Tuning a Pipe Band Snare Drum Part 4

normal_stephen creighton (b)Well drummers, we have finally come to the end of the Pipe Band drum tuning series. All we have to do now is look at the bottom snare setting and head adjustment.

So many people underestimate the importance of the bottom head and bottom snare wire.  The largest amount of focus is on the top head. From experience, and asking lots of questions (I was one of those annoying kids who constantly prodded for answers), many drummers think that the top head is where all of the brightness and pitch comes from.  Ok, so they aren’t totally wrong, but certainly aren’t totally right either.  I can see why they think the top head is important in terms of pitch as it’s made out of Kevlar.  They can stretch this Kevlar super tight, and get a “higher pitch”.  However, it is SUPER important to understand the the tonal quality and pitch of the drum is a result of both heads, snares and the shell being in tune with each other.  When things aren’t balanced, we get that dreaded “overtone” – or weird melodic tone that rings from the drum when you strike it. If you are interested in the science behind it all, then check out this wee article.

Here’s something for you to try.

  • Strike the top head and listen to the overall tone and pitch of the drum.
  • Now loosen the bottom snare wire off until it’s drooping down.
  • Strike the drum again and listen to the overall tone and pitch of the drum.
  • Now tighten the snare again, and repeat.
  • What did you notice?

Well, hopefully, you would have noticed how dull and boxy the drum sounded when the bottom snare was too loose.  This is probably the one thing I check on my drum the most. It is quite easy to knock or bang the bottom snare wire – even just by taking it in and out of it’s case. It’s just such a simple fix, but one that many forget to check!

Ok, let’s get that bottom head and snare sorted once and for all :

1) Take the bottom snare off. Get the DrumDial out and ensure your head is where you want it to be on the dial. If you are setting up a whole corps of drums, line them up (upside down) and pitch them evenly. Use your ears!!! Or if you are tone deaf, get someone in your band who isn’t (a piper could come in handy for once!!).  You should really be tightening the bottom head often, especially during the competition season.  Only turn each bolt 1/8 of a turn clockwise each time. There is no need to do more than this in one sitting.

2) Set the snare back on and ensure it is sitting evenly across the head. You don’t want one end being lop-sided.

3) You are able to adjust the height of the snare mechanism. This is something that many drummers overlook.  Use the height adjustment to ensure the snare is sitting snug on the head. You don’t want it to be sitting too far away from the head. Remember as you tighten the drum head, you will need to adjust this. Make sure you set the drum on a table or on the side so that you can get eye level with the snare. Using your finger, tap the snare near the edge of the drum to ensure it isn’t sitting to far from the head.

3) Gently strike the bottom head and start tightening the snare. You need to use your ears again!! You will hear the overall pitch of the drum increase as you tighten the snare.

4) Keep tightening and listening. There will be a point where that bright pitch turns into an overtone.  This will sound strange and unpleasant. And you don’t want this.  Loosen off the snare and gradually take it back up to tension. You want to reach that point right before you have choked it!

Okley, Dokley. You’re ready! Yup – we have successfully set your drum up to be played.  Well done.

You should adjust your drum as often as you need. Don’t assume it will sit perfectly for a year without being maintained. Also, you should consider changing heads and snare wires once every 12-18 months, as well as re-lubricating all of the areas we covered in the previous posts.  Another thing to consider is your pipe band stick pitch.  If you have old sticks that are low in pitch, this will clearly affect the sound of your drum. Combat this by getting a fresh pair at the start of each contest season – and keep them dry!!

Thank you for your input, and support. I hope these posts are of some help to you.

If you haven’t already, please pop your email into the subscribe button on the top right and continue to get updates from me. Also, please check out my website www.come2dum.com for all of your pipe band drumming requirements and educational resources.

Happy Drumming!

James

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