Drum Set Tuning intervals

Drum set tuning intervals

As drummers, we have a habit of tuning our drums to particular intervals.  This means that the distance (the interval) between the tuned note of one drum and that of another is a recognisable one.  This does not mean that we need to (or want to) tune to specific chromatic notes but rather that no matter where we choose to start we can always guarantee that the musical difference we choose between one drum and its neighbour is constant at any tension.

There are as many tuning opinions as there are possible combinations of the musical scale, some are more ‘musical’ than others.  The majority will centre around the major scale which is most usefully explained in terms of ‘Solfa’ or as Julie Andrews would say “do, re, mi, fa, so, la ti, do”.

The relationship between do and mi is a third (count ’em) and do-so is a fifth.  Playing those two notes together gives harmony as does playing all three together.  This is known as a major triad.  If you tune your drums to these intervals then rolls, flams on two toms etc and the general tonality of your kit will be harmonious (assuming that this is what you want).

Drumdojo has a page on tuning intervals setting out [mostly] common reference points to enable you to memorise the intervals.

Read this slowly & Sing the songs!

To apply this, using the do-mi-so triad as an example, pick a tuned tom, any tom that has a good sound for that drum, I generally start low but that’s habit rather than recommendation. 

If drum X’s pitch is taken as the ‘tonic’ or solfa ‘do’ then you should tune the next highest to ‘mi’.  To do this, sing the first two notes of “have yourself a merry little Christmas…” starting on the note (do) of the tuned tom for “Have” and you find the ‘re’ note at “your” of’ yourself’.

The next highest tom to is ‘so’ which has the same interval of a third, so do the same procedure it again but starting on the first-tuned tom for “Have”. When you have done this, hit any two or the three drums together and you make a chord!

If you have five drums that you can usefully tune, then perhaps pick a pentatonic scale.  The beauty of a pentatonic scale is that any combination of the 5 tones will be harmonious (like playing the black notes on a piano).  The simplest to remember for me is (chromatically) D E G A B, easy to remember because each is just to the right of a black note on a piano. 

In Solfa it is DO – RE – mi – FA – SO – LA –  ti – do -.

Do-Re is a second:, so you sing “You Must remember this” You = Do (the note from your tom) & Must = Re

Re-Fa is a third; “Have Yourself…” Have = Re & Your = Fa

Fa-So and So-La are seconds again; You = Fa & Must = so; and then… You = So and Must = La

Useful Interval References

  • Major Second up
    • Doe-a-deer
    • Hap-py Birth-day
  • Major Second down
    • Ma-ry had a little lamb
    • Whis-tle while you work
  • Minor second up
    • You must remember this (“As Time Goes By”)
    • I left my heart in San Francisco
    • Theme from Jaws (repeating two-note pattern)
  • Minor Second down –
    • Shall we dance (from The King and I) –
    • Ride a painted pony (“Spinning Wheel”) –
    • I know a dark secluded place (“Hernando’s Hideaway”)
  • Major Third up –
    • From the halls of Montezuma –
    • Have your-self a merry little Christmas-
    • Well I come from Alabama (“Oh Susanna”)
  • Major Third down –
    • Swing low, sweet chariot –
    • Good night, ladies –
    • Summertime and the livin’ is easy.
  • Minor Third up –
    • Lul-la-by and good night(Brahm’s Lullaby)
    • A time for us (“Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet”)
    • To dream the impossible dream
  • Minor Third down
    • Look at me (“Misty”)
    • Toot-Toot Tootsie, good-bye
    • Oh-o say you see (“Star Spangled Banner”)
  • Perfect Fourth up
    • Here comes the bride
    • Day is done (“Taps” bugle call)
  • Perfect Fourth down
    • Born free
    • My girl, talkin’ ’bout my girl (Motown hit)
  • Tritone up
    • Ma-ri-a (from West Side Story)
    • Bo-oy, boy, crazy boy (from flatted fifth or sharp fourth)
    • “Cool” in West Side Story)
  • Tritone down
    • European police siren
  • Perfect Fifth up
    • Hey there, Georgy Girl
    • Rain-drops on roses (“My Favorite Things”, Sound of Music)
    • Yo-ee-oh (War chant of the Wicked Witch’s guardsmen in The Wizard of Oz)
    • Perfect Fifth down
    • Feel-ings, nothing more than feelings
  • Major Sixth up
    • My Bonnie lies over the ocean
    • Dash-ing through the snow (“Jingle Bells”);
    • N-B-C (network chime)
  • Major Sixth down
    • No-body knows the trouble I seen
    • Gonna lay down my sword and shield (“Down By The Riverside”)
    • 0-ver there
  • Minor Sixth up
    • “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” first two notes (Black Orpheus theme)
    • For Papa, make him a scholar (from “Matchmaker” in Fiddler On The Roof)
  • Minor Sixth down
    • Where do I begin (“Theme From Love Story”)
  • Major Seventh up
    • Ba-li Hai will find you (from South Pacific; first and third notes)
  • Minor Seventh up
    • There’s a place for us (from “Somewhere” in West Side Story)
    • Theme from Star Trek (first two notes)
  • Minor Seventh down
    • Theme from American In Paris (first two notes)
  • Octave up
    • Some-where over the rainbow
  • Octave down
    • Wil-low weep for me

Intervals between notes

  • Minor Second One Half Tone A Half Tone
  • Major Second Two Half Tones One Full Tone
  • Minor Third Three Half Tones One Full Tone + a Half Tone
  • Major Third Four Half Tones Two Full Tones
  • Perfect or Major Fourth Five Half Tones Three Full Tones
  • Minor Fifth or Tritone Six Half Tones Three Full Tones + a Half Tone
  • Perfect or Major Fifth Seven Half Tones Four Full Tones
  • Minor Sixth Eight Half Tones Four Full Tones +a Half Tone
  • Major Sixth Nine Half Tones Five Full Tones
  • Minor Seventh Ten Half Tones Five Full Tones +a Half Tone
  • Major Seventh Eleven Half Tones Six Full Tones
  • Octave Twelve Half Tones Seven Full Tones