How Do You 1-Up, 1-Down Players Tune Your Toms?

Old Drummer

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Old Drummer, I can tell you how I tune my toms? ... but I can't address the jazz vs rock approach, as I am not a jazz drummer, so my tuning is only for rock and modern music, and I tune to the first sweet spot, which is where the drum sings, so it's rock low.

Recently, the last three years, I've been playing 4 piece. But, this is after 15 years of 10,12,16 toms, then a solid year of gigging a Bikini Kit with no toms, which BTW, really helped me learn to play with a lot more taste.

Initially when I went to 4 piece, I used the 12 and 16. All good. Didn't think much about and it worked ok. But seeing a few of my favourite major dudes playing 10 and 16, and missing the pop of the 10, I substituted the 12 with a 10. Wow. It's me.

Tuning back in the day, was just a drum key, my ears and the search for the sweet spot. So that's how I tuned the 10 and the 16. But, having DrumTune Pro I was able to determine the actual tuning and it just so happens that both my kits with 10 and 16 toms come in tuned to the same pitch and the toms are exactly an octave apart.

I love the octave apart thing. Thinking about it, I don't want my toms to play a tune. With only two toms, I want high and LOW, doough and DOOUGH, up there and DOWN THERE. I'm sure I could do the octave apart thing with other drum sizes, but I think it is pretty cool that I get there naturally with the 10 and the 16.

Anyway, I've never been happier with my tom tuning.
I'd be following in your footsteps if I hadn't already gotten there on my own.

Like you, albeit with a TuneBot instead of a DrumTune Pro, I decided NOT to use my tuner until AFTER I'd already tuned. It was just too much frustration trying to use a gadget at the outset. I preferred to tune the toms by ear, and yes finding where they sounded good for themselves, and then check where I ended up with the TuneBot. I confess that I like the TuneBot at the end. It allows me to make micro adjustments my ear can't discern as well as to push a tuning up or down a little bit to make some sense in music theory, but I was happier as well as getting better sounds just using a drum key.

Also like you, I have tentatively ended up with a 10 and 16 configuration an octave apart. I too first worked with my 12, but it likes low tuning and I wanted more of a spread.

Unlike you, though, I've never played with no toms. But I've come close lately. While getting back into playing after a very long break, I have intentionally been playing toms very sparsely. My reasoning is that I'm so blasted rusty and unsure of myself that I'm hesitant to start something I can't finish. It's safer for me to settle on a snare riff than to find myself with both sticks on the floor and a beat to go.

Regarding rock vs. jazz, those are just loose labels. The "rock" where I feel the need for a couple low toms is 70s' folk-rock, the Russell Kunkel style, though that rarely comes up anymore. However, there are other needs. Before the virus, a young drummer in a jam session had "Sunshine of Your Love" sprung on him. He played it on the snare and hi-hat. Ouch. Ginger Baker is a tom-heavy drummer, and you need some toms to come close. I'm sure there are other rock and probably jazz songs where a couple low toms are darn near essential, but it's far from all or even most of them.
 

mebeatee

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All these interesting replies....yet no one has mentioned the sound of the actual drum....tapping the shell with a mallet......go from there.
If ya want "pitched" toms with no screwing around...get a set of roto's.
bt
 

Old Drummer

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Perhaps, yet another reason the muted sound has gained so much currency.

Personally, I've found clear pitch, sustaining toms out of key don't clash nearly so terribly as much as they add when in key. I guess it's because no one expects toms to be in tune with the harmony as with timpani routinely playing the root or fifth of a chord.

For this reason, it's whatever floats yer boat. Figuring out what keys your group tends to spend most of its time in and tuning the toms appropriately is a worthwhile endeavor, even when not recording. Trad jazz, big band, etc. tend to use Bb trumpets/flugels, Bb trombones, and Bb & Eb saxes and the music for these groups is written overwhelmingly in commensurate keys, e.g., F, Bb, Eb, Ab, etc., so picking appropriate tom pitches is not difficult. Ditto guitar bands that mostly play in G, D, A, E, etc. The problem arises when the two are combined or the keys used are selected for vocalists' comfort.

