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How to Tune Drums for Metal

Drummers who play metal typically have a high-pitched snare drum, low toms and at least one bass drum.
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The drums play an important part in any metal band. In addition to providing a steady beat and rhythm, drummers provide power and energy, which can greatly add to the heaviness and feel of a metal band. Proper tuning can be important to getting that signature metal sound. Metal tuning isn’t all that different from the tuning for most other genres, but there are some things you can do to get a sound more commonly associated with metal drummers.

Things You'll Need:

  • Tuning Key
  • Muffling

Tighten the tension rods on the top head of the snare drum. Metal snare drums are generally tuned very high to get a high “crack!” sound. Alternate which tension rods you tighten by tightening a rod one half turn and then moving to a tension rod directly across the snare drum. Repeat this as you tighten every tension rod around the snare drum. It’s important you don’t tighten one tension rod several turns before moving on, or just tighten one tension rod and then the one next to it and so on, because this can warp the rim.

Tighten the tension rods on the bass drum head, using half-turns with an alternating fashion similar to how you tuned the snare drum. However, unlike the snare drum, bass drums aren’t typically tuned high, though you can tune them high if you want. Typically, bass drums are tuned very low, with just enough tightness to keep the head from wrinkling. A lot of a metal drummer’s punchy bass drum sound comes from the beater he uses on his bass drum pedal. Instead of a soft beater more commonly used with jazz or other lighter music, many metal drummers use wooden or plastic beaters. This can decrease the life of your bass drum head, but it can give you that signature metal bass drum sound.

Tighten the tension rods on the toms, once again using half-turns with an alternating fashion. Similar to the bass drum, toms are generally tuned low, with just enough tightness to keep the head from wrinkling.

Hit the drums one at a time. You want to see how they sound together. Do they create a dissonant ring or nice tones throughout? You might have to adjust the tuning, but soon you should be able to get a nice sound.

Apply muffling if necessary. If your drums are ringing too much, consider adding muffling, which can come in a variety of forms such as duct tape, gels, muffle rings and a pillow for the bass drum. You might have to experiment, but you should be able to find something that works. Drums in metal typically don’t ring much, so muffling can be a good idea to achieve that metal sound.

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