How to Tune a Tom Drum
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How to Tune a Tom Drum

Tuning a drum can be a difficult and even frustrating process for those that are unsure of what they need to do to accomplish the task, but for those who have the proper know-how, it can become a fun exercise that lends itself to artistic creatively. Read on to learn how to properly tune your drum set and reap the benefits of your efforts!

Proper tuning of the heads on a drum is crucial to producing a rich, harmonic sound. When not properly tuned, a drum may rattle, sound muddled, be muted, and generally will not produce a quality sound, leaving even a talented player sounding like they do not know what they are doing. However, the basics of drum tuning are the most important, and will unlock the potential of your kit.

Getting started

First, you must purchase the proper size drum head for your drum. Measure the diameter of your tom and make a note. Go to your local music store and talk to the representative. Tell them what style of music you like to play and see if they have a recommendation for a particular brand and model. If you do not have a drum tuning key, purchase one at this point! Alternatively, you can ask for a torque tuning key, which will aid you in achieving uniform tuning when you are installing your drum head.

Image of a drum key

Starting the Install

Once you have purchased your drum head, return home with it. Give your drum a quick cleaning, especially on the rims, so that no debris is left in the way when you install the new skin.

Place the skin on the drum, and place the metal rim over the top. Make sure it is facing the correct direction! The lip should be oriented towards the drum shell and the drum skin.

Put each lug nut on and tighten them with your fingers.

An Important, Often Overlooked Step!

With the lugs finger-tight, make a fist. Push your fist into the skin on the drum head firmly so that the skin is stretched. It is okay to hear creaking! The point of this step is to properly stretch the skin so that the drum does not come out of tune quickly while being played. As long as you are not purposely trying to break the skin, it should not break. If it does, return it to the store where you bought it and explain to them it was defective and broke while you were installing it. In the majority of cases, stretching the drum skin in this manner should not break a drum head. If it breaks while being stetched, it was defective! Stress from playing it would have eventually broken it anyways.

Tightening the lugs properly

With the skin stretched and the lugs finger-tight, you will begin the process of tightening and tuning. DO NOT TIGHTEN THE LUGS IN A CIRCULAR ORDER! Pick any lug nut and use the drum key to give it a measured turn (half turn, full turn, turn-and-a-half, etc). Rather than moving around the drum in a circle, move your drum key to the lug nut opposite the one you just turned, and tighten it with the same measured turn. Repeat this process of tightening pairs of opposites until all the lugs are tightened down in this manner. Refer to the picture below for a graphic on how this process works!

Tuning the Drum (you're almost done!)

With the lugs tightened, pick up a drumstick. Choose a lug nut and tap the skin 1 to 2 inches in towards the center from that lug. Tighten the lug until you achieve the pitch you desire for your drum. As before, repeat this step at the opposite lug nut, and each pair of lugs thereafter. When you are done, hitting the drum in the center should produce a rich, full version of the sound you tuned at each lug nut. If it sounds at all muddled, systematically check each spot on the skin's outer edge to see if a part sounds slightly higher or lower in pitch, and tighten or loosen the lug nut according. If you cannot pick up the differences with your ears alone, it is also possible to use a guitar tuner to aid you in this process.

*A note on tuning the other side on the drum:

To get a good sound, the bottom skin (the resonant skin) of the drum using the same exact method as the top skin (the batter head), however, you will find that tuning the resonant skin a bit lower than the top skin produces the fullest sound from the drum overall.


While there are many sloppy sounds that can be produced from improperly tuned drums, there is no single "correct" sound for a drum or drum set. By experimenting with the tuning of your drum heads and tuning uniformly, you will find that you can produce a wide variety of great sounds and "feels" from just one drum. Find the one that pleases you best! When that gets old, experiment some more and find another great sound!

Music is a creative process. Have fun on the path of musical creativity!

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