Skip to main content

Tuning Toms

Lesson 6 from: Studio Pass: Periphery

Adam "Nolly" Getgood, Matt Halpern

Tuning Toms

Lesson 6 from: Studio Pass: Periphery

Adam "Nolly" Getgood, Matt Halpern

most popular music & audio

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

6. Tuning Toms

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is tuning toms in a studio setting.


  1. What is the goal when tuning a tom in the studio?

    The goal is to achieve a very pure, melodic tone from the drum.

  2. How is tuning a tom different from tuning a snare?

    Unlike a snare, where the bottom head primarily provides a surface for the snare wires to resonate on, with a tom, both heads need to work together to form a single tone.

  3. What is the instructor's approach to tuning toms?

    The instructor tunes the resonant head a minor third higher than the batter head and tunes the batter head a half-step lower than the desired pitch of the drum.

  4. What are some factors to consider when tuning a tom?

    The pitch of the drum will affect its attack and sustain, and the character of the decay of the drum is also important to consider.

  5. How does microphone placement affect the sound of toms?

    Microphones can be forgiving on the sound of toms, but it's important to ensure that the toms sound optimal in the room as well as in the microphone.

  6. What is the instructor's approach to miking toms?

    The instructor aims to capture great core tones from the drums before putting a mic on them, and he tries to use minimal or no drum samples in his mixes.

  7. How does the instructor tune different sized kits?

    With a four-piece kit, he prefers to have the toms descending in fourths. With fewer toms, he focuses more on getting the drums into their optimal ranges.

  8. Why is it important to experiment with different drums and their bearing edges?

    Different drums have different bearing edges, which can affect the tone and sustain of the drum. It's important to find what works best for the desired sound.

  9. How can relative pitch and singing the note out loud help with tuning drums?

    Having relative pitch and being able to sing or hum the note can help in identifying the correct pitch of the drum.

  10. What is the instructor's overall approach to tuning toms in the studio?

    The instructor aims to achieve a melodic, pure tone from the drums by tuning the heads to specific intervals and focusing on getting great core tones before miking the drums.

Next Lesson: Tuning Drums Q&A

Lesson Info

Tuning Toms

We spent quite a bit of time on the snare, there. Sure. We still want to talk about the tom, because it's a very different approach to tuning, in terms of what you're aiming to achieve. So with a snare, we're going for quite a dry, short sound. For me, with a tom, what you're trying to do is get a very pure, melodic tone from the drum. This particularly is where, I don't think I realized how in tune a tom could really be until I worked with some really top producers and heard what they were aiming for. That was really inspiring to me, and now I'm very much a perfectionist about it. And I've kind of developed my own approach to tuning toms, which, I later found out isn't really my own at all. Actually, I think John Bonham's tech, I saw, John Ocheltree? John Ocheltree? Mm-hmm. Yeah. Talking about how he tuned Bonham's toms, and it's kind of like this. So, obviously I'm not doing something too wrong, I guess. So, tuning a tom is so different because unlike the snare where the bott...