Still, even in these latter cases, one could examine the proposed repertoire and come up with a tuning scheme that would be a bit better than just winging it. I do this all the time when I play shows which often go through a lot of different keys with an ear as to how I'm going to be using/featuring the toms (and sometimes I even retune certain drums to new pitches during intermission :)).

P.S. I've played timpani for over 50 years, so maybe I'm a far outlier in the drumming community in terms of how I view tom-toms.
Regarding tuning toms to keys, I have a genuine question. Songs almost always include chord progressions, probably the simplest being I, IV, V, and drum fills are typically during the final chord in the progression, ending usually with the bass drum and a cymbal crash on the tonic. If a song say is in the key of C and it's a three-chord progression, the tom fill would therefore be in G. Whereas G is also in C, the other notes of the toms tuned to C wouldn't be in G and would therefore sound dissonant. Then there are 7th chords and all the rest. It would seem to me that only the bass drum and cymbal crash should be tuned to the key the song is in, although nobody tunes them to notes and then there are key changes.

I'm curious about the concept of tuning toms to notes, but it seems to me to break down in its application. I have very little experience playing timpani, but from what I recall, composers are all the time calling for timpani to be re-tuned to different notes over the course of a composition, presumably because those notes fit whatever is happening in the composition at the moment the timpani is played, not because of whatever key the composition is in.

I am not trying to argue this but genuinely don't understand the rationale for tuning toms to a key when that's not even the chord they're usually played in.
 
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drumstuff66

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All these interesting replies....yet no one has mentioned the sound of the actual drum....tapping the shell with a mallet......go from there.
If ya want "pitched" toms with no screwing around...get a set of roto's.
bt
As the owner of a 90's DW kit, this has me thinking about the "Note Stamps" they famously put on their shells after tapping the shell and identifying the fundamental tone. Not sure if they still do. Has any other drum company ever done that?

To be honest, I have completely ignored this since day one.
 

Lazmo

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As the owner of a 90's DW kit, this has me thinking about the "Note Stamps" they famously put on their shells after tapping the shell and identifying the fundamental tone. Not sure if they still do. Has any other drum company ever done that?

To be honest, I have completely ignored this since day one.
Just make sure you tap the shell with an old growth sunken timeless timber mallet.
 

MustangMick

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For a 1 up 1 down kit it depends on the sizes

10 & 14 - Usually "E" for both, or if there's a lot of snare buzz, de-tune the 10" to a "D"

12 & 16 - Octave apart, generally "B" or "C" for both

12 & 14 - 5th apart 12="B," 14 ="E" and go from there depending on gig

Many years of playing Timpani but it works for me.
Notes i'm using are from the lugs on the bottom head. Tune the top head so hitting the centre gets you to that note, so top head is about a 2nd lower at the lugs.

Mick
 

NewBeat

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...I'm curious about the concept of tuning toms to notes, but it seems to me to break down in its application. I have very little experience playing timpani, but from what I recall, composers are all the time calling for timpani to be re-tuned to different notes over the course of a composition, presumably because those notes fit whatever is happening in the composition at the moment the timpani is played, not because of whatever key the composition is in...
What you've said is a relevant observation and partly true. For the first century or two, orchestral timpani were tuned routinely to the tonic (root) and dominant (fifth) of the composition's key and were generally not employed as the music progressed unless they could reinforce the roots or fifths of chords that contained the tonic or dominant pitches. Later, say around 1840 or so, a third drum was added to be used on the subdominant, submediant, etc. Then a pedal mechanism was added a few decades later, and tuning throughout the composition became possible (which was truly a necessity, as the music started becoming increasingly chromatic).

Having the toms pitched in the key of the music you are playing is absolutely NOT required, it just generally helps in a very musical way. Depending on the passage, sometimes when you go to hit the toms it's, "Well, this doesn't sound great - maybe I'll try a different tom next time or not use the toms for that at all," and sometimes it's, "Yeah, this tom is doubling the root of the final chord - nice." That said, occasional tom hits are hardly ever an issue - it's sections where the toms are heavily featured or rolled that the pitch may start to become a musical/tonal issue.

