How To: Tune a concert bass drum

Tune a concert bass drum

Tom Gauger has played percussion with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops Orchestras for over 35 years and has also served on the faculty at Boston University and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. In this installment from his series of video lessons dedicated to breaking down the basic skills necessary for playing the concert bass drum, Tom will teach you how to tune your bass drum.

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That was not thought out and not very informative. If the resonant head is higher, lower, or the same as the batter head what happens to the sound? What is the process of actually tuning up the drum? Geez!

I have found a good tuning for a 36" drum is to tune the fundamental to Eb1. In fact, I believe it is better to tune a bass drum's fundamental pitch to the pitch that matches the rest of the ensemble most of the time. If an ensemble plays in Bb, F, Eb, or Ab often then tuning the fundamental of the bass drum to Eb1 suites the entire ensemble. Cavaliers Drum and Bugle are known to have tuned their 40" front ensemble bass drums to the fundamental pitch of E1 (first partial at C#2) for many seasons. However, with calfskin heads I'm sure the overtone series of the drum are different than with thin plastic heads; so it may be better to tune the entire bass drum sound using the fundamental and tune each tension rod using the first partial (roughly a major 6th higher than the fundamental).

Also, a drum dial is a poor way to tune a drum. Better to use what the audience uses; ears. The audience doesn't care what each tension is at at each tension rod, but they do care if the drum sounds good, and a drum sounds good when tuned at each tension rod by ear. Also, better to muffle the other head when fine tuning one head at a time.

Sorry, I meant the 2nd partial (a major 6th above the fundamental).

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