Drum Tuning Tips

It’s been my experience that many drummers both young and old have a real lack of knowledge when it comes to tuning their drums. A properly-tuned drumset will not only sound good, but it will also motivate the drummer to want to practice and play more. It’s kind of like the difference between driving a old beat-up clunker and racing around in a new sportscar. Keeping this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to share my own method for tuning drums:

  1. Remove the drum from it’s stand and remove the old head/s.
  2. Seat the new head on the drum.
  3. Place the counterhoop (the metal hoop that holds the head on) over the head, replace the tension rods, and finger-tighten them two at a time (one across from the other) as tight as you can. Again–use only your fingers–do not use a drum key just yet.
  4. After finger-tightening, use a drum key to begin tightening each rod 1/4th of a turn, moving from one rod to the next in a similar pattern to that of tightening the lug nuts when changing a tire (see Figure 1 below).
  5. When the head begins to tighten up a bit, use the eraser end of a pencil to tap on the head, in about 1 inch from the edge of the head at each tension rod. You will hear a slightly different pitch at each lug. If the pitch is higher than most of the other lugs, loosen the tension rod a little and try again. If the pitch is too low, tighten it a little and try again. Continue this process until the pitch is the same at each lug.
  6. At this point you may also want to strike the head with a stick until the sound of the drum reaches the desired pitch and the head reaches the desired tension (tight heads are more responsive, let your sticks bounce higher and faster, and have a higher pitch, while loose heads are less responsive, and have a lower pitch).
  7. Continue tapping with the pencil, and adjusting the tension until you’re pleased with the sound of the drum and the tension of the head.
  8. Mount the drum back on it’s stand, and you’re ready to rock!
Typical Drum-Tuning Patterns

Typical Drum-Tuning Patterns

Instead of tapping on the head with a pencil (which can be a long and painstaking process), you can also use a drum-tuning device, such as the Drum Dial. The Drum Dial is placed on the head, in about an inch from each of the lugs, and gives you a readout of the tension of the head at that lug. This makes it way easy to get each lug tuned consistently. I began using a Drum Dial about 2 years ago, and I’ve been extremely happy with the results that I get from it. It’s proven to be a huge timesaver for me. The Drum Dial also includes a handy chart with recommended tensions for both the batter and resonant heads for a variety of different sizes of drums.

When it comes to tuning toms and floor toms, some people try to tune them to specific notes, or in steps. But I’ve always found that each drum usually has a specific pitch where it really sings, so I don’t usually bother trying to tune in steps. I just work on each drum one at a time until I think it sounds good and the tension is about right, and leave it at that.

Remember, tuning drums is somewhat of an art and a science that takes a lot of practice and time to master. Just experiment with these steps until you find the way that works best for you and “stick” with it.


  1. Pearl Drums says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! This helped out a bunch! Thanks a million. This article is a great help to us.

  2. Adam r Henderson says:

    Wow. Just the things I wanted to know.
    Answered before I really knew what questions to be asking!
    Thank you so much for your helpful insight & vast knowledge of this new fangled venture of mine
    I will certainly “stick” with it!
    Drums. :). Thanks again!!!

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