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How integral to the harmony of the music is the tuning/timbre of the drum-set? It must be more aesthetically pleasing, even on a subconscious level, to have the drums tuned somewhere in the vicinity of the general keys in which the other musicians are playing but, can this factor make or break a song?

Live performance versus recording?

  • not sure it's a dupe, but have a look at music.stackexchange.com/questions/38221/… – Tetsujin Jan 7 '17 at 6:34
  • There are drummers who will tune to the key of the song, but for the most part it really doesn't matter. I've seen or heard of a drummer running to a song outside of more experimental music. – Linuxios Jan 8 '17 at 22:07
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This article is very insightful on the subject. Highlights:

Intricate tuning of acoustic drums can have a significant impact on the quality and contextuality of the instrument when played live or in the recording studio. Indeed, many musicians and producers will spend a number of hours achieving a preferred drum sound prior to a performance.

In many recording sessions, the drum setup has a very important role. The setup involves choosing the correct drum kit, choosing and positioning microphones for recording the drum kit, and tuning the drum kit to give the desired sound.

Repeatability of sound can be an issue on high profile tours where, for example, the drum sound is required to be as close to that of the artist’s recorded work as possible. In this case the drum sound is desired to be consistent on every night of the tour, and some method for achieving this is attempted by the sound technicians. Repeatability and benchmarking also become issues when considering that many percussionists desire to tune their drums to a particular musical scale or the key of a particular song...

Each drum has its own range of tone that it can be suitably tuned to. For example, a 12” tom can be tuned to have a fundamental within a specific frequency range. But as it is tuned lower and lower, eventually the drum head will go slack and the tone will become poor. At this stage if a lower tone is required, a larger drum should be used. Drums are also made with different depths and of many different materials by many different methods. Similarly, the types of drum heads used have a major impact on the available tuning ranges and attack and decay profiles. Furthermore, the choice of whether to use the same or different heads on the batter and resonant sides of the drum have a major influence. These factors are all under consideration in the current research.

A quantifiable method for drum tuning has been developed and is being evaluated in the author’s current research. Of course, some musicians and producers will not embrace yet another technical method within their artistic field. But, it is felt that, at the technical level where waveform and spectrum analysis are the norm, this approach could be embraced to give the valuable capture, analysis and benchmarking of drum sounds and tuning setups.

This research aligns with my experiences and discoveries when performing and recording.

Part of the reason I asked the question was because I very recently recorded a track on which the original key was G. The drum part on the recording is temporarily an open-source-stock loop - for mood and timing. After the first take, I realized a slight dissonance and then discovered that the kick-drum was tuned to A - and, asked that we transpose the tune up a whole step. The result was a much more engaging and aesthetically pleasing product. Everyone involved in the recording was much more into the tune once the switch was made too...

I know the balance is ultimately achieved based on the necessities of the group itself... Sometimes it's easy - for the first Rage Against the Machine album, Brad Wilk would've only had to tune his drums to D, at least during live performance (the whole album is damn near in D.)

Perhaps the subject is too negligible that it truly can be ignored in music.... but, I don't like to. :)

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