om head is really primarily there to provide a surface for the snare rise to resonate on, with a tom, you're trying to get the two heads to work together to form a single tone. And it's really helpful now to have the pitch reference to be able to do this, because my technique is to tune to a specific interval between the heads, and to really get that nailed. And in my experience when you do that, you get a really pure sound. Now, tuning a tom isn't just about finding a note for it, and that being cool. It's the same thing as with a snare: the lower the tom is in it's range, the more attack it's going to have relative to it's sustain, and the higher you tune it, the more overtones it's gonna have. Another important thing is, the character of the decay of the drum. If you tune a drum a certain way, it might have a big, kind of, pitch dive. A "dooooo," like especially floor toms can be really prone to that. To me, that's not a sound that I really like. A certain amount of its inevitable if you hit a tom softly, like when I tune this tom, if you hit it softly, it's gonna be a very pure sound. If you hit it hard, just because of the amount you're displacing the head, it is gonna have a little period before it settles. Sometimes that can sound a lot worse in the room than it is in the microphone. In that respect, I'd say microphones are actually quite forgiving on the sound of toms, and sometimes I've made the mistake of kind of trusting what I'm hearing in a microphone, and you come out into a live room after the drum has done a great take and you can actually hear the tom in a room, and realize it's not really in at all. Which, I mean, it's up to you whether that matters. If it sounds good on the recording, maybe you're happy to let it slide, but personally I want the toms to be sounding optimal at all times. Well and your whole, I think, the whole key to this is getting great core tones, first. Yeah, absolutely. Before you ever put a mic on it. Absolutely. Because if it's good in the, you know, if you really can measure it and it's good in the room, then, yeah. I mean, even last night, when we did a clinic locally, and I guy wants to come up and hear your drums on the stage, like from what you were hearing, and he was amazed. He was mainly talking to me. He couldn't believe that drums could sound like that acoustically. And really, that's when you have to aim for. Maybe you can get away with it not being perfect, but when it is perfect, there is that extra, I don't even want to say 10%, I want to say anything else: 25, 30% of like, of real polish that's gonna make your production sound amazing. To the extent that, and this is kind of annoying. A lot of people think that I've been using a lot of drum samples in my mixes for the last year or so and, for the most part, if I've engineered something, I try to use none, or just very little, and it's normally just on the kick drum. The toms are almost always completely natural. Because they're so in tune, they almost have that character, like the perfect drum program machine. But to me, that's what I want to hear from the drum. And we'll go through exactly how to tune it, right now, and then how to mic it and mix it, and you're gonna learn all of that. So, I'm gonna start with the resonant head. So the resonant head is the one you don't hit, and it's thinner. And my technique is to tune the resonant head a minor third that's three semi-tones, or three half-steps, depending on what kind of musical lingo you speak, higher than the batter head, so you're gonna get an interval of a minor third. Now, when you usually hit the drum, you're not really gonna hear that interval. You might, just in the sustain, start to hear the two heads separate, but when they really are in tune, you're gonna get a single, unified tone, and what I've found, it depends a little bit based on the specific drum, and the material of the drum, and the depth of the drum, but as a general rule, if you tune the batter head one semi-tone beneath the desired pitch of the final drum, like, so, I'm going to try and aim to get this drum to sound a D, I'm gonna go down by a half step, and I'm gonna tune my batter head, my resonant head, sorry, to that pitch. So, in this case, that'd be a C#. And then, my batter head is gonna be a minor third below that, so that's gonna be an A#. We'll get to that in a second. So is that a consistent formula, then, that you try to use? It's fairly consistent. Sometimes, I've tuned like really deep power toms that are way lower than I expect them to be when they're actually tuned up, and sometimes it's not like the perfect note, but when I went through your toms earlier, I mean, I don't know if we've got any mics on your toms, but if you just hit your first rack tom... (tinny beat) (even clarinet tone) Once it's settled it's, "doo." Yeah. Yeah, so and I'm gonna tune this exactly like I tune that tom. What note is that? That's a D. Okay. And even before I get into this, in fact, I'm gonna talk about the logistics of tuning different sized kits, depending on how many toms you have. You can end up being really forced into certain ranges of drums that don't necessarily, that may be not optimal for the drum, but work best as an ensemble. When I've got up to four toms, I generally like to have the toms descending in fourths. It's a bit like the strings of a guitar, like the low four strings of a guitar. And actually, if you had a six--a seven string guitar-- and you start on the D string, that would sound like those four toms. I don't know if you're gonna hear it well enough, but if you want, you can hit through the toms and hopefully you'll hear that. (tick) Okay? Yep. (tom hit) (tom hit) (tom hit) (tom hit) So the 14's a little bit low. We'll touch that up before we do any recording, but I'm aiming for like, that kind of sound as you play through the toms. If you only have three toms or, better yet, only two toms, the intervals start to matter a little bit less, and it can be more about getting the drums into their optimal ranges. To be honest, with a four-piece kit, I find that the bigger rack tom and the bigger floor tom end up a little bit lower in the range than I would normally tune them. They don't, you know, as an ensemble, they don't necessarily sound completely consistent in their attack, but by the time they mix, they're gonna sound