The Care & Tuning of Your Snare Drum
Part III: Commonly Asked Questions

by: Mark Wessels

But My Drum STILL Doesn't Sound Good!
(Commonly Asked Questions)

* I hear a "rattling" sound after I play the drum! *

Not to ask a stupid question, but did you by chance leave a washer or something inside your drum when you put the head back on? I've done it many times!

Sometimes a rattling or buzzing sound on the snare drum is caused by stretched wires on the snares. Turn the drum over - when you turn off the snare strainer, does it look like a tangled mess, or do they pretty much stay in line?

If there's only one or two mangled wires, then you can try cutting them off with a pair of wire cutters (I'd suggest removing the snares from the drum FIRST!). Make sure that you trim them all the way to the edge so you don't inadvertently poke a hole in the head (wow - a FIVE syllable word!). If there are more wires that are bad than are good, it's time to buy a new set of snares!
     The snares on most "top-of-the-line" concert snares or marching drums can be tuned. Loosen the strainer & put a couple of small pieces of wood or plastic (like a toothpick) under the snares on each end, then turn the snares back on. Now you should be able to "pluck" each strand like a banjo. Most people prefer to tune them basically to the same "pitch," but I like the center to be a little tighter than the outside to provide a smooth response throughout the dynamic range. It's up to you.

* I've tuned the drum, but it still rings!*

The pitch might still be too low. Try tightening the top head a little more, or using a little muffling. A little ringing is not a bad thing.

*The drums are all tuned, but they still don't sound like what I hear on the radio!*

Now you're getting into the fine points of tuning the drums. First, the drum must be in the correct pitch range according to it's size. It's a mistake to try to make a 10" tom sound like a floor tom - usually you'll wind up with a cardboard box. If it's too tight, it'll sound "thin" or "wimpy."
     The next important step is that the tension rods must be in tune with each other. Start by tapping the drum on the edge directly next to a tension rod. Listen to the PITCH of the sound (you might need to take off all the muffling FIRST to hear a pitch). Try to sing that pitch to yourself. Now, tap the rod that's on the opposite side of the drum. If it's not the same pitch, then you've got to tighten or loosen it to try to make it match.

A Final Word

Tuning your drum is a very in-depth process that takes YEARS of experience to get good at it. Plus you need to be willing to constantly mess with your drums to get the desired sound. By all means, start experimenting! A long journey begins with a single step!

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