Skip to main content

How to Tune Toms on a Drum Set

Learn how to tune toms from drum teacher Jason Gianni in this Howcast drum video.


I'm going to talk about the tuning for the toms. Now, I'm here with just one tom, but it's a pretty universal process with any tom that you're going to tune. As with any drum, it has a bottom head as well as a top head. The bottom head is called the resonant head, as it's supposed to resonate, and this is what we usually call the playing side head.

Typically, what I want to talk about, at first, is just what we do with the resonant head. Remember in order to tune, you're going to take your key and you're going to place it on top of the tension rod, and I usually tune it in what's called the star formation, where I start here, move to here, here, here, like this so that you don't tune down one side of the drum at the same time.

Normally, I would start with the resonant head because we want the resonant head to be in tune and fine-tuned before we put the playing side head on. Because this resonates, I normally in any style, and in any head I normally the resonant side head a little bit higher pitch, than the playing side head.

So, what I'm going to do now is sort of tweak this a little bit. Right now, I'm doing it by feel. I'm not doing by any sort of pitch or tune. Whenever you can fine-tune it in a way that you fine-tune is you take the finger. You would put it dead center of this, and tap over the opposite tension rods, like this.

That's pretty close in tune. This one might be a little bit higher. So, what I'll do is lightly tweak this and I'll even bring this down. And, there you go, it's in finer tune. You would do that across the drum until you strike it and don't get any sort of over-toneness from the head. As you turn the drum over and you work with the playing side head, for our rock style, you'll probably want to keep this relatively low so that you have a fatter tone from the playing side head, and a fuller or a warmer tone from the resonant side head.

If you're playing jazz, you're probably going to crank this up pretty well. In addition, for a rock style, you're going to use most of the time, a clear head. I'm using a style of head called the renal pin stripe, which is a two ply, or two layer head. Then, if I were to play jazz, I would probably use a white coated, something called an ambassador where it's single ply and we tune it up real strong.

Right now this head sounds pretty good in this position. That's because this is a little lower tune than what you have here. If I was going to play jazz, I would now tune each tension rod a lot higher. I'm going to go through this in the star formation again. Crank these up pretty well, again, mostly by feel for now. Then you can go through with the fine tuning process I just mentioned. Then you play this and you notice it's a much higher, twangier sound.

Now, it's going to be a little warmer than that if you have a white coated head, and if it's cranked up that high. That's generally the type of tone you want in that style. So try different things. Analyze the type of style you going to be playing in, and try different combinations and see what works.

Popular Categories