great. If I was just tuning a 12 and a 16, they would both be significantly higher. But, that would force the 14 and the 10 to be way too high in their range. It'd be like jazz toms, so there is an element of compromise that's gonna go into that. So anyway, D, for me, is a really good range for a 10-inch rack tom. To me, at that point, I know the heads are really gonna be in their sweet spot. Then it's really a question of whether the heads and that pitch are gonna resonate nicely with the drum. And so, if it's not working, we can shift the pitch around a little bit. But I'm gonna start by trying to get this to a D. So I'm gonna do exactly the same thing as I did with the snare. I'm gonna start with this (hollow tapping) it's not completely slack, but it is really low, and I'm gonna try and get it even at this pitch, and then I'm gonna keep applying tones until we're up at the right kind of pitch, so C# is gonna be, one second, this. (even clarinet tone) (hollow tapping) It's kind of, like, an octave too low right now, so. So, again, the goal is to get a D, so the resonant head you would tune a half-step down to a C#. Correct. Okay. (metallic rustling) Now, a small tom like this, is very very twitchy. It takes a very small amount of movement on a lug to yield a very big difference in pitch, so you have to be very careful. I just tuned it up a little bit from where we started, just so it's starting to make a turn. Being a thin head, it requires a little bit more tension before you can really discern a tone. (repeated hollow tone and metallic scraping) Something that can help, like I'm not really hearing the pitch so much of this lug, and it might be to do with the hardware, or just the head or something, is to just place a finger, really lightly in the middle of the drum. Really lightly, so you're not actually affecting the tension of the drum. (hollow tone and scraping) So, to me, there's something going on with these two. If you remember, I was saying earlier that pairs are really important, and I think I've got this one perhaps a tiny bit too tight, and this one a little bit loose. So, the resulting picture is somewhere close, but I'm never gonna get it right unless I kind of even out the disparity there, so I'm just gonna kind of see what I can do. (hollow sounds and scraping) I know some other drummers that use, sort of, this approach of putting their thumb in the center of the drum and pulling off, so you're not getting the attack of the drum. That's really good once you've got a general picture of the drum, but at this point I really want to zero in on every lug independently. When you want to hear the pitch of the drum as a whole, like maybe right now, (warm beat) it's good because it doesn't excite, you don't hear the attack of the drum, you just hear the round tone. So, there's some over-tones, but for me, the note that I'm hearing, I guess is... (steady tone) (tones overlap) It's like a G#. (warm beats) Something close to there, kind of between a G and a G#, so I've still got a ways to go before I hit my C#. I'm just gonna go ahead and do that right now. Your flashlight's on. Oh, is it? Maybe I want to light that bit of ground up! (beats and metal grinding) Getting close. (steady clarinet tone) So we're like, a whole step below. (beat and scrape) Almost! (steady clarinet tone) (beat) It's a tiny bit flat, so, this is gonna be so twitchy, it's gonna be kind of difficult to do, but I'm gonna just use extremely small turns to try to get that final bit. (beat and scrape) (even clarinet tone) (warm beats) Pretty much a C#. Now, again, there are some overtones you can hear, but the actual, the core note, the C# is very very solid. You don't want to hear it wobbling at all. To get rid of those overtones, I could apply a tiny piece of tape, but compared to a lot of toms, this is actually a very minimal amount of overtones. From the bottom head, I'd rather not apply too much muffling that's really gonna kill the sustain of the tom. A tom is gonna resonate very differently when I'm holding it, than when it's placed on a mount. Invariably, any kind of mechanical mount is gonna suck sustain out of the drum, so I want to try and keep as much sustain in the drum as I can. So I'm not gonna apply any muffling to this if I can get away with it. Different drums are gonna sound very different at different tensions. This is also a newer drum than that. It's made by Apex and it's the same range, but between these two, they refined the bearing edge, which is the part of the hoop which the head sits on. And, they've designed it in such a way that the head makes better contact around, and I've found, even in just a brief amount of time, tuning these toms that it is a little bit easier. You get less overtones that are kind of more studio-ready, right out of the box. Different drums all have different bearing edges. Different brands prefer certain bearing edges. It's worth trying a load of drums out and figuring out what the bearing edge does for the sound. It's all about how much contact the head has, which is gonna affect the tone of the head, but also the sustain of the head as well. Generally, modern drums have a sharp edge. They just have a point, which a head sits on, and then a 45 degree angle away. That's kind of the standard modern cut. The Gretsch kit, I think, or Yamaha recording custom kits have a steeper angle. Vintage ones tend to be very rounded over, and you get like, a very overtone-heavy sound with very little sustain, so you have to put a lot more tension into them, and you get more of like a kind of jazz tone sound out of that. It can still work, but it's just worth experimenting with. Anyway, so that's, this is actually gonna be a little bit different to that, but hopefully the toms gonna come out sounding pretty similar. Now, as I described, I'm gonna tune this head a minor third lower. So it's gonna be an A#. (steady clarinet tone) A minor third lower than D. Then, sorry, it's gonna be a fourth lower than the D, and And a minor third lower than the C#. Not a fourth, sorry, a major third lower than the D, a minor third lower than the C#. Got it. Take notes on this, everyone! Yeah, yeah, we can go through. Just remember, go down a half-step from the final pitch, which was a D, and then a minor third lower than that for the batter head. So, A#. (constant tone) (beat