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Tuning Intervals

Tuning Intervals

As drummers, we usually tune our drums to particular intervals.  This means in practical terms 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.

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).

Below is a large section of a page that was generously provided by Mainliners. Thank you to Dan Meyer.  The tables set out to give [mostly] common reference points to enable you to memorise the intervals.

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 that 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 your self 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 subsequent tom to is 'so' which has the same interval of a third so you do it again but starting on the just-tuned tom for "Have". When you hit two drums together 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). 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 Your self..." Have = Re & Your = Fa

  • Fa-So and So-La are seconds; You = Fa & Must = so; and then... You = So and Must = La

If you haven't tried this before, give it a go, it's great craic and good experience, try playing melodies on them.

There is a concern about this degree of musicality from a drummer interfering with the tuning of the band (seriously, not a drummer joke :), that concern being that if your kit is, or worse, is almost in a particular key and the tune played is in a disharmonious key then the whole band is out of tune.  I'm not sure I subscribe to it, I agree with the theory but experience has left me unconvinced .

It is obviously important for this exercise that you can tune your drums accurately.

Paul Marshall -

Paul is the owner of Drumdojo and the Dojo Sites, He is responsible for writing and collating a lot of of the material that you see here on drumdojo.

Playing drumset since age 5, Paul has been a drummer on and off for most of his life. He plays every drum he can get his hands on. Paul works as an instrument designer, has designed many instruments for the Stomp orchestra and more recently in Holywood Movies. Paul is a prolific web designer and currently has a portfolio of around 40 business and hobby sites.

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