Before we even get to tuning there are a few things you will want to have in order to tune: a drum key to turn the lugs, dampers or rings, and a drum stick. Notice that I did not say you needed a drum tuner. Drum tuners like the drumdial are not bad. They are great tools, but being able to tune drums without the drumdial is more important, and they don’t always play well with textured heads.
What are dampers or rings? Well dampers, often colloquially called moongel after the most popular company who creates it, is a substance that can be placed on the drums in different amounts at different places on the drum. The goal of this is to give a jiggly place for the ringing and overtones inherent in every drum a place to get absorbed and disappear. Sound is just waves moving through stuff — air, water, steel beams, drum heads, etc. The high frequencies will get absorbed and loose a lot of their energy when put into something that is not under tension (jiggly, or wiggly, or loose stuff). Rings are plastic rings of different diameters, thicknesses, and widths that accomplish the same thing through resting on top of the drum head and absorbing the overtones through a similar acoustic principal.
No amount of moongel or drum rings will make up for lack of proper tuning! Every drum will ring, and every drum will have overtones in it after being tuned properly. These are to reduce those frequencies, not to make up for lack of tuning. Tuning is the most important. For this book we used an Evans E Ring on the snare and Aquarius Studio Rings on the toms.
This is an example of why Tuning is so important. These are the same microphones, at the same settings, at the same placement.
Snare Untuned with rings:
Snare Tuned with rings:
The first thing about almost every drum is that you want to make sure the whole drum is in tune together. This means we want at least similar tension for all of the different lugs. The best way to check this is to gently tap around and between each lug making sure that all of the taps sound the same and create the same tone. This means that you are going to want to go in a star or “cross” pattern tuning the lugs not in a circular fashion. If there are an odd number of lugs, skip one and tune every other, until all of the lugs have been tightened.
There is no one tuning for every drum set and drummer. Some drummers will disagree about the tuning on a single set, but just so long as you know the sound you or your drummer is going for before tuning, these tips and guides will get you where you need to go.
Another tip is to place a finger in the middle of the drum when listening to tunings and for overtones. This will eliminate your primary tone, and halve to distance that waves can travel. Thus we can hear the overtones and the slight differences more clearly, because the primary tone is less viable and indeed very difficult to hear.