Again, if you play in a guitar band and you tune (low-high) E, A, D or F#, B, E, you'll find the toms add to the music a little more often than if they were tuned randomly because they will more often sound in key because these are pitches in the chords of the keys that guitar bands most often play in. Sometimes only one tom will actually match the current sounding harmony, sometimes two, sometimes all three depending on what's going on.

As another example, check out Bohemian Rhapsody. This starts in the key of Bb, modulates to A for a few measures, then it's mostly in Eb for the rest of the tune. The heavily featured toms are tuned (low-high) Eb, F, Bb (probably something like 18", 16", 13"). Now, Queen is hybrid guitar/piano band, yet this tom tuning is not random but keyed to exactly support the music in Bb (IV-V-I) and Eb (I-ii-V).
 

Tracktuary

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In the video above, I explain that I typically tune to F-C-F-G for a 18-14-12-snare bop kit. It's not the exact notes I'm concerned about since it would be impossible to tune to the key of every song on a jazz gig. I've just found that being around those notes strikes a nice balance between tone, resonance, projection, decay, etc. Sometimes they are a little higher; sometimes a little lower; but never far from those notes.

My reasoning for the interval selection is that it suggests neither major nor minor, so when soloing or trading fours, my drums won't clash with the mood. A major 6th sounds really corny--especially on a minor blues. If the bass drum is the root, this scheme gives you root-5th-octave-ninth. If the floor tom is the root, you get 4th-root-4th-5th. It's the golden spot to me.
 

dirtysicks

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I hear this when setting tuning intervals on a 1up/1down kit. Specifically the Oh-Re portion.
 

clockworkorange

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Always to their inherent notes. 12" tom G, 14" tom E, on TAMA kit.
my tama drums1.jpg


on my LUDWIG kit, 13" tom F, 16" tom C.
drums1.jpg
 
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Kcmcc

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Honestly, just go find a Morello solo.

Tune em like that. Then apply a little tape as appropriate.
 

SteveB

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There is no need to worry about the key of the tune verses the rough pitch of the toms. The main reason is there is about a half step jump when you first strike the drum with any force...so you're already playing with an inconsistent pitch off the heads. This is especially true if you have a growling floor tom or any drum that's tuned on the loose side. I have recorded my fair share of tunes and never has there been any dissonance between the chords and the drums. My toms usually end up a fourth or fifth apart, but if I'm using just two, like a 12 and 15 or 16, I may nudge the 12 up some so I don't have to strike it so hard. So if I have an array (4 or 5 toms) I'd probably tune that 12 around A...but sometimes I'll take it up to a Bb or C, which still isn't tight...rather the high side of medium. Also that A out front with a band playing isn't an A...its just a high, medium or low hit...and then gone.
 
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Slingwig26

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I'm spending too much time these days trying to get a streamlined 1-up, 1-down set configured to my liking and am having a devil of a time deciding on tom tuning.

Conventional tuning seems to assume an interval of a 5th between the two toms, although sometimes a 4th. The thinking seems to be that with only 2 toms you want the maximum tonal difference between them but still want the tones close enough for the toms to play well together.

Then, using intervals of a 5th, there seem to be two main approaches, which for lack of better labels might be called the jazz vs. the rock approach. In the jazz approach, both toms are tuned fairly high, something like F (87.3 hertz) and C (131 hertz). In the rock approach, the toms are tuned a couple steps lower, something like D (73.4 hertz) and A (110 hertz). This of course leaves an in between tuning of E (82.41 hertz) and B (123.47 hertz), but I haven't heard anyone recommend it.

As I have experimented with these different tuning approaches while mulling the typical potpourri of songs I'm called on to play, I don't like any of them. None of them suits all genres, and the in between tuning seems frankly to suit nothing. Drummers who primarily play one or another genre can probably tune a 1-up, 1-down set up appropriately, while anyone with time between songs in different genres can re-tune, but it almost seems like the rest of us darn near need a third tom just to have enough variety of tones to make it through a mixed genre gig.

