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Bill Powelson's School of Drums

 Back to the Tempo Dispatch Archives  

 Issue #12___\__\__\__\__\__________/__/__/__/__/ December 97


                        TABLE OF CONTENTS
                     What is in this issue?
               1. Feature Article: Tuning Tips
               2. Humorous Story of the Month


                        FEATURE  ARTICLE

                       *** Tuning Tips ***

     It is that time of year again and many of you will hopefully
  be surprised to find the drumset of your dreams under the tree
  on Christmas morning. It only seems appropriate that this months
  feature article should offer a few tips to help get them tuned to

      I contend that even the cheapest drums may be tuned to your
  satisfaction. The secret is in knowing how to get the sound that
  you want. When tuning a drumset, you must know what tones you are
  looking for and how to pull those tones from each drum. I have
  assembled the following pointers to help you do just that.

       Look closely at your snare drum and try to decide exactly what
  factors most effect the tonal quality.

      Notice the 'square headed screws' around the top and bottom
  rims of the Drum. We call these ‘tension rods' or 'lug screws'.
  We may tighten or loosen these screws with a tool called a drum key.
  A drum key can be purchased at any music store for a dollar or two.
  Most new drum sets are shipped with one or more drum keys.
      Adjustments to the tension rods with a drum key will effect the
  tension on the Drumhead. A tight Drumhead will produce more bounce
  for the Drumsticks and a higher pitch, whereas less tension on the
  head will produce the opposite. A little experimentation will help
  you decide which you personally prefer.
      Be cautious when adjusting the lug screws around any drumhead
  so as not to warp either the drumhead or the rim. Do not over-tighten
  one screw while leaving another very loose. It is best to tighten the
  lug screws in a diagonal crisscross pattern around the head. Cautiously
  turn each tension screw an equal number of turns until you have
  achieved the desired amount of tension.

     Now turn your snare drum over and look at the strands of wire
  underneath. We call these wires ‘snares'. The ‘snares' produce the
  ‘snap' sound and give the ‘snare' drum its name. Without these ‘snares'
  your drum will sound like a tom tom. The snare wires are usually
  connected on one side of the drum with a screw apparatus and a flip
  lever. The flip lever on most drums is usually designed to release the
  snares quickly, so that tom effects can be an tonal option. The screw
  apparatus called the ‘strainer' may be tightened to place the desired
  amount of tension on the snares. This will require some experimentation
  before you will discover the exact tone you prefer.

       After tuning both heads and adjusting the Strainer you may find
  that your Snare Drum still emits undesirable 'ring' or 'overtone' when
  struck a glancing blow with a drumstick. Too much vibration in the
  'batter' (top) head will often cause this overtone, and some type of
  muffling device may be  necessary.


     A drum muffler is simply a screw device that places a felt
  pad against the batter head inside the drum. The muffler is usually
  equipped with a flip lever or turn screw that allows for easy external
  adjustment. Most snare drums come from the factory with a muffler
  installed, but almost any music store will install one for twenty or
  thirty dollars (per drum). Again it is up to you to decide whether you
  like your drum with or without a muffler.

      Dead Ringers are thin ovals usually made of mylar. They may
  be laid on top of a drum.  These mylar ovals will help control unwanted
  vibrations in the outer perimeter of the drum head.  I think 'Dead Ringer'
  is a brand name.  There are other similar devices made by different
  companies that serve the same purpose just as well.

      Many drummers over the years have come up with their own methods
  of controlling unwanted ring or overtones.  One method is to simply
  place a solid object, like a wallet on the batter head.  This works,
  if you can get the wallet to remain stationary while playing.

      It is also quite common to stretch strips of cloth across and
  beneath the head, between the rim and the shell of the drum.  The main
  problem with this idea is that the cloth strips can't be quickly

      If you are still dissatisfied with your tone at this point, you
  should look at the batter head (top). Batter heads are manufactured
  at varied thicknesses or weights ranging from thin to thick. Thin
  heads are designed for very light, snappy, crisp tonal qualities but
  have a tendency to break under heavy use. Thick drumheads will withstand
  a great deal of punishment but some tonal quality will be sacrificed.
  The choice is yours. You may need to experiment with several brands
  and types before deciding which works best for you.

                        TUNING THE TOMS

       Now that you have your snare drum tuned to perfection, we will
  tune the remainder of the set. Begin with the smallest tom . . .it
  will often be situated directly next to and a little above or even
  flush with the Snare.  This should be your highest pitched tom since
  it is the smallest. The larger toms should be graduated in both tone
  and size in clockwise fashion, around you.
       When tuning your toms, try first to imagine all the
  tones you want. Then seek to achieve those tones. Remember that tight
  heads produce higher tones and loose heads produce lower ones. You
  may wish to experiment with combinations of tight top heads, loose
  bottoms for one effect or vice versa for the opposite. Some drummers
  choose to eliminate the bottom tom heads completely. Search for the
  sound that you like. Drum mufflers will help eliminate any undesirable
  ‘ring' or 'overtones' in your toms. Many high tech solutions to tom
  tone have appeared on the market in recent years. Experiment with some
  of the following options:

     1. Black Dot: This is a tom head designed with a double thickness
     of head material in the center of the drum. The double thickness
     tends to eliminate some 'overtones' and enhance the life of the
     2. Pinstripe: Pinstripe heads have a double thickness of head
     material around the outer perimeter of the drum where most
     overtones occur. I prefer this type of head.
     3. Hydraulic: Hydraulic heads involve the sandwiching of an oily
     substance between two thicknesses of head material. Many
     drummers swear by them. The overtones are greatly reduced and
     the heads are very durable. My opinion is that they do not project
     very well in a large room. The tone tends to fall flat a short
     distance from the drum. Microphones can solve that problem


          If you like your bass drum loud and ringing, that is easy!
     Simply tighten both heads down and do not try to muffle them.


