SONIC SOUP - DRUM TUNING FOR DRUMMERS & MUSICAL DIRECTORS | Grant Norsworthy
If you ’ ve been tracking with my last several articles , we have been on a quest to reduce the Sonic Soup that often clogs up the sound of church bands . Searching for a cleaner , more intentional musicality that warmly invites the church congregation to engage and sing as an expression of worship .
Most recently I ’ ve been writing about the importance of singers and instrumentalist being in tune and how to work towards that goal . And in this , the final article in this Sonic Soup series , I ’ ll be discussing drum tuning .
Wait . What ? Drum tuning ? Drums don ’ t need to be tuned , do they ?
Yes , they actually do ! Or at least , acoustic drums do . ( The electronic variety … not so much ). But I have found that many church musicians - including Musical Directors ( MDs - aka band leaders ) and even drummers themselves - do not know about , nor consider tuning the drums .
Yet poorly tuned drums can contribute massively to our Sonic Soup problems . Even if the drums are being played well - with good musical parts and solid time keeping - if the actual sound of each drum is uninspiring - which is often because they are poorly tuned - the dreaded Sonic Soup will be evident .
But I ’ m not a drummer . I ’ m an MD , a singer , acoustic guitarist and ( if needed ) a bassist . I don ’ t know how to tune drums . Nor do I want to learn how to tune drums and have that added to my list of responsibilities .
But I have learned to do something that , I think , all of us who are involved in music should . I ’ m no drum tone expert , but I have learned to listen - really listen - and hear when drums are poorly tuned . Ultimately , I believe the responsibility to tune the drums should fall to a drummer , but it might require the MD , the sound engineer or perhaps even another member of the team to first hear the problem and raise the issue .
We tune the guitars . We want our singers to be in tune . We need well-tuned drums too .
In my role as More Than Music Mentor , I have played with and coached countless church bands that have featured acoustic drums . Usually , the drummer doesn ’ t own the kit . It
belongs to the church . It ’ s always there . There are probably several different drummers who play the same kit depending on the roster for that week . It can be easy for an individual drummer to feel like tuning the drum kit is not their responsibility .
Especially when our team is comprised of well-meaning , part-time , amateur musicians , there can be an assumption that the drums just sound the way they sound . You hit them , there ’ s sound and that ’ s it . Right ?
Drum tuning is often overlooked . It should not be .
What sorts of things might you be hearing that indicate that the drums need some tuning work ? I don ’ t know the technical terms , but it ’ s often things like :
• a kick ( aka bass ) drum that keeps ringing long ( sometimes several seconds ) after it ’ s struck
• annoying rattles , pings , boings and / or “ flappiness ”
• snare wires so tight that all I can hear is a piercing “ crack ” from the snare drum
• generally confused , uninspiring , messy sounds