Determining how to tune a hi tom drum is a subjective process, often determined by the drummer's personal taste, the kind of music being played, and the tuning of the other drums in the drum set. The actual method for tuning a hi tom is basically the same as for other drums, but the tones to which the drum will be set varies greatly.
As with other drums, the toms should be tune whenever the sound seems "off," as well as whenever the heads are changed.
Tools to tune a hi tom drum can include:
- Drum key
- Blanket or pillow
- Pitch pipe or pre-tuned instrument
- Rest of drum set
- Muffle the opposite head. While tuning a drum, it can be helpful to muffle the opposite head. You can do this by setting the drum on a blanket or pillow. This prevents the opposite head from vibrating during the tuning process, making it difficult to hear the tones produced by the active head.
- Tune the top head to itself. Using the drum key, tighten the lugs along the circumference of the drum head in a star pattern. Tighten one lug, then the lug opposite it—never tune the lug right next to the lug you have just tuned. When the drum is tight enough to resonate, tap the drum head a few inches away from each lug. The tone should be the same all the way around the drum. This process ensures consistent tension across the surface of the drum, as well as a consistent tone when you do the final tuning.
- Tune the top head to the other drums in the set. The hi tom drum generally carries the second highest pitch in the drum set, with the snare tuned the highest. The middle tom drum will be lower than the hi tom. Many musicians tune drums a fourth or a fifth apart, but this depends on your personal taste. It also depends on the way the other drums are tuned. As you tune, listen for sympathetic resonance, or buzzing or other overtones in the other drums. Ideally, the pitches you choose for the individual drums will complement each other rather than creating unpleasant additional vibrations.
- Tune the bottom head. The bottom head can be tuned to the same pitch as the top head, or can be tuned lower or higher. Each configuration produces a slightly different sound, so some experimentation will help you determine what sounds right, and what creates the best sounding overtones.
Using this method for how to tune a hi tom drum will give you a great start in tuning your full drum kit. Don't be afraid to experiment–a new drum tuning might provide just the right sound for a particular piece you're playing.