Tuning by ear vs drum dial rant...

mcirish

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 18, 2020
Messages
74
Reaction score
40
rant start...
I had a drummer friend over. We were checking out the differences between tuning by ear and by drum dial. I was the "tune it by ear" guy and he was the "tune it to equal tension" guy. I have to say, I am not a drum dial fan. Maybe it can help those that just don't want to be bothered with learning how to actually tune a drum, or are tone deaf and cannot hear pitches. (which I equate to laziness) In our tests, I could tune any given drum to a specific pitch (using a specific interval between the top and bottom heads) in a matter of a few minutes. With the drum dial, it was an impossibly long time of going around in circles only to find you need to go another round and drop the tuning on the lugs to start again. Why is the drum dial so popular with some people? I honestly don't mean to be offensive. My friend is a good drummer but his tuning practices drive me crazy. Tuning by ear, with a piano or other tone source, seems completely logical and fast to me. The drum dial is slow. Also, I don't believe the readings even matter on a drum dial. My friend swears that if every lug has the exact same tension, the head will be perfectly in tune. I say that isn't always the case. What about drum heads that are not 100% perfect? What if the drum shell itself is not 100% perfectly round or a bearing edge isn't perfect. Those differences are going to show themselves with different tensions at each lug. Case in point: I tuned a 13" rack tom for a perfect 4th between the top and bottom heads to give me an open tuning of an A. It was dead on by my ear (which is pretty close to perfect pitch). Then he checks with the drum dial and says I'm off on a number of lugs. I double check them by pitch and say they are perfect. I hit the drum and get a prefect tone. He still says the drum is not tuned because his drum dial says so. I tell him "honestly, I don't care what that tension dial says. I know when it is in tune".

I tried to get him to buy a TuneBot instead but there is something about musical notes that freak him out.

So in conclusion... I'm not a fan of the drum dial and anyone wanting to really understand the instrument they are playing should take the time and learn pitches. We are talking about music here, not some laboratory experiment.

rant over...

Am I being too harsh by saying that the Drum Dial is fairly worthless to anyone who is serious about knowing his/her instrument?
 

JDA

DFO Star
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 7, 2005
Messages
17,929
Reaction score
6,727
Location
Jeannette, Pa.
drum Dial (Tama Watch in my case) is something you use (after) if you feel/sense/ hear... a mistake. That's what it's good for (in my case) It's like a Tire Gauge. I can pretty much feel 26-30 psi ( from the duration of time I'm putting air in and I Know my compressor). I double check what I've done on occasion with the the Drum Watch.

And it's not "tuning by ear" (in my case) It's Tuning "by tension". I know how much muscle and turns I've put into each rod. I put the same effort at every rod.

Then I hear/ear/ listen to it. Up to that point, but usually not beforehand,
I'm tensioning.

Like a Human Torque-wrench.

ps. And I'll tell ya what I've (and you can too) get pretty good at it. So that when after all is done you put the Watch to it - it's 70,70,70,70 etc at every rod
It's arms and hands eyes and brain- manually.

the Gauge is a Check afterward. Or forget the gauge and just tap around, and hear you've done it right. It's (well practiced) manual tension first

and I highly recommend two keys simultaneous opposite always if you can
 
Last edited:

NewBeat

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 31, 2018
Messages
136
Reaction score
85
I agree. For grins, I once tried a drum dial on a 29" timpano to clear the head. If anything, the equal tension propostition of a drum dial should work perfectly on a quality timpano with a modern Remo head. It was a mess - each tension point was perfectly the same yet the head was horribly out of tune. Equal tension != equal pitch, though I can appreciate the assumption that it would.
 

Matched Gripper

Very well Known Member
Joined
May 28, 2019
Messages
693
Reaction score
524
drum Dial (Tama Watch in my case) is something you use (after) if you feel/sense/ hear... a mistake. That's what it's good for (in my case) It's like a Tire Gauge. I can pretty much feel 26-30 psi ( from the duration of time I'm putting air in and I Know my compressor). I double check what I've done on occasion with the the Drum Watch.

And it's not "tuning by ear" (in my case) It's Tuning "by tension". I know how much muscle and turns I've put into each rod. I put the same effort at every rod.

Then I hear/ear/ listen to it. Up to that point, but usually not beforehand,
I'm tensioning.

Like a Human Torque-wrench.

ps. And I'll tell ya what I've (and you can too) get pretty good at it. So that when after all is done you put the Watch to it - it's 70,70,70,70 etc at every rod
It's arms and hands eyes and brain- manually.

the Gauge is a Check afterward. Or forget the gauge and just tap around, and hear you've done it right. It's (well practiced) manual tension first
That’s how I start, by feel. Then I tap near the lugs to make small adjustments. I’ve never used a drum dial, although I should probably try one, out of curiosity.
 

dboomer

Very well Known Member
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2011
Messages
1,031
Reaction score
394
Location
Visalia CA
Equal tension != equal pitch, though I can appreciate the assumption that it would.
I assume you mean “does not equal”. That's the problem with drum dial. I do use it however when changing heads to quickly get in the ballpark.
 

repete

This one goes to eleven
Joined
Aug 17, 2005
Messages
5,311
Reaction score
1,188
Location
south florida
I've never used a tuning device other than a key, feel and my ears. I go for a good sound and a good feel under the sticks. I have no idea what notes I am tuning to or what interval is between the heads and each drum - whatever works for you. Besides the length of time it took with the Drum Dial, did the drum sound good? Isn't that the end result? Does it matter how you got there? We don't all have the same hearing ability.
 