     1. Place a 6" x 26" piece of cloth (felt is suggested) between
     the drumhead and shell of your bass all the way across the
     drum. You may even choose to cover the entire circular area
     with thin cloth. Remove the drum rim and head, place the
     cloth over the hole, then replace the head and rim.  Pull
     them to the desired tension. Finally, trim away the ragged
     edges of cloth.
     2. Many drummers prefer to eliminate the front head and rim
     entirely and place different articles of padding inside the
     Drum (pillows, foam rubber, etc.) until the desired muffle has
     been achieved.
     3. Other drummers may choose to cut a 14" hole in the exact
     center of the front drum head.  Doing so will allow easy
     placement of padding materials while keeping the front head in
     tack . . .

     You should be warned that bass heads can get expensive!  Cutting a
   hole in a perfectly good drum head seems almost like a sin.  One slip
   of the knife and it can be like tossing a $20 bill into the trash.
   So, be careful!  Don't attempt doing it if you are going to cry over
   less than perfect results.  If you are under 14 years of age, I would
   suggest that you get an adult to help you with the cutting project.


  Trick #1:
     I use a 14" Hi-Hat cymbal to lay out the circle in the exact center
  of the bass head, then cut the hole with a utility or carpet knife.  It
  is best to remove the head from the drum before performing this delicate
  operation.  The knife may seem to have a mind of its own.  It is VERY
  easy to slip, resulting in a jagged and ugly cut that you may be forced
  to live with.

  Trick #2:
     This ingenious idea was written up in Modern Drummer magazine a few
  months back.  I think it is a terrific tip but I haven't tried it yet.
     Procure a large mouth can, such as a very large (empty) 39 ounce
  coffee or fruit can.  Any metal can 10" to 14" in diameter should do.

     1.  Use the can to lay out a circle in the exact center of the head.
     2.  Heat the can on the kitchen stove until it is quite hot.
     3.  Using heavy cooking mittens or pot holders, place the hot can
         over the circle and let it melt through the head material.

                            *** BE CAREFUL!!! ***

  I haven't tried this yet but I love the idea.  It may be the best way
  to do the job.

     TIP :
     Place a small patch of duct tape at the point where the Bass Drum
  Beater Ball contacts the head. This will have little effect on the
  tone but will inhibit wear on the head, prolong its life and save

      It is amazing how surroundings effect tone of a drum set.
  Porous cloth items like curtains, carpeting and bedding materials
  all absorb sound before it gets to your ears.  These items can
  result in a tremendous deadening of tone.  On the other hand,
  if your drum room is the garage with multiple hard surfaces,
  the tones will bounce and reverberate almost endlessly.

      This little experiment will help you learn to live with
  some undesirable tone . . .

      Take your snare drum from room to room.  Tap the head
  with a drumstick in each new situation.  Take it outside and
  notice the tonal changes. You will discover that the drum will
  sound a little different in each new environment.
      In a real world, traveling from one gig to another, it just
  isn't feasible to make each playing environment suitable for your
  critical ear. Your drums will always take on different tones
  depending on the acoustics of the situation you are in.  You just
  won't have control over each and every environment.
      It is best to find a good room in your home where the
  acoustics are maximized, tune your drums there, then leave them
  alone if you move the set to another location.

      If you are still unsatisfied with your tone at this point, check
  around and listen to other drummers until you find one who has the
  sound that you like. Then ask him how he gets it. That is precisely
  the way I acquired most of these tricks that I am sharing with you
  now! Good luck!

                 HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL OF YOU!
                    HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS
                            AND A
                        HAPPY NEW YEAR!

                        HUMOROUS STORY OF THE MONTH
  Supposedly a true story...

  Scene:  A court room in Oklahoma where a person is on trial
  for murder.  There is strong evidence indicating guilt; however,
  there is no corpse.

  In the defense's closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his
  client is guilty and that it looks like he'll probably be
  convicted, resorts to a clever trick.

   "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you
  all," the lawyer says as he looks at his watch.  "Within 1 minute,
  the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this court
  room," he says and he looks toward the courtroom door.

  The jury, somewhat stunned, all look on eagerly.  A minute
  passes.  Nothing happens. Finally the lawyer says:
  "Actually, I made up the previous statement.  But you all looked
  on with anticipation.  I, therefore, put it to you that there is
  reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and
  insist that you return a verdict of not guilty."

   The jury, clearly confused, retires to deliberate. A few minutes
   later, the jury returns and a representative pronounces a
   verdict of guilty.

   "But how?" inquires the lawyer.  "You must have had some doubt;
   I saw all of you stare at the door."

   Answers the representative:  "Oh, we did look.
   But your client didn't."


Your measure of yourself is VERY IMPORTANT! How do you measure up as a person? This may offer a clue!


END OF TEMPO DISPATCH #12 December, 1997
Copyright Bill Powelson 1994 all rights reserved.