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I can tune tom toms all day long (sometimes it takes me less..!) but I haven't found an effective way of tuning a snare drum. What are good methods for effective tuning?

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    What's been undesirable about the results you've been getting? I assume this is about "how to know when it's right," not the mechanics. Also, did you try googling? I see dozens and dozens of results. Maybe edit to say more about how they're unsatisfactory. Apr 4 at 16:52
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    Throw off the snares and tune it just like a tom. Apr 4 at 17:04
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    If you're expecting something you're not getting from Google (coincidence: I have been literally all over snare-tuning Google results in the last 72 hours) you probably ought to say what
    – Judy N.
    Apr 4 at 23:12
  • "... but you can't tune a fish."
    – Aaron
    Apr 5 at 2:02
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    Those are opinion questions. You’ve decided how you want your toms to sound together. Make the same decision with the snare as if it’s another tom. Regarding snares: tighter means shorter snare sound, looser means longer. Some even adjust for specific songs. There’s no right answer. Apr 5 at 10:35

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My comment wasn't really meant to be flip, it just seemed too short for an answer, but now I'm thinking expanding it to an answer makes sense.

All of what you know about tuning toms is applicable to tuning snares. It's almost the same kind of drum. The biggest differences are snares are usually shallower and they have snare wires. The depth mostly affects sustain and not much else, so snare drums have a faster decay than toms of the same diameter. And then you have the snares. Otherwise, it's a tom.

So the mechanical aspect of tuning a snare is you have to get the snares to not sound and then you can follow the same tuning procedure as you would for a tom. For the batter head, it's easy: throw the snares off. For the resonator head it's harder. Some people throw off and then loosen the snare wires enough that they can get a drum stick between the rim/counterhoop and the string for the snare wires, which holds the snares away from the head. Then, tune as you would a tom. Another option is remove the snare wires. Those who remove the snares usually tune the bottom head very rarely, which you can get away with most of the time.

That said, there are some common choices that people make when tuning snare drums that are different from the typical choices for toms.

Toms are much more often tuned to their lowest or one of their lowest resonant frequencies. Snares are usually tuned to a higher resonance. This means a 14" snare is usually tuned higher than a 14" tom. Maybe even higher than a 10" tom.

Second, the two heads are often detuned slightly to make the drum overall less resonant with a shorter decay. The most common choice is batter head slightly tighter than a resonant pitch and resonator head slightly looser, but there are reasons to do it the other way. Note that the tightness of the resonator head also affects the sustain of the snare wires in conjunction with the tightness of the snares.

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  • I typically see the resonant head tuned to a higher pitch than the batter- for both snares and toms, but especially snares.
    – Edward
    Apr 5 at 15:07
  • @Edward Agreed. That’s why I wrote that in the last paragraph of my answer. Apr 5 at 15:26
  • It sounds like you wrote the opposite- "The most common choice is batter head slightly tighter than a resonant pitch and resonator head slightly looser"
    – Edward
    Apr 5 at 16:58
  • @Edward Oh wait, I misread your comment, sorry. Yeah it might be my experience is not as typical? The thing about a tight resonator head is it can make the snares sound better but a tight batter head gives you a crisper stick rebound. Maybe I let my personal preference (tighter batter head) stand in for common practice without realizing it. Apr 5 at 17:42

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