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Tuning Drums to Key of Song
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5th April 2012
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Tuning Drums to Key of Song

I've heard engineers mention that they tune the drums to the Key of the song . How do you know what notes the drums should be ? I have a song in the Key of A , how do I know what note the Floor tom should be tuned to .
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5th April 2012
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I do this a lot, and it's kinda cool.

And it really depends on how many drums (how many toms etc.) u use.
And then on the sizes of the drums.

If the song is in A-major, and the floor tom is, let's say 16", I would probably tune it to an E, but that's a really low tuning.
If you want a more jazzy sound you could tune it all the way up to an A.

One thing you should avoid is tuning the drums to symphathize with one another (unless you're like that kinda stuff).
- Don't tune in thirds.


Let's say you have a snare, two rack toms and one floor tom.

Then I would tune the snare to an A.
First rack tom to an E.
Second rack tom to a B.
And the floor tom to either an A or an E.

Imagine you start with an A and the use fourths/fifths down.

Also consider tuning your bass drum higher that you normally would do, to either an A or an E.
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makes so much difference when the drums are tuned " right ".
but as petite said, depends on the size, skins etc.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Petitehand View Post
I do this a lot, and it's kinda cool.

And it really depends on how many drums (how many toms etc.) u use.
And then on the sizes of the drums.

If the song is in A-major, and the floor tom is, let's say 16", I would probably tune it to an E, but that's a really low tuning.
If you want a more jazzy sound you could tune it all the way up to an A.

One thing you should avoid is tuning the drums to symphathize with one another (unless you're like that kinda stuff).
- Don't tune in thirds.


Let's say you have a snare, two rack toms and one floor tom.

Then I would tune the snare to an A.
First rack tom to an E.
Second rack tom to a B.
And the floor tom to either an A or an E.

Imagine you start with an A and the use fourths/fifths down.

Also consider tuning your bass drum higher that you normally would do, to either an A or an E.
I'm doing pop/rock songs . One rack tom , 12 , one floor tom , 16.

So is it kinda like pick a note thats in the key and tune the drum to one of those notes and see if it works ? Preferably the root /fourth or fifth
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I've done it but focusing more on what notes the drums are not. So if song is in A make sure the toms are not an Eb etc.
Also heard about tuning the snare to the 9th (so a B if songs in A). Sounded good when I tried it but it's got to also fit with your desired snare sound - no good cranking the snare up to a certain note if you want a low thick snare sound (& vice versa).
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there's a song on hendrix's axis:bold as love album where mitch tuned the kick drum to the key of the song.

very cool. wish I could remember which song right now but it's been years....
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I never do this. I tune my drums to sound good on their own, and interact with each other in favorable ways. I have the feeling if I were to try to tune each drum to be a note in the scale, I'd be making compromises on the tones I want to achieve.
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I never do this.

It's a "sound" I don't care for.

IMO, rock drums need to bark or explode, not sing. The band already has plenty of pitched instruments.
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I'm really interested in tuning my toms in a way that is sympathetic to the key of a song. Close micing toms that have sympathetic ringing (in a good way) with the snare/kick seems like it could add some tuned reverb to a drum track.

Of course it would have to be implied that the arrangement doesn't call for key changes that would work against a nice sound.
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I don't do it, but I can see it as a valid method.
I don't think you can pick the actual notes until you start tuning the drums.
The resonance of the drum has to sound right. Generally there are about three tensionings where a drum will resonate nicely.
Once you have a drum sounding nice, see if you can detect the pitch, then try to adjust it to a fundamental in the key of the song.
S an A Major song might give you choices like A, C#, D and E.
A G and a B could also work.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisso View Post
Once you have a drum sounding nice, see if you can detect the pitch, then try to adjust it to a fundamental in the key of the song.
In effect tuning the song to the drums-- that sounds like a better approach to me.

Didn't Fleetwood Mac re-key a song to fit the drums better (EDIT) on the Rumours album?
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I love having them tuned to the key of the song....and usually the record. Kinda hard when bands want to use samples but it can be done.
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It's a very difficult thing to do well. What sounds bad to me is when the drums sound like they're trying to be in tune and not quite making it.
If they're just tuned to sound good you don't expect pitch, so they can't sound "out of tune".
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ST. View Post
In effect tuning the song to the drums-- that sounds like a better approach to me.

Didn't Fleetwood Mac re-key a song to fit the drums better (EDIT) on the Rumours album?

Well, knowning my drums (sizes and skins), I know what I can achieve with different tunings.

I know how deep I can tune my snare drum, before it starts to sound weird.

I know the exact note, so if I want my snare to be really deep and heavy, I just take that into consideration, as well as the key of the song, it's not really that hard to do.

Maybe it's gonna be one note above its limitation, but it's a good compromise, if you want them to match the key of the song.
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I don't do this but instead tune to each shells sweet spot. In one studio where I "hang out", the accounting department loves when producers or groups insist on tuning the drums to the songs.

Dennis
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I've tried this a few times, always sounded really, really cheezy. So I don't do it.

If your kick is tuned to, say, an E, and the bass is plodding along on E eighth notes, this can actually work against you come mix time. It will be harder to "separate" the two into distinct mix elements, if that's what you're after.
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1st tom - 3rd note (in reggae 2nd not of key)
2nd tom - root note
3rd tom - 5th note
4th tom - 3rd low note

not always but mostly
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I definitely tune the congas but work pretty hard to be sure the trap set does not have any noticeable notes.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by audiotech View Post
I don't do this but instead tune to each shells sweet spot. In one studio where I "hang out", the accounting department loves when producers or groups insist on tuning the drums to the songs.

Dennis
I bet they do!
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I tend to shoot for tuning to notes, more as a guide than anything. I know my 16" floor tom sounds good at around a C, while the 12" rack tom has a fairly good pitch at G (I like them lowish). As for the kick and snare, they sound best tuned to specifically suit the song I think. It really is nice to get "musical" sounding toms though.

There's a vid about this subject from the infamous Bob Gatzen at http://youtu.be/rKXCrnb46aA.
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I don't bust out a tuner (usually)...

...but I will ask either the bass or rhythm guitar to play the song sporadically as I tune and I will work the ring into the song however it sounds best.
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So do they make some sort of "capo" for drums when the music changes key? Do you change kits in the middle of tunes which modulate to new keys?
In all seriousness, I have heard of people doing this, but often using drum replacement and "tuning" the sample. Usually the kick.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by evangelista View Post
I've tried this a few times, always sounded really, really cheezy. So I don't do it.

If your kick is tuned to, say, an E, and the bass is plodding along on E eighth notes, this can actually work against you come mix time. It will be harder to "separate" the two into distinct mix elements, if that's what you're after.
That's an interesting point. Do you make a conscious effort to not tune the kick (or other drums) to specific notes in (or out of) the key?
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I tune the drums to the key of each song and it makes a big difference to me. But it really depends on the production/arrangement.

A perfect example to me is how "ELBOW" uses this. Some songs feature kicks or snare sounds that you can totally hear are tuned to fifths for example, sounds amazing. In some other songs, this may not be important.

If you don't plan on letting your drums resonate, then this hardly makes a difference.
As someone mentioned, the tuning range on most drums is quite limited, so you can't really think too much in terms of deliberate intervals.
For example my 12" gretsch tom only sounds good from F to A, so a song in E will end up with a G sharp tom, it's just the best that can be done.
Tuning SNARE DRUMS to the key of the song is mandatory to my productions.
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