Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to tune a drum on the fly...











I’ve seen plenty of info on how to tune a drum. There are books out on the subject…what order the lugs should go in, top head higher or bottom head higher, how to properly seed the head onto the rim, so forth and so on…and all of this is important, and informational, and educational, and whatever. Here’s the problem…sometimes I don’t have time to calibrate each lug to be the exact tension of every other lug on the drum or to tune the toms a major third apart. The reality is that in a live setting you often will not have time to get your “perfect” drum sound, but you do need to know the steps for getting an acceptable drum sound. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but at least it won’t sound like you’re hitting a three inch thick piece of cardboard. Let me set the stage for you…

You arrive late to the outside festival the artist your backing is booked to play. There are 6,431 bands that have to play in an eight hour span of time on the same stage. Ya’ll will be group # 2,346. The backline has been provided (i.e. there’s a drumset already there, you just need to bring your sticks, snare, and cymbals.) and you’ve been given 15 minutes to shove the other band off of the stage, make adjustments to the kit, and count the band off. Only problem is, the kit sounds like a bad dream….no, worse than a bad dream…the toms sound so bad that the guitar player is puking in the corner…ok, maybe not that bad, but they’re bad. To confound the issue, they’ve got Beyonce blaring in the system to entertain the masses while the band switch is taking place so you can’t hear a thing. This is a daunting situation. Even if the drumset sounded pristine, it would still be a stressful set change.

In this situation you don’t need to guess at getting a good sound out of the toms…you need a step-by-step guide for getting an acceptable sound out of them…and I’m gonna do my best to provide you with just that. This has saved me countless times…

Step 1: Take the tom off of the tom mount and place it with one head resting on the seat of the drum throne or on your knee, as in picture #1.

Step 2: You need to have a general sonic range that you want the tom to be in (if you’re playing a jazz set you may want the toms high with great attack…a rock set, you may want them lower and boomy, etc.). We’ll now choose a primary lug…this will be the sound that all of the other lugs will need to match. Pick the lug closest to you, place your ear about two inches away from it, and tap that lug about half an inch away from the rim while simultaneously muffling the bottom head with the throne or your knee so that you get only the sound from one head (picture #2). Do this quickly with several of the lugs until you find one that is close to where you’d like the tom to sound…if there isn’t one that’s acceptable, quickly tighten or untighten one to the general range you’re looking for. Presto, you have your primary sound. Begin to hum that pitch to yourself and…

Step 3: …Go to the lug directly across the drum from that primary lug and tap (Picture #3). Tighten or untighten until it sounds similar to the primary. This should take about 5-10 seconds. We’re not trying for studio quality here…MOVE IT!!!

Step 4: Next, go clockwise or counter clockwise…picture #4…(we don’t have time to worry about directions…just pick one!) and repeat steps 2 and 3. Once you’ve chosen a direction, stick with it until you’ve tuned all of the lugs to the sound of the primary lug.

Step 5: Hum the tone of your primary lug to yourself while you flip the drum over and set the other head on the throne or your knee for muffling. Repeat steps 1-4 and then move onto the next drum.

The goal is to get all of the lugs sounding within the same sonic range on one head. If all of the lugs are tightened to a similar sound, you’ll end up with an acceptable sounding drum…it won’t be your ideal sound, but it will at least sound like a drum…a tuned drum.

This works even with loud music blaring, just get your ear super close to the drum and hum loudly. I’ve tuned a drum in less than a minute using this method. Would I use this to prepare my drums for a studio session…absolutely not!!! But under the circumstances you need to sound professional, and this is a sure fire way to do that.

Now hurry up and count the band off, times up…

8 comments:

Jim Barnes said...

enjoying the posts Stephen...keep it up and good luck with your music!

Audiyo said...

Jim! Great to hear from you...I'm glad you're enjoyin the stuff on here...I'm workin out some kinks but it's comin along. Hope all's well on your side of the world!

Kraig said...

Stephen,
In loud situations be sure to plug one ear when you hum. You will hear the pitch much better.

Audiyo said...

Great point! I just thought back and I do that naturally without realising it...Also, I find wearing one earplug achieves the same thing.

John Wooton said...

Those drums look very familiar.

Audiyo said...

Hehehe...um...no comment...LOL...why use new when the old work and sound great!

Kurtis said...

hey, how bout some tips on how you WOULD prep your kit for a studio session?

Audiyo said...

That's a GREAT discussion as well. It varies from session to session (some producers have specific preferences, but once you get to know them and what they like it's not that bad.).

I'll put a post together and try to have it up in the next week or so. If you've got anything else you'd like to read about, please let me know!

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