To many drummers, nothing seems more intimidating than tuning toms. I have to admit that, for me, toms are the hardest of all the drums on a drum set to tune. But just because they’re harder to tune than kick drums or snares, it doesn’t mean they’re exceptionally difficult; they just aren’t as easy to tune as the others.

So here are 3 tips that I always use to help me tune toms… And hopefully they will help
you too!

1. Start Over
If I have a tom that’s giving me trouble, and I know that I need to tune it, many times I’ll just start turning tension rods to try and “isolate” the issue. Most of the time I end up discovering that I’m making things worse! I’ve learned that, in most cases, the best way to fix the tuning problem is to start over from scratch. That means I loosen all the tension rods and pretend that I’m putting the head on the drum for the first time. Starting over is a good way to GREATLY simplify the tuning process, and it makes the next 2 tips I’ve got for you even easier!

2. Blame Your Heads
If you followed step 1 and your head is sitting completely loose on the drum, you might discover that the head is in a lot worse shape than it appeared when the drum was at full tension. Have you ever decided to change a drum head and discovered that, once you removed it, it looked caved-in like a satellite dish? Do you ever cringe when you start to guess at how long it’s been in such bad shape?

If a head starts getting difficult to tune, it may already be “gone”, and the only way to know for sure is to start over and look at the head when it isn’t tight on the drum.

My rule of thumb… is always this: If I think I might need to replace a head, I probably should just go ahead and do it.

Now I’m not a heavy-hitter (anymore), so my tom heads don’t get “dented” like they used to, so it can be a little harder to tell if I need to replace a head, even when I loosen it all the way. But I’m also aware that most of us aren’t the only drummers at our churches. Even if I’m not a heavy-hitter, it doesn’t mean the other drummers that play the kit aren’t.

My rule of thumb, though, is always this: If I think I might need to replace a head, I probably should just go ahead and do it.

3. Stay Organized
This is where many drummers miss the mark when tuning tom heads, and why many of us may think tuning toms is so hard. We simply don’t stay organized! What does “stay organized” mean in the context of tuning a drum?

Staying organized means: you keep track of which tension rods have been tightened, and that you always rotate/tighten each tension rod the same amount (this is assuming that you’ve followed Step 1 above and are starting over).

For example: sometimes I’ll start tuning by tightening each tension rod one and a half turns. I’ll do this for the top and bottom head. Assuming the drum is fairly well-maintained and/or not 50 years old, simply doing this (and staying organized) can get me a pretty good tom sound. From there, I’ll tighten the resonant head another quarter turn (if you’re a tuning pro: I try to tune the bottom head a minor third higher than the top). And again: If I’ve stayed organized, the drum will sound pretty darn good!

Then I’ll just make minor adjustments to what I’ve got, and I’m all set.

I think we can sometimes get flustered when we expect something to be really difficult. And in the process, we unintentionally end up making it harder, thus proving our expectations true!

I hope this encourages you to take a fresh look at tuning toms, and to not feel so intimidated or frustrated by the process. It doesn’t have to be hard!


  1. Daniel, I really had to laugh about the tuning your toms. I started playing drums when I was just 12 years old and my parents bought me a set of Ludwig drums two years later when I started into high school. I played with a group that played almost every genre of music. I have been playing drums for my church’s music team for about 32 years. A number of years back I donated my set to our church. I have been the only one to play them other than about 6 months when another person tried their hand at them. I just turned 67 and have NEVER changed a head on the toms! I’m quite embarrassed to say that but they still sound good to me. I will be checking them out in the near future to see if they are truly okay or that I don’t have a clue as to how they should sound. Lol. Thanks for the information. Will let you know how it all turns out. The Quilted Drummer

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