Tuning A Snare Drum
The snare drum boasts a unique, versatile sound, and is often the most personal piece of the drummer’s kit. It can also be a challenge to tune, especially the first time around. In this guide we offer step by step direction for tuning your snare to exude exactly the sound you want, since there really is no “right or wrong” sound. It’s more about your style and what sounds works best for the genre of music you’re playing. With practice, you’ll conquer the art of snare drum tuning, and your playing will sound better than ever.
1. The first time you attempt snare drum tuning, you should tune it to the middle of its range. From there, you may tune it more tightly for crisper snap, or make it looser for added punch. However, all the Masters will encourage you to learn to play in the middle first. It is there that the most creativity can be displayed, since a wider variety of sounds are possible. Your unique sound will flow from mastering the middle.
2. Start with the bottom head. The primary point is to make sure that all the snares are in contact with the bottom head, and that lifting them takes a bit of energy. The fit should be firm, but not too tight. Start loose, and press your thumb into the head about an inch from the edge. There should be a small amount of “give.” Tighten, test, and repeat, until the indent your thumb makes with moderate pressure is about ¼ inch deep. Richer sound will be achieved if you tune the head more tightly near the snare bed, and a bit more loosely away from it. This creates livelier snare action.
3. Now give it a try, with the ideal sound being more “boom” than “bing!” Tweak the lugs until you get a rich and rumbly tone. If you hear a “thud” sound, it’s too loose. Ask someone with a good ear to stand out in front and give you feedback. Sitting over the snare, you will hear it lower than the audience. Ask your listener what they are hearing, and factor that into your tuning.
4. Take off the snares and move your attention to the top head. With a drum key, loosen the lugs a ¼ turn at a time. Loosen and strike until you and your listener are both hearing a full-bodied “boom.” Consider that sound the “middle,” and turn on the snares. When you strike the drum the snares should offer a steady vibration with good endurance. If the buzz dies too quickly, the head is too loose. If the buzz sounds more like a “bizz,” it’s too tight. Adjust, try, and repeat, until your snares are humming along with good duration.
5. Choose your favorite piece featuring the snare, and let it rip. Listen for the “middle” sound, not too muffled – a sign it’s tuned too low, or too high and short, a sign it’s tuned too tight. After a few minutes of steady play you’ll know what you are hearing, and will be able to tune up or down to achieve a good middle.
6. To perfect the sound, start on the bottom and adjust the lugs ¼ turn each until it sounds right. Then work the top lugs in the same way. Once you “own” the middle, you’ll know how to adjust the heads to create just the right sound called for in each gig.