A Beginner’s Guide to Tuning a Snare Drum

By Aaron Bagby, Drums, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

 Image   All too often, the tuning and intonation of the drum set and other percussion instruments are disregarded in favor of pitched instruments such as the violin, clarinet, or trumpet. While the drums are not capable of producing melodies, scales, or chords, they still require maintenance and care to keep them sounding their best. Having a well-tuned drum set is not only important to the player and the listener, but it can be inspiring and can help encourage frequent practice.

In this Lesson Studio Blog, I will provide a detailed set of instructions to serve as a guideline for students, parents, and drum enthusiasts to use with the tuning of their own drums.

Note: Before beginning, be sure the size of the heads match the size of the drum. Do this by measuring the diameter of both using the yardstick. 

1. Lay the towel on a flat surface.

2. Place the snare drum on the towel with the snare side up.

3. Using the drum key, loosen the snare screws and remove the snares.

Note: “Righty-tighty lefty-loosey” can be applied to all of the screwing and unscrewing of lugs and screws.


4. Place snares, screws, and snare film/snare cord off to the side.

5. Using drum key, loosen the lugs equally (begin with 1 turn) across the bottom head. See the      photograph below for the order to detune the head. Be sure to follow the red numbers closely.

6. Once all lugs are unscrewed, remove the bottom rim, lugs, and head.

7. Place the resonant head, rim, and lugs to the side.


8. Turn the drum over so the batter side is facing up.

9. Repeat steps 5-7 for removing the batter head.

10. Wipe the drum down with an old rag. This includes the inside and outside of the shell, lug       mounts, and the snare tuner. 

11. Pick up the new batter side drumhead.

12. Place the head on the rim of the drum so the drumhead logo is exactly opposite the snare tuner.

13. When the head is in the correct place, put the rim on the drum so the rim holes line up with the lug mounts.

14. Pick up the Vaseline and open the container.

15. Take one lug and apply a small amount of Vaseline to it.

***Caution: Do not let the Vaseline get on the drumhead.***

16. Screw the greased lug into the lug mount.

Note: The lug does not have to be screwed in all the way. Just a little bit will do. Apply more Vaseline if the lug is not screwing easily. 

17. Repeat steps 15 and 16 until all the lugs are in.

18. Finger tighten all the lugs.

19. Wipe any excess Vaseline off with a rag.

20. Turn the drum so the bottom side is facing up.

21. Pick up the new resonant drumhead.

22. Repeat steps 12-19 for the resonant head.

23. Turn the drum over so the batter side is facing up.

24. With the drum key, give each lug on the batter side head one full rotation.

*** Caution: Do not tighten the lugs in a clockwise or counterclockwise order. This will put too much stress on one side of the drumhead and will cause it to pull or tear. ***

25. Lightly rest one finger in the center of the batter side drumhead.

26. With the finger still in place, tap the drumhead near each lug with the drum key. This will     produce a pitch. 


27. Move around the drum in a clockwise manner checking each pitch. Make slight tuning adjustments so each area of the drum sounds the same.

28. Once all lugs have equal tension, continue tightening the lugs equally until the desired pitch is reached. Remember, for large adjustments, move in the order shown above.

 ***Caution: Do not raise the drum head too high. This will either cause the drumhead to tear or will pull the lug mounts out and damage the wood. A slight resistance is the drumhead is fine, but do not over-tighten! ***

Note: When being raised, coated heads will make a cracking sound. 

29. Turn the drum over.

30. Repeat steps 24-28 for tuning the resonant head.

*** Caution: The resonant head cannot withstand the same tension as the top head. The resonant head is very thin, so be careful when raising the pitch. When tuning, a slight resistance is fine, but do not force it. ***

31. Replace snares and tighten screws.

32. Tighten the snares by turning the snare tuner to the right.


33.  When the tuning is finished, set the snare drum back up with your drums and you’re ready to       play! 

Additional Fine-Tuning

For a short, articulate sound, tune the resonant head higher than the batter head. Be careful not to tear the resonant head. John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, is best known for this sound.

For a resonant sound that lets the drum ring, tune the batter head higher than the resonant head. Jazz great Max Roach used this style of tuning.

For a full sound that is in between the previous two ways of tuning, tune both heads to the same pitch. Steve Gadd, studio legend, used this tuning while recording for Eric Clapton and Paul Simon.

These instructions can be applied to tuning toms and bass drums. The only difference is these drums do not have snares.


3 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Tuning a Snare Drum”

  1. Snare heads | Ezfortz Says:

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  3. Sherice Shillings Says:

    Drum sets aren’t cheap, either. A new drum set can run anywhere from a couple of hundred to nearly a thousand dollars, depending on the drum set you choose. Drum lessons, as well, are not cheap. Playing the drums isn’t about pounding. Drums are a musical instrument that requires rhythm, a sense of timing, a sense of volume, control, and of course the ability to make music from a single sound. Most drummers start of with just a drum pad, a simple piece of drumming equipment that allows the drummer to develop rhythm without being distracted by the actual drum.,

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