tunings because it allows the quieter notes to have a more pleasing sound than a medium or low tuning.

Thoughts?
 

Coldhardsteel

Gold Member
I would argue against the third point. I'm fond of playing quieter music, and I tune my drums to a tension lower than most jazz musicians. My drums sound good to my ear no matter what dynamic I play at.

I'll agree with the first one, though. I was a part of that segment that muffled their drums because it sounded like what I heard when I listened to some of my music. Then I came across so much overwhelming evidence for the opposite that I looked into acoustics myself and revamped my whole approach to the subject.
 

Fuo

Platinum Member
I was chatting with some fellow drummers the other day, and one of them mentioned how odd it was that drummers who are really "into" gear generally tend to like higher tunings on their drums. I thought this was an interesting observation. We chatted more, and noticed a few other things:

1. New drummers like their drums to be very dry/muffled (probably because it sounds more like recordings)

2. Rock drummers and bashers like lower tunings, usually JAW is preferred, as it makes the drums sound "bigger".

3. Jazz drummers like higher tunings because it allows the quieter notes to have a more pleasing sound than a medium or low tuning.

Thoughts?
Being a relatively new drummer, I'll add that another reason is that we're usually just sitting in our basement alone working on exercises, usually very slowly. So we don't care that the overtones help the sound to cut through, or get lost over distance, or in the mix. All that really matters to most new players is the sound from the driver's seat.

Also, when working on exercises slowly you hear every little thing, and that can get annoying if you don't like the way it sounds. Dry, muffled sounds (drums or cymbals) are great when learning new things imo because you can hear how you're lining things up more clearly.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
I always tune to the situation, changing heads as required, bringing different size kicks & toms, and different snares as required. The particular band, venue, or a specific sound required dictates what I do.

I also adhere to certain rules. A gig needing more volume or presence will generally result in all drums being tuned higher, and I generally tend to tune lower for recordings, but neither rule is written in stone. Every band, venue and particular sound desired will affect what I bring and how I tune.

Bermuda
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
I started working in a drum part, part time after school, in high school. The store manager was great at tuning drums, and every kit on the floor was tuned up to sound it's best. So I was exposed to great sounding drums from the start.

Although it was the late 80's, so at the same time, I was used to hearing everything with pinstripe heads, and tons of reverb.

As time goes one:

Two recording come to mind when I'm thinking about drum tunings:
Mike Portnoy on Dream Theater's "Awake" album, because there is a lot of attack.
Kenny Arnoff on John Cougars "Scarecrow" album, because the drum sound is everything: tons of attack, lots of low end, and yet clear as day and not muddy. I could only wish I could accomplish that kind of sound with any consistency.

Although most bands I've been in didn't really need either of those sounds.

More recently, I'm slowly working on an album of songs with a buddy, and I'm finding myself wanting to change around the sounds depending on the vibe of the song. So i'm getting into a lot of experimenting with "what happens if I..."
 

Big Foot

Silver Member
I tune them a little on the high side of medium (for Oak Customs) because I find I hear them better when I play w/others. Tuned to low, w/ no ring left in them, most drum sounds are lost when not mic'd. I don't record and don't gig very often. The tuning is really just for us in our practice space.
My bop kit is tuned high as per yer typical old school jazz drum sound - love it.
 

alparrott

Platinum Member
It always kills me to hear a beautiful set of drums that probably sounds great to the naked ear, sitting on the drum throne, played live against a couple of Marshall stacks and a nice 4x10 bass rig. The toms end up sounding like cardboard and the backbeat gets lost in the shuffle.

I use smaller drums and tune them a bit higher when I play live. I muffle very, very little - a rolled-up T-shirt in the bass drum, maybe a Zero Ring on my very live steel snare - and I tune for sustain and resonance. This gets me ringing and a little snare buzz when I'm alone. But then I slip on my isolation headphones and the drums sound far more like what I would hear out front - full, deep, throaty, and able to project through a wall of muddy midrange. Experience and live recordings have borne out my conclusions time and again.

To hear my drums on their own, I'm sure I would sound like your jazz guy, higher tuned drums, a little ringing, some overtones. And sure, when I go to record, I tune it a little lower sometimes, and I might slap some Zero Rings and Moongel here and there to tame things. But I also love the big sound a live room gives my drums, and often my preferred method is a single stereo dynamic mic about eight feet away, catching the room sound of my set, with few changes to the drums themselves.

I take a lot of clues from the pioneers and masters, who very instinctively knew how to get the sound they wanted out of any drum or cymbal, without digital compression or triggers or esoteric heads or drum dials. They worked on their technique and playing to make the drums sound sweet. Jason Bonham has told the story of his dad coming in and playing his little kid-sized drumset - and making it sound very very similar to his full-sized Bonzo tubs. There's something in the hands, the feet, and the soul that can't be got with a tuning key, IMO.

My final thought on this, and I speak as a multi-instrumentalist - tuning is crucial to even play a melodic instrument correctly, and it's one of the first things you learn to do as a guitar or horn player, for instance. But it's one of those things that many drummers don't know about their instrument at all. And sometimes I shrug my shoulders and idly wonder why that is.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
As for me, I have found that I have "evolved" from tuning the drums lower to tuning them into the medium range. I'll tune to whatever the gig is, but I hardly ever tune JAW anymore. The jazz guys I've talked with say that the higher tuning is more sensitive at quiet dynamics. I can see that, but once you lay into them, they sound choked. My personal experience has shown that a medium tuning will give you the most variety and dynamic range--imagine that! However, a medium tuning will also tend to get "lost" in a lot of acoustic situations, so I tune up for those, and *occasionally* tune down, depending on the venue and, quite frankly, how I'm feeling that moment.

