Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How To Tune A Snare Drum

I’m surprised at how many fellow drummers ask me the following question: How do you tune a snare drum? I don’t like it when I see someone playing a $500 snare drum that sounds like complete crap, so I am more than happy to help, when asked. Where do you start? I start at bottom and work my way up.
I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your heads fresh. I know that many musicians are “starving artists,” but the $30 you invest in heads for your snare is crucial for a good snare sound.

How To Tune A Snare Drum

  • Carefully flip your drum over, and place it on the snare stand. Put your strainer into the “loose” position and slide a stick under the wires so they do not touch the resonant head. Now you have freed up both hands to do the work of tuning.

  • Tap the head in a circular motion, one inch from the edge, just inside of each lug. That will give you an idea of which specific lugs are tuned higher then the others. Working your way up to a nice, tight resonant head is your goal.

  • Don’t be afraid to give that tuning key a ½ turn, after you find the lower tuned lugs. The goal is to get the entire “round” of lugs to sound the same. I like my bottom head tuned pretty tight. So do most other drummers.

  • Once you get the lugs to sound in tune with each other, turn the drum over, and turn the snare back on. Give your drum a few taps. Is it time to tune the top head? Most likely, you need to do the same steps on your top head. It doesn’t need to be tuned as high as the bottom head, and most good sounding snare drums have a tighter bottom head.

  • Tap the head one inch from the outer edge of the snare at each lug. Do the same tuning that you did for the bottom head. Try to get the “notes” to match each other. Most drummers like their snares to be tuned high enough to sound much like a timbale. Some drummers, such as Billy Ward, tune their snare pretty darn low. If you are a beginner, I would advise against that. Billy is so talented, that he can make just about any drum sound like gold.

  • Once you find a sweet sound from the top head, play the drum without the snare turned on. Do you like that sound? If yes, then we move on to the snare wires.

  • Start with loosened wires, engage the snare strainer and give the drum some taps. Work the strainer into a tighter position, test the sound. If the strainer seems to be double slapping, or buzzing too long after you hit it, keep turning that strainer until you hit the sweet spot.

  • Moon Gel and muffle rings are certainly something that may help you in reducing overtones. Start with the Moon Gel fully on the top head. If that’s too much, apply the Moon Gel to the edge of the skin, with part of it resting on the drum rim. Muffle rings are either on or off the drum. I love the Yamaha ring, as it’s not quite as wide as the Remo ring. Sometimes I make my own rings out of old skins. That way I can decide on the size, and thus muffle ability.

Lastly, try to take some time to tune your drums before the rest of the band arrives at your practice space, or before you leave for a gig. You are fooling yourself if you think that you can get a great sound while the guitar player is doing a screaming pre-show solo through the PA system. Nobody likes to hear a drummer tune his kit at the club. It’s very annoying.

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