Nacci

DFO Master
Joined
Jul 25, 2015
Messages
3,439
Reaction score
2,733
Location
Roxbury, NH.
I tune by ear and know little about Drum Dials.

Is it basically a torque wrench? How does something like that account for difference resistances encountered from day rust, corrosion, oxidation, say on or two lugs have oil in them or a few tension rods have nicks in the threads and offer increased tension?
 

D. B. Cooper

DFO Veteran
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Oct 18, 2009
Messages
2,659
Reaction score
1,015
Location
Michigan
That’s how I start, by feel. Then I tap near the lugs to make small adjustments. I’ve never used a drum dial, although I should probably try one, out of curiosity.
Yeah, me too.
I'm just usually not that concerned about pitch, specifically. I usually don't want my drums to have a ton of sustain anyway. Also, I fiddle with each of my drums so much that I know where they "like" to be tuned. Some drums, it seems, sound like crap at certain pitches with certain heads. I usually just find an acceptable pitch for the given music in the range each drum provides with my head choice. Then I worry more about spread.
 

Rotarded

Very well Known Member
Joined
Aug 3, 2014
Messages
691
Reaction score
527
Location
Columbus, Ohio
I tune by ear and know little about Drum Dials.

Is it basically a torque wrench? How does something like that account for difference resistances encountered from day rust, corrosion, oxidation, say on or two lugs have oil in them or a few tension rods have nicks in the threads and offer increased tension?
It does not measure the tension or resistance of turning the rods, it measures the tension of the head itself, about an inch towards the center of the head from each tension rod.
 

Seb77

DFO Veteran
Joined
Apr 11, 2013
Messages
2,462
Reaction score
1,078
Location
Germany
Never used any device.
Normally, when in doubt if a drum head is "true" all around, you can loosen all t-rods and start from scratch going by small increments.
When the drumhead is already tightened, I might only de-tune one t-rod until it loses grip, then tighten it one full turn from there. I do this on all the t-rods, twice around the drum (on stiffer hoops one full turn is too much, so I might do only half a turn, but always the same at every t-rod). Not sure this is faster than first loosening all t-rods, then tightening slowly; I imagine it is. Most heads are quite in tune after that procedure. Then I go for the desired tension by ear, tightening or loosening all t-rods the same increment.
 

Nacci

DFO Master
Joined
Jul 25, 2015
Messages
3,439
Reaction score
2,733
Location
Roxbury, NH.
It does not measure the tension or resistance of turning the rods, it measures the tension of the head itself, about an inch towards the center of the head from each tension rod.
Got it. Thanks. Well, to each their own.
 

JDA

DFO Star
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 7, 2005
Messages
17,929
Reaction score
6,727
Location
Jeannette, Pa.
Is it basically a torque wrench?
no it's a spring-loaded floating measuring pin surrounded by a solid weight so the weight is the baseline- and the center (spring loaded) pin- measures the surface tension difference that the weight is on

It ranks right up there with Sister Jean Marie's explanation of the abacus device in first Grade; quite ingenious actually, well made (the Tama is) (I've had extreme good luck and I care for it it's no toy) piece of kit. Hasn't deteriorated in 25 + years. Not a bit...
 
Last edited:

Ox Han

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 15, 2019
Messages
155
Reaction score
109
TLDR: Tune drums by ear and use a drum dial to make a note of tunings you like for future head changes...

Drums only need to sound good. They don't need to be tuned to any note or frequency. Drum dials might have their place, but it's a myth that tuning a drum to 420hz or a Bb and the bottom head tuned to the 3rd is going to sound perfect in your bedroom.

The most difficult thing about drum tuning for the majority of drummers is that the room has a huge impact on the sound and the "sweet spot". This is the source of so much frustration when it comes to tuning drums. Most drummers have no acoustic treatment on the walls of their tiny drum room because they don't know their room has a sound. I never knew that nor considered that until I began recording.

To keep things as short as possible, if you're playing drums in a bedroom or basement then you need to use your ears to make the drums sound "good" in that space. That's only something learned through frustration after many hours and years of changing heads and cursing your drums for not sounding like your favorite albums.

On a side, I bought a drum dial to see if it could help when I was having a lot of trouble with my new room, and a particular snare, hoping to make tuning easier and also to see if I could match turnings I found online. It was useless and I ended up doing what I always do; spend two hours tuning the heads until it sounds "good" in my space and threw on something to dampen it. Anyone want to buy a drum dial?
 
Last edited:

Vicey

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2016
Messages
65
Reaction score
74
Location
FL
I bought a drum dial years ago when I was having problems with tuning. I've gotten much better at tuning by ear now, so I only use it the way they specifically say not to: I put it in the middle of the head after I've tuned all the lugs to even pitch in order to have a numeric reference for the tightness of the heads. Then when I want to experiment with, say a looser resonant head on a snare, it's easier to know how far I've brought the head down and how far to bring it back up if I don't like the results of my experiment.
 


Top