My leaning at this point is to defy convention and tune my two toms the way I like them. Appealing to me is an octave spread between them, specifically the floor at D (73.4 hertz) and the rack at D (147 hertz) too. I feel good soloing with this setup, and think it works for most genres. The exception is some rock songs, where I'd really like another low tom. But I don't play a lot of those songs, and suppose if I knew I was going to I could just re-tune the rack or set up a third tom.

How are the rest of you 1-up, 1-down players tuning, and are you encountering similar frustrations trying to cover all bases (plus express your own style) with only two toms?
Wherever the drum sounds good.
 

blueshadow

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For me I just want the Rack tom to be tension to where it doesn't make the snare wires buzz, this also effects where I tune the snare, finding a spot for each where they both sound good but aren't close enough in pitch to make the snare wires buzz.
Then I tune the floor tom to where it and the rack sound good when hit together, basically making a "chord" probably a 1/4 but never really have thought about it or tried to tune to specific notes.
 

michaelocalypse

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I don't know notes or any of that yet. I've always tuned by ear. I tune the lowest tom as low as it goes with good tonal quality, and then I go up from there just listening to what sounds good. On a 1/1, I was told I was about a 5th apart. On a 2/1, I was told I had it tuned about in 3rds. It's not exact notes since I'm starting where the lowest floor tom is optimized, but that's fine because the toms don't become hidden in the music.
 

kzac

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I'm spending too much time these days trying to get a streamlined 1-up, 1-down set configured to my liking and am having a devil of a time deciding on tom tuning.

Conventional tuning seems to assume an interval of a 5th between the two toms, although sometimes a 4th. The thinking seems to be that with only 2 toms you want the maximum tonal difference between them but still want the tones close enough for the toms to play well together.

Then, using intervals of a 5th, there seem to be two main approaches, which for lack of better labels might be called the jazz vs. the rock approach. In the jazz approach, both toms are tuned fairly high, something like F (87.3 hertz) and C (131 hertz). In the rock approach, the toms are tuned a couple steps lower, something like D (73.4 hertz) and A (110 hertz). This of course leaves an in between tuning of E (82.41 hertz) and B (123.47 hertz), but I haven't heard anyone recommend it.

As I have experimented with these different tuning approaches while mulling the typical potpourri of songs I'm called on to play, I don't like any of them. None of them suits all genres, and the in between tuning seems frankly to suit nothing. Drummers who primarily play one or another genre can probably tune a 1-up, 1-down set up appropriately, while anyone with time between songs in different genres can re-tune, but it almost seems like the rest of us darn near need a third tom just to have enough variety of tones to make it through a mixed genre gig.

My leaning at this point is to defy convention and tune my two toms the way I like them. Appealing to me is an octave spread between them, specifically the floor at D (73.4 hertz) and the rack at D (147 hertz) too. I feel good soloing with this setup, and think it works for most genres. The exception is some rock songs, where I'd really like another low tom. But I don't play a lot of those songs, and suppose if I knew I was going to I could just re-tune the rack or set up a third tom.

How are the rest of you 1-up, 1-down players tuning, and are you encountering similar frustrations trying to cover all bases (plus express your own style) with only two toms?
I play a similar setup when I gig, especially if its a small venue. I wouldn't go crazy attempting to acquire perfect fifths between toms. You should however have some mind of how and when you want a tom sound to make a statement within the mix of what ever music you happen to be playing. for instance if you want your higher pitched tom to provide a very distinctive voice within the music and your lower tom to provide deep rich bottom end. The other consideration is that with a four piece setup which we are discussing, don't forget that your snare becomes the third tom in the mix

I like my drums to ring and have a very pronounced voice in the music mix. I want my higher toms (ever how many I am using to be distinctive and able to be distinguished one from another. My floor toms I want loud, thick and rich. I don't muffle my toms for live performance, and get plenty of comments related to how my drums sound. I always search for that balance where the drum rings out the most at what ever pitch suits it the best. I work with my toms to stop them from ringing off flat (can't stand that noise), but I let them open up and sing and sustain as loud and as long they possibly can. Ask your band mates what they think of your tuning... They can hear the sound of your kit better than you can. They will tell you real quick if they think it needs improvement.
 


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