*WHAT WE WANT TO DO IS FIND THE OPTIMUM NOTE FOR THE DRUM.*
By evenly adjusting the tension you will eventually find the note or tonality that is pleasing to you. Personally, I usually find that it is a medium to slightly less than medium tension that is most pleasing to my ear. I also find that this is also very effective in the studio.
If you’re looking for ‘that note’ for yourself and searching for where that tonality is then I suggest you go and listen to the best studio players again.
Take a break and listen.. this is important and you don’t want to skip over this…
Let me suggest some subliminal listening choices here. Listen to Steve Gadd, Paul Leim, Jeff Porcaro, J R Robinson, Bernard Purdie and Vinnie Coliauta for starters. All monstrous studio legends. Try to find original recordings not YouTube performances. This will give you a better perspective.
You’ll find a remarkable similarity in the tonalities.
*BACK TO DRUM TUNING.*
At this point once I’ve found that tension, I place the bottom head on the drum and repeat the process. By bringing the bottom head up to a similar tension and just slightly higher I can get the optimum note out of the drum as it pertains to my ear and my taste. It takes a few minutes of tweaking but then the drum gets close and then it ‘sings’.
Make sure when you’re checking the tuning that you hold the drum up with your hand by the rim or the lugs, as if it were suspended by the hardware. Strike the drum and then make very small adjustments to the tuning. When you’re checking tuning you want to recreate the physical environment that the drum lives in as closely as you can.
The same process applies to the snare drum as well. Start with a great instrument, good head selection, application and tuning and you’re well on your way. One note, if you play using a lot of rim on the snare be careful to watch your lugs under your stroke position. They tend to loosen off quickly.
Here is an issue that is often overlooked. The snares themselves are very delicate. Be careful to maintain not only the health of your bottom snare batter but the snare wires particularly. Inspect them every time you put your snare drum on the stand! They are responsible for creating an extremely important part of your sound!
I always carry a set of wire cutters with me in my toolbox in case I break a snare wire. If I do break one I’m very careful to trim it back as far as I can and to check the balance of the snares making sure that they’re unimpeded and vibrating properly.
Regarding snare tuning and variety I usually show up to a session with 4 snares. The producer will choose one of the given snares depending on the material. I carry a Ludwig Black Beauty brass snare, a Taye maple wood snare, a Pearl piccolo brass snare and a DW maple wood soprano snare. All drums have the same head selection as previously stated.
Remember! When you set up your snare on the stand make sure the snares underneath are running under the placement of the top snare microphone. Engineers again say that they can hear more top end from the snare from this type of drum placement.
*BASS DRUM TUNING.*
The best way I can describe bass drum tuning is that I want to portray a certain attitude. I try to give myself all the flexibility I can in my general tuning and I use all the options afforded to me. When I say general tuning what I mean is that I want the drum to sound great whether it is hit hard or soft.
First of all I would say that one should never show up to a session without a front head and a fine head that resonates. It should be controllable though.
What I mean by that is it should not be wide open with no dampening. By cutting the hole in the front of the head several things are accomplished. The engineer can access the inside of the drum for micing purposes. You’re able to adjust your dampening inside the drum to both front and backheads. And you’re able to adjust the dampening of the front head.
The front head plays a vital part in the present day bass drum sound and creates the lower octave and required decay of the drum. But it needs to be adjusted constantly depending on the room or the acoustical situation.
*DON’T SHOW UP TO A SESSION WITHOUT A WELL TUNED FRONT HEAD ON YOUR BASS DRUM! BUT…DON’T SHOW UP TO A SESSION WITH A CLOSED FRONT HEAD EITHER!*
Regarding the bass drum muting:
I add a little padding that I can adjust. I have a sandbag that rests in the bottom of the drum that will stay where I put it. I can apply more to the beater head or less depending on what the producer wants. Sometimes we take it right out and let the drum ring openly. The idea though is that you want flexibility in this area. You don’t want a big bed pillow in your bass drum but you do want the ability to alter the decay and tonality when necessary.
I may also loosen off the 2 top lugs at the top of the beater side of the bass drum if I want more thud or slap and less tone or ring to the drum.