and clank) I'm just gonna do this quickly, I've done this a couple of times already on camera, so unless people really want to see it in slow motion... (warm beats and scraping) So we've got an even sound. Note that as a double ply head that's already been played a little bit, and I've got a little bit of tape on here, which I'll pull off. This is a way more muffled sound, it can actually be a lot harder to tune. It's got a lot less natural sustain, even when it's in this good range. It can be a little bit more difficult to hear what's going on. And note that I'm also kind of muffling the other head just by having it in my lap. If I'm standing, I might put it on a surface with a towel on, or just on your throne, so that it's not ringing. I don't want to hear the drum heads together. That can make it really difficult to really hit the pitch of each head. I will, once they're both in the right kind of range, but for now, I'm gonna do things completely in isolation. So right now we have... (beat) (overlapping tones) ...D#. (beat, beat, beat) Or there about. So I have a fair ways to go before I hit my A#, so I'm just gonna do that now. (metal clanking) (warm beats) Would it help to, to almost sing the note out loud, too, if you don't necessarily have the ear for it? Yeah, definitely. And maybe if there weren't cameras and microphones on me right now, I might do that, but I'm not gonna do that. Yeah, there's more connectivity as far as how you can identify a pitch if you can do it with more of your senses, I would say, so not just listening to it, but being able to actually sing the note or hum the note, really allows you to connect with it better. It's like ear training, basically, so being able to actually articulate that note and say it could help in getting better at this process. I'd say unfortunately, if you're a drummer, and you've only ever played drums, you might not have focused so much on the melodic side of things. I find guitarists tend to make really good drum tunists, because you're always messing with the tuning of your guitar, so you get really good at fine-tuning the relationships between two strings. So, if you're a guitarist, you're probably going to find this a little bit easier once you get down with the mechanics of actually tuning a drum. I had another point, but I forget it. This is pretty much a-- oh, I was gonna say relative pitch is also a really important skill. I've put my tuner away. I know that this is my C#, and I'm just gonna use my ear to see if this is a minor third lower. So we've got... (rhythmic beating) That's a guitar player thing. Yeah. Yeah. (laughs) Now I'm gonna listen to the drum as a whole. Now notice this is completely different pitch now that it's separated. (full beat sound) We're hearing the whole sound of the tom, which is gonna be really difficult to tune if I was trying to do the whole thing like that. When the kit's all set up, it can be quite difficult, but I kind of put a hand underneath to muffle. Otherwise it can be quite tricky to separate the heads. Floor toms are a nightmare for that. You end up on your knees kind of crawling around doing it, but you have to do what you have to do. So let's see what this sounds like, it's probably not gonna be perfect, just gonna be close. (solid beat) My hand is probably muffling it a little bit, I'm holding the shell. I'm gonna hold it like this. (solid beats) Do you want me to compare it with this one? Yeah, do it. (higher beat) So that's a tiny bit higher, it might be that I've just tuned it a little bit differently. It might be the drum itself. Funnily enough, this is a shorter drum than that one. You might assume that a deeper drum is gonna have a lower pitch. It doesn't always work that way. Every drum is a little bit different. But, they're pretty consistent in sound. And you can see, it really didn't, if you take out the part with me explaining, that wouldn't have taken me very long to do. There's also no muffling on this drum. It's completely just open. And if you put a microphone on that, that's gonna sound like a super melodic, just "doong." It's gonna sound like a drum machine or something, it's great. So, I would repeat that process through all of the toms, getting my desired pitches by dropping down a semi-tone from the desired overall pitch of the drum. So in that case, it's going to be D, A, E, B, if you're dropping down in fourths. It would be the resulting pitches of the drums. And that's pretty much it. The really good thing about tuning in this way, apart form being able to get it back, is it really flatters the sound of the drum in the microphone. As we talked about earlier with the snare, if I'm tuning the batter head too high, we start to lose that attack, and we start to get a lot more overtones. Some drummers like to tune both heads to the same pitch. That hasn't worked for me, I find that I get a lot of pitch dive if I do that, and generally one or the other head is not really in a suitable range for itself. For me, because this is tuned a little bit lower, we're gonna hear loads of stick attack, but because this is higher, it's gonna really support the fundamental tone of the drum. Records great. And, for you, it feels a little bit better. I think you prefer the slightly slacker feel on the basset head. Absolutely. Yeah, it's much nicer to have a little bit of give, I think, than all this rebound, because with a little give, you can sort of gauge your own movements. When there's rebound, you really have to control that movement in certain ways, especially with a tom that can be a pretty small circumference to play on, as far as diameter goes, so one, your accuracy has to be really on point, especially with a lot of balance, because you don't want the stick to go all these different ways, but, I don't know, I find that for me it's a lot easier to lay into them when there's a little bit of slack to it. And again, this is gonna work for our big drum-sound that we're achieving. We're gonna get both the attack from the slightly slacker batter, and we're gonna get great resonance from the drum being really in-tune with a higher tuned resonant head. And you'll see later, when we get to actually recording these toms, they're gonna sound really good.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Halpern Drum Samples
Micing Guitar Cab
Nolly's Mic List

