Tuning a Kick Drum

kick drum tuning

The kick drum is at the heart of a kit, it does not get even a fraction of the attention it deserves when it comes to tuning, pitching and treatment (muffling), yet it is the main pulse-giver that the rest of the music and your audience rely on.

The kick drum is tuned similarly to toms. Because the tension on a kick drum head is very low, it is not strictly necessary to seat it although I do seat them as a matter of habit.

Tuning the batter

Hand-tighten the batter head and ensure even tension. Tighten in pairs until all the wrinkles have disappeared from the head and then give each tension rod a further ¼ turn or more to taste. You can tune somewhat higher which will give a tom-like sound. Jazz players may tension their kick drum heads to a higher pitch than is found in a kit tuned for general usage in other styles of music.

Kick Resonant (front) head

The resonant head operates in exactly the same manner as the resonant heads on your toms, thinking of a kick drum as a big tom will give a much greater understanding of how you set it up.

Up until a few years ago, it was common for kits to be sold with huge holes in the front heads, the unfortunate effect of this was the loss of all resonance and warmth and we had lots of ‘clicky’ kick

drums on the circuits. Contemporary thinking has, thankfully, made the shift to considering kick drums as toms with the result that we now see the majority of heads with an offset circular 5”-6” hole or heads with no hole at all. A small offset hole preserves a lot of the resonance of the drum when compared to a large hole, bur not as much as an intact head. The main benefot of the hole is to allow an engineer to insert a microphone and it allows you to adjust your muffling, if you use any.

Kick Reso tuning

Tuning is similar to the batter head, just past wrinkles but I then give each tension rod ¾ turn instead of ¼ again YMMV. That extra ½ turn gives extra tone to the drum which keeps the strokes musical, again experiment and find out what suits you best.

In the next section we’ll discuss controlling the sound of your drums through treatment and muffling