Studio Skillset: Drum Tuning Essentials


A lot of songs don’t benefit from an enormously ringy giant Def Leppard-style snare drum.

Although I recommend tuning first to a place where each drum has a good balanced resonance, once you’re there, moongels, gaff tape, tea towels, packing blankets and the like can all be your friends.

The idea is that you never want to be hunting down awkward and dissonant overtones with your muffling tools. That’s what tuning is for. Approach it backwards and you can be sure your drum sounds will suffer.


Many drummers tune instinctively, and that’s fine. Few drummers are trained in pitch recognition and many are reluctant to learn on their own. That’s okay too. It just makes your new skills more valuable.

The truth is, whenever we tune drums instinctively, we’re creating musical relationships on the fly. When those relationships are sounding good there’s no problem; Without even knowing it, we’re often following the guidelines laid out here.

But, whenever we run into problems it can be helpful to stop and look at the map.

I hope this little map has been valuable to you. If it was, please share it!

Now get tuning.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based producer/engineer who works with uncommon artists, and a journalist who writes about music and how we make it. Visit him at

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  • Very well written and full of good information.
    Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Great article. Very clear and concise, though I think that drummers working in a live environment might appreciate more detail on tuning for the room; maybe a good idea for a followup.

  • Nickmeister

    Great article, man. Thank you.