Ratings and Reviews

Connor Smith

I haven't even finished the course and already my mixes have improved dramatically. Night and day difference. I haven't watched the portions with Matt as I'm using drum samples (GGD specifically), but I have no doubt it's great. Matt is always incredibly helpful and is a brilliant drummer. I thoroughly enjoy listening to Nolly, he's very articulate and his approach to audio engineering is flat out brilliant. I'm so happy I purchased this course. Before my mixes were good (balance and things of that nature) but lacked life and energy. I just wasn't getting the professional level sound I was searching for. Now, I am proud of my mixes and actually think they're getting to the point where they sound professional and don't sound like they were produced by a dude in his bedroom with about half of year of recording and audio engineering experience. The metal genre is difficult to mix as there's a lot going on and the "current metal sound" is very crisp and clear while still being very heavy and punchy. It isn't 80s dad metal where guitars are hissy and flubby. lol I am a huge Periphery fan and it's a privilege to watch Nolly share his knowledge. I really enjoy his approach as its very simple but very effective. He doesn't have insane mixing strategies, he just does what works and it's applicable to any DAW and is helpful for almost any genre of music. Brilliant course!

a Creativelive Student

This was an amazing course! I loved hearing from both Matt and Nolly on their thought process behind drums in general. I love the point they drove home about getting a great source tone. That seems to be forgotten in a lot of recordings and they try to fix it in the mix. Jolly did a fantastic job of making it look "easy" to take already great sounding source tones and making them really shine! Cant wait to put these concepts into practice in my own projects. What a great source of knowledge here. Thanks for this great class!

Adrian Gougov

Best course and overall learning experience I've had in a long long while. Nolly and Matt are superb. Nolly is an astonishing mixing and recording engineer and a great teacher. Not only does he explains his methods carefully and in detail, but also lays down key concepts in an understandable language. Definitely worth the investment if you wanna learn how to mix modern heavy music. Definitely worth the investment if you wanna learn how to track drums properly. Definitely worth the investment if you wanna see one of modern metal's best drummers track a whole song from start to finish. Props to Creative Live for bringing this material to us.

Student Work