I can't get drum tuning down

Sloop John D

Junior Member
Hello everybody,

I'm a new drummer, and I just can't get tuning down. Everything seems to go fine until I get to the fine tuning part. I get the heads on, I hand tighten all the lugs, then I give each one about 1/4 turn or a 1/2 turn, going directly across for each one. All of this seems to go fine, but when I go around and try to fine tune each side to match, I can't get them even.

Everytime I turn one lug, the two lugs directly next to it change pitch. The lug is always about a whole step higher than the lugs next to it.

Can anyone explain what's going on? Is there something wrong with the head? Have I done something improperly?

Also, how important is it to have each corner completely even with each other? Will it be detrimental to the sound if some of them are slightly off?


Platinum Member
Tuning drums doesn't come overnight, easy. Be patient, and you'll get it. If 1/4 and 1/2 turns are getting you too much variation, go to 1/8 turns. Once you get a head space over a particular lug to where you want it to be, leave it alone. Use smaller turning increments on the lower pitched areas. And remember, you can loosen a tension rod, as well. Back off tension, to keep the head pitched where you want it. Watch some video's ..... there are plenty out there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl9wgXSfxew Find the approach that works for you.​


Pioneer Member
First two questions:

What kind of kit

what heads.

That video Harry posted is and excellent video here are a few others I've found that I like as well.

Also make sure you when you start tuning that you have the drum on a flat surface like a carpet or couch, something that will prevent the other head from resonating so you get the true pitch of the head you are working on. If you notice in the John Good video and the videos below they all do that.




Junior Member
Ahhh . . .tuning! As you get better, much of it will be personal choice. But start with this.

First, yes - you are doing it properly if you are moving back and forth across the drum as you go around.

Suggest you take the bottom heads off, get your top heads fairly tight, tuning to a tone you like. Too loose and your drum will sound flat, dead and dull. There should be some 'boing' and resonance to the tone. Boooooom !

Next, flip your drum over and place the bottom head and hoop on the shell, making sure it seats properly and evenly. Tighten the lugs finger tight all the way around, two at at time directly across from each other until they are as tight as you can get them with just your fingers.

Now - the hard part! gradually tighten the bottom head 1/4 turn at a time - going across and around as before - and check your sound after ALL lugs have been evenly tightened. Look across the hoop for any unevenness. Continue in very small increments 1/4 or even 1/8 of a turn at a time until the drum starts to come to life. The bottom head should 'round out' and resonate the tone you had with just the top heads.

I find my bottom heads are generally about 1/2 (maybe 2/3) as tight as the top heads. I usually find that I just need too tighten the bottom heads just a bit above finger tight to get them to sound great. Some drummers may prefer the bottom heads tighter (as tight as the top head), but again, you are looking for the 'natural' spot where the bottom head enhances the tone of the top head and is 'in synch' with it. If you go too tight on the bottom, you'll 'choke' the drum and get a very flat sound. If so back off to finger tight and start again. If you get it just right, your bottom head will resonate and add some bottom end to the tone and you'll get a full, round 'boom' that rings a bit.

Get them sounding properly 'wide open' and apply any muffling if you have to. (Hopefully not!)

For new heads, I recommend tightening way up first to loosen up the joint of the head into the hoop. You may hear the crackling of the glue. Then loosen completely off and start again. Just like breaking in guitar strings. You should expect to tighten up new heads a few times in your first few playing sessions.

Your bottom heads should be equal or usually lighter weight than your top heads. For example I play with Remo Pinstripes on the batter side, and Ambassador or Diplomats on the bottom.

Hope that helps! Let me know if that works for you.

Cheers, Kyle Miller


"Uncle Larry"
Buy a tune bot. It flattens the learning curve.

Other than that, assuming a round and true drum, all wonky tunings have one thing in common, uneven tension. All lugs must be exerting the same amount of tension, and the proper amount of tension, all the way around. Then there's the pitch relationship factor between the batter and the reso head. (reso looser than batter, reso same as batter, reso tighter than batter)

First you have to learn how to seat a head evenly before you get there. The less you turn the rods, the better it is, crucial in the beginning. Use 2 keys on opposite lugs and feel the tensions. Make them feel even. Move to the next 2 rods and make them feel like the first 2, and so on. You have to get it seated perfectly evenly very early at a low tension. A bad tuning usually has an uneven start. Heads should sing a pure tone, not one fraught with clashing overtones, when the opposite head is muted and the head is tapped 1 inch from a lug. With a finger touching the middle of the head you're tuning. All lugs need to sing the same harmonic note. Then you have to learn at which (perfectly even) tension you prefer your batter, and which tension you prefer your reso.

It's complicated.

The Black Page Dude

Senior Member
Practice makes perfect ... and it takes hours of tuning to "get" it ... some people have a better ear than others. But it is a skill you should hone like your rudiments.

Get your self a tension dial or tune bot ASAP.

There is a great read on the net called The Drum Tuning Bible .. it is a PDF you can download for free pretty much any where.

Good luck!
Hello everybody,

Everytime I turn one lug, the two lugs directly next to it change pitch. The lug is always about a whole step higher than the lugs next to it.
Once you reach the fine tuning stage, I would suggest using a reference pitch from something like an online keyboard or some other outside source that can generate a long lasting or continuous tone. Set it to generate a tone in the ballpark of what you're getting near your tension rods, and then tune each one to that pitch. Otherwise, if you're just trying to match each lug to its neighbor, you'll end up working in circles because every time you adjust one, the one next to it (that you're using as a reference) changes as well.

I made a short video demonstrating this method awhile back that you may find helpful. The link is in my signature below.

I'm planning on doing a couple more drum tuning videos in the near future as well, that go into more detail, since that one is pretty basic, with only limited text explanations. I'm definitely going to do one pointing out exactly what to listen for when determining if two pitches are in tune or not. I think anyone who's ever been frustrated by people telling them they need to "train their ears," but not telling them how to go about doing so, will find it useful.


Platinum Member
Best advice I have heard for someone getting used to tuning is to take the drum off its mounting to the set.

Loads easier....but be aware you might have to change your tuning later should loads of sympathetic vibrations appear when all the set is in its playing position...including cymbals.


The two main problems in my opinion are, the person has not yet been trained to hear and can not distinguish between two closely pitched tones. The second problem, the person trying to tune is working with too large increments when adjusting the tension rods, especially when getting each head in tune with itself.

Always think, Slowly and Evenly when tuning drums and learn to hear. As you become more experienced, the process becomes much less time consuming.The best money spent is not with a DrumDial or Tune Bot, it's incorporating profession instructions from a competent drum instructor. He or she can advise you in what to listen for and how to achieve it.