Knowing how to tune a snare drum is important to maintain the proper sound in any band. Snare drums must be tuned and the heads or drum skins kept at the proper tension in order to maintain optimal sound and a pleasant tone that blends well with other instruments. The procedure for tuning snare drums is similar to the procedure for the tuning of other drums in a drum kit. Drums can be tuned whenever their sound strays from the sound the drummer desires and should also be tuned whenever the heads are replaced.
To tune a snare drum, the following tools are recommended:
- Drum key
- Pencil with an unused or lightly used eraser head
- Light cloths and other cleaning materials if you intend to clean the drums while tuning
- Turn the snares off. Having the snares disengaged keeps their natural vibrations from interfering with the tuning process.
- Tighten the top head. The top head is also known as the batter head since it is the head that is struck while playing. The lugs that hold the head to the hoop should be tightened gradually, one-half turn at a time, until the head is taut and produces a tone when struck. Lugs should be tightened in a star pattern, tightening one lug, then the opposite lug, then proceeding around the circumference until the desired tautness is achieved.
- Tune the top head. To tune the batter head, strike the head lightly with a drumstick or with the eraser end of a pencil about an inch or two inward from each lug. The tone produced at each spot should be the same. Tighten the lugs one-quarter to one-eighth turn at a time until the tone is the same around the circumference of the drum. This produces an even tension and consistent tone across the drum head. Continue to adjust the lugs one at a time until the drum reaches the desired pitch. Pitches for snares will vary depending upon the individual user's preferences. Tuning on a snare drum in a drum kit also depends upon the tuning of the toms in the kit. If the snare drum pitch produces a sympathetic resonance with one or both toms, this could cause the snares to vibrate when the toms are played, producing an undesired effect.
- Tune the bottom head. The bottom head, or snare side head, is very thin and delicate and should be treated with caution. The process for tuning this head is the same as for the top head, but the lugs should be tightened more gradually to prevent damage to the head. Tapping the head with the pencil eraser instead of a drumstick for tuning will also help prevent damage. The bottom head is generally tuned to either a perfect fourth or a perfect fifth higher than the tone used for the batter head.
- Replace or re-engage the snares. After tuning is complete, the snares can be re-engaged. Testing the drums along with the toms and kick drum can help determine if more adjustments need to be made to avoid sympathetic resonance with the snares.
By following these general directions for how to tune a snare drum, you should be able to maintain a pleasant sound to your snares that will complement the sound of the other drums in your kit as well as the other instruments in the band.