Let’s continue on with the pipe band drum tuning series. We are getting down to the nitty gritty of tuning your pipe band snare drum (scottish snare drum, side drum, marching drum or whatever else you wish to call it!).
In the last two posts, we looked at setting your drum up correctly from the point at which it arrives with you from the factory. The key reason for doing this : you simply don’t know exactly how much lubrication has been applied at the factory. By taking the time to do this, you will increase the life-span of the drum and burn through less consumables such has heads, bolts and snares.
Now we are going to look at setting the top snare – something that is totally down to personal preference. No matter how you like the sound of the snare response – you need to apply the same principles or formulae to get the end result.
1. Get your top head tension to a point where you are happy with the pitch. In the middle of winter, this might be quite dull compared to where you will have it during the summer pipe band season. Remembering to use your Jim Kilpatrick tuning block (or old school calipers if that tickles your pickle). Once you have got to a point where you are happy, only tighten the top head sing 1/8 turns clockwise when required. This doesn’t need to be done at every practice. Try to think of when you want the drum to be “at its best” – and work your way slowly towards that.
2. Figure out how to lower and heighten the snare mechanism. Nowadays, drums come with “dummy proof” signs on them to show you which bolts are for tension versus height. Lower the height down (of the) the snare mechanism – as you are doing this, confidently tap the drum in the centre of the head. You will hear the snare mechanism pull away from the head to leave you with a dull and snare-less sound. Slowly, bring the height back up. You will soon hear the snare wires re-engage with the head. This is where you really want to take it slowly. The slightest turn of the height can push the snares so far into the head that you get a “choked” sound – where the snare wires don’t vibrate at all. You want to find a happy medium here – try playing with it. Don’t be afraid to lower and heighten the snare mechanism a number of times until you are comfortable with what you are doing.
3. If you aren’t getting the sound you want, then take a look at altering the tension. By altering the tension, you are simply stretching the snare wires or loosening them. By stretching them you will get less vibrations, and therefore less “snare sound”. By loosening them you will get a looser snare sound, or “snarey” sound as some people refer to. This again, is about finding the right balance. If you go too loose, you face the possibility of the snare wire falling off whilst you are playing it (and Yes, this has happened to me!). If you go too tight, you risk the chance of a choked and boxy sound. Set the tension, alter the height, and continue to do so until you are happy.
4. Where is the best place to get the true sound of the drum? Well, the best place is to stand where the listener stands. This will be different from the solo platform to the band platform. For the solo drummer, you need to focus more so on the top head and what the drum sounds like from the front. For a pipe band performance, you need to focus on the sound from behind. We will take a look at the bottom head in our next instalment. But here’s something to think about – if you hear a slight rattle from off the top head when you are standing over it – walk around behind. The chances are you probably wont hear it. But if you tighten the snare and the rattle off the top disappears, chances are it may sound choked from behind. Use your ears!
5. Once you are happy with your snare setting, you wont have to adjust it every practice like the bagpipers or mid-section drummers.
6. Make sure you look after the drum and store it in a sturdy case. Flimsy cases are going to allow the drum to be battered and bruised – and probably damaged. If you are serious about getting the best case in the World – you have GOT to check out the HardCase case. They are absolute life savers, and come with wheels and extendable handles. A pipe band drummers dream!
I’m looking forward to our next instalment – setting the bottom snare and head.
Happy Drumming for now!