I'm doing a lot less hard rock gigs, and more classic rock/jazz/world music gigs. I've almost lost my taste for the low rock tunings, although I still like to rock out on a rock-tuned kit. I don't know. Just rambling, myself. What else do you guys got?
 

keep it simple

Platinum Member
I suppose I take a different view to most. I select the drum size, material, bearing edges, etc according to the sound I want, select the heads that allows that to happen, then tune the drum according to it's sweet spot. I never change the tuning to suit the environment, even though I know I probably should. The only exception is the kick drum. Small ported reso head for mic applications, unported & tuned a little tighter for acoustic. Funny thing is, I've always done that, from day one on kit. Even in the early 80's, I was using light heads & tuning to the shell sweet spot, when everyone else was hydraulics, JAW & gaffer tape. I played a picollo snare in the same period too. I never evolved. From a tuning POV, that's a good thing imo, from a playing pov, probably my biggest regret. I just got better at playing the same crap.
 

Pollyanna

Platinum Member
Yep, when I was young I had pin stripes on my toms and dampened them as well. Part of it was to make up for poor tuning, part of it was because the sound guys always bolstered the sound so there was no motivation to change.

These days I tune for my kit and my band's style. With my lugging-friendly RT Gig Kit it's all a workaround, anyway.

I've tuned the 12" tom JAW so I have a deep voice to use, apart from the 16' kick which I also compensate for by tuning low and using a Vater Vintage Bomber beater. I tune the 8" tom tight so I have a bright voice in there. I don't use the 10".

No dampening - those little drums need all the help they can get :)
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I agree on Caddy on all 3 points. I haven't really run into many guys, the ones who are really into their gear, tuning higher, so I'm neutral there. I do wish JAW tunings would go out of style. I've had enough of slack tuned drums especially snares. I really think rock and roll drum styles sound awesome with medium and higher tunings. When drums are tuned JAW...some frequencies are so low they're lost...where if you crank those drums up a little, now some of the lower frequencies become audible and you have a whole different timbre that takes some getting used to. There are actually more audible frequencies, so you are using the drum more efficiently, but the frequencies are in a higher range. The thing is, twenty feet away, higher tuned unmuffled drums sound plenty low. It's almost an illusion at the driver seat. They sound way different further away

I tune my drums, to what sounds like from the drivers seat, medium to medium tight, and I'm realizing that they still sound tuned too low on recordings (where the mic is 15 feet away). So I'm going to be experimenting tuning even higher.

Drums sound lower than you think when they're tuned high is my point I guess.

I'm imprinted to hear jazz drums as being tuned higher. So that's what I expect with jazz.

I definitely prefer an unmuffled higher tuned drum for any music, rock to jazz and everything in between. In my little mind it's not the style of the music that dictates the tuning, it's the physics of the drum. Drums sound best tuned xyz. After that, play whatever music you want with it.

You play jazz and rock with the same tuning on a guitar, right? Why should a drum be any different?
 

keep it simple

Platinum Member
In my little mind it's not the style of the music that dictates the tuning, it's the physics of the drum. Drums sound best tuned xyz. After that, play whatever music you want with it.

You play jazz and rock with the same tuning on a guitar, right? Why should a drum be any different?
As in my post, + 1 from me Larry, although we're in the minority, & probably a little drum centric selfish.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
You play jazz and rock with the same tuning on a guitar, right? Why should a drum be any different?
Sometimes. You can tune to drop D, or even de-tune the entire guitar down a whole step to get a darker tone. That was the cool thing to do in hardcore bands in the early 90s.

Also, different styles can use different parts of the neck. When I do jazz comping, I play the four high strings from the middle of the neck on up. Playing for church worship usually involves playing open "campfire chords" towards the headstock.

For the record, I tend to tune for the room more than the style, but there are some people I play with that want a certain tuning range, and since they help to pay the bills, I'll help by giving them the sound they want...
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
That's why I tune them high- so I can just touch them and get a sound. Lower tunings just don't speak at the levels I usually have to play these days. I'm not doing a whole lot of it of late, but in higher volume/funkier/songwriter situations I drop the bass drum and floor tom, and leave the small tom fairly high, unless the music calls for something different. I tune the snare in the middle- not high, not low- and use an Evans ST head, which has better definition at low volumes than my traditional unmuffled coated Ambassador. I never muffled the bass drum until recently- a Muffl (or whatever they're called) helps keep it nicely balanced with the other drums. One of these days I'll go back to just using unmuffled Ambassadors on both sides of my BD- that's a rocking sound.

I wouldn't say I'm into gear- I'm into getting a sound that I can use and that's about it.
 

Kenny Allyn

Senior Member
In my little mind it's not the style of the music that dictates the tuning, it's the physics of the drum. Drums sound best tuned xyz. After that, play whatever music you want with it.

Pretty much sums it up at least the way I see it ... the natural "sweet spot" on my drums sits a little higher than the typical rock set as the sizes are 10,12,14,and 20 un muffled and using Remo coated Emperors on the batter side, they still tend to sound plenty deep and punchy 20 feet out. Where I do make a change is in the snare I use and the cymbals I choose. I have several snares tuned to different pitches, actually mostly by using various depths of the drum from 3.5 to 6.5 deep with head tensions remaing similar on all but my Supra that is tuned low, warm and thumpy. Different cymbal weights and sizes depending on the situation ... but that is another subject for another time.
 
Top