DRUM MAINTENANCE: Once a year (typically about a month prior to the start of competition season) I recommend taking apart your tenor or bass drum for maintenance. Remove all the lugs and take both heads off. Feel if the inside of the shell is smooth. If the wood has any roughness to it, use extremely fine sandpaper or even a dry kitchen scrubber (often they are on one side of a kitchen sponge) and lightly sand the entire inside of the shell until it is smooth. After sanding, take a slightly damp rag and wipe out the drum well. To dampen the drum (if you are using heads that are not pre-dampened), use a strip of 1”x1” air conditioner foam. Hot glue it to the edge of the inside of the shell, so that it sticks up about one quarter inch. That way, when you put the head on the shell, the foam will contact the head lightly and muffle it, reducing the resonance.

Most drums require four strips about one to three inches long, opposite each other (at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock), under each head; experimentation is needed, though, because every drum is different. Some drums need more foam than this (sometimes even all the way around), and some need less. If you are using pre-dampened heads, do not apply foam to the shell. (Pre-dampened heads have a felt ring attached to the underside of the head on or near the edge.) After dampening the drum, again wipe the edge of the shell and the edge of the foam which will contact the head. Make sure there are no blobs of dried hot glue which will contact the head. Then wipe the inside of the head. Place the head back on the shell. Wipe the outside of the head and wipe the hoop, then place the hoop on the head. Before inserting the lugs, put a dab of lubricant at the top of each threaded hole. (White lithium grease from the hardware store is ideal, but Vaseline works too.) This will keep the lugs from getting tight in the threads and difficult to loosen or tighten. Replace the lugs and make each one finger tight. Then proceed in a pattern tightening opposite lugs evenly a half-turn at a time. (If you tighten one side while the other side is loose, the head can end up crooked on the shell, which will affect the sound.) For Pearl drums, after finger tightening, it should only take about two half-turns on each lug to get close to the proper tone for the drum. This may vary with other makes; I am most familiar with Pearls. (If the heads are new, it will take more turns than that, as the heads will stretch.) Tighten the head to raise the pitch; loosen the head to lower the pitch. Be sure to tighten/loosen evenly. Every lug should always be at the same tension. Follow the same process for the other head, and make sure that you tune the second head to match the tone of the first.

At any time during the season, should your drum lose the quality of its note and begin to sound dull, I recommend taking it apart and thoroughly cleaning all surfaces as described above. A small amount of dust or dirt down in the crack between the head and the hoop can make a huge difference in the sound of the drum. If a cleaning does not improve the quality of the note, it may be time to replace the heads. Over time the heads stretch, and eventually they stretch to the point that they no longer produce a pleasing note.

The note at which to tune your drum is a very subjective topic. There are many combinations of notes which can sound good in a midsection corps depending on the pipe tunes being played. I recommend tuning the bass to B flat to match the drones.  If your band has three tenors, I recommend tuning the tenors to B flat (highest tone), F (middle tone) and D (lowest tone). B flat on a tuner matches the A of the pipes, so these tones equate to A, C and E on the pipes. If your band has two tenors, I recommend tuning to B flat and F (A and E on the pipes).  Please note that it is important to calibrate to the pipe drones once they are tuned on a contest day. Sometimes due to excessive heat, the pipes may be tuning at a higher pitch. The drums need to be adjusted to match. Excessive heat can lower the pitch of the tenors and bass drum as the heat stretches the heads, so significant adjustment may be needed to bring the drums up to a pitch that matches the pipes. This can be achieved with an inexpensive Korg CA-30 tuner. Once the pipes are tuned, hold it over a tenor drone and push the calibrate button until the needle is centered. The note indicated on the tuner will be B flat. Then tune the midsection drums, making sure the bass and the highest tenor match the drones.