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Drum head changing and tuning for people who aren’t drummers.

September 20, 2012

Today, I changed the drum heads on the kit where I work. Below you’ll see how the kit was, there was duct tape all over the heads, the heads were battered and wouldn’t tune properly and the cymbals were rusting. In this post I want to show how I went about changing these drum heads and tuning them. Please bear in mind that I’m not a drummer at all, nor am I a tuning master for drums, but nonetheless I wanted to share this potentially helpful info.

Kick drum

So first off, let’s start with the kick drum. Like with all the drums loosen all the tension rods for the head you’re about to change, I suggest you start with the batter head first because you can fine-tune the resonant head to work well with the batter head after. Once all the tension rods are loose and the old head is off, give everything a wipe with a cloth to get rid of dust and debris which has built up in the drum.

Secondly, put the new head on and position all the tension rods to fit into their appropriate holes. Make sure that the head is seated properly and push down with your whole hand in the centre of the drum and keep constant pressure, you’ll see a lot of wrinkles appear in the head. Tighten each lug until the wrinkles disappear and then loosen back about a quarter of a turn. Once you’ve tightened all the tension rods, release your hand from the batter head. Do the same for the resonant head and then fine-tune to taste so it works well with the batter head. Done.

Snare drum

Now onto the snare, in my experience this is the hardest drum to get right. You’re dealing with a lot variables such as the relationship between the top and bottom heads due to them being tuned differently and the snare wires themselves and how tight they rest against the head.

Drummers tend to start with the bottom head; once you’ve wiped the drum shell with a cloth removing dust and wood chippings, put the new head on and seat it correctly. Put a drum stick under the snares and rest it on each side of the rim. Even tension needs to be maintained here so that the drum’s tuning is consistent, tune the drums using the star pattern method (Google this). Tune the bottom head up to a high A note and fine-tune if necessary.

For the top head, again, wipe the shell and put the new head on. Even tension needs to be maintained again so use the star pattern method. Typically, this drum is tuned to a C note, but it’s by no means the next octave higher than what you’re tuning the bottom head to, in fact it’s lower. Fine-tune if necessary.


Toms are relatively easy, a lot easier than the snare! When you put the new head on after wiping the shell, push three fingers onto the centre of the drum and keep the pressure there (much like the kick drum but on a smaller scale). You’ll see wrinkles again and you need to tighten each lug until they go away, but don’t loosen the tuning like the kick drum – leave it! Do the same thing with the bottom head and tune fine-tune them so that the top and bottom heads sound the same. Bear in mind that some drummers purposefully detune the bottom head while others tune it higher, it’s all personal preference.

In summary

Knowing how to tune drums is a valuable asset to have when you’re in the studio. It means that, if need be, you can step in to tune the drums if the drummer in the session doesn’t know how to. If drum heads break and there’s some spares, you don’t have to rely on the drummer to change the heads as you’re able to do it! In other words, whenever you need to tune drums, you’ll have a basic knowledge on how to do it!


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