Drums are percussion instruments. They are one of the oldest and most common types of percussion instruments available. They make sound from being struck. In music, a pitch is a quality that makes it possible to judge sounds as “higher” or “lower” in a sense associated with musical melodies.
However, not all musical instruments produce sounds with a clear pitch. With this in mind, where do drums fall in this category? Do drums have a pitch?
Yes, drums do have a pitch. However, unlike other musical instruments such as the guitar, marimba, or piano, drums don’t produce a definite pitch. Also, drums can be tuned to have a high or low pitch.
You can obtain a higher or lower pitch by striking different parts of the drum head. The same drum can produce a complex mixture of pitches. Some drummers may prefer a crisp, snappy high pitch, while others may prefer a low thumpy pitch.
However, drums do not produce a definite pitch. This simply means, when you strike, it produces multiple pitches, as opposed to a single pitch on other musical instruments like the piano or the guitar, for instance.
Due to this, they are usually considered non-pitched instruments. This is because they produce a weak fundamental frequency and the pitches they produce are unrelated to the rest of the musical instruments available today.
Drums are meant to keep a steady rhythm for the rest of the band. Some drums have a recognizable dominant pitch. However, you can tighten or loosen the drum heads, enabling you to achieve a particular pitch.
What Is The Pitch Of A Drum?
The pitch of a drum is simply how high or low the sound generated by the drum is. The pitch of a drum depends on how fast the drum skin vibrates when you hit it.
Essentially, when the vibration produced by the drum skin or drum head is fast, it produces a higher-pitched sound. On the other hand, when the vibration of the skin or drum head is slow, the drums produce a lower pitch.
There are a couple of things that determine the pitch of a drum. These things affect how fast or slow the skin or drum head vibrates. Let’s take a look at them.
What Determines The Pitch Of A Drum?
There are four main factors that determine the pitch of a drum, these are;
1. Tension in the drum skin or drum head
The tension of the drum head or skin depends on how tight the skin is on the drums. Tightening the drum skin of your drum will increase the tension in them. Conversely, loosening will reduce the tension in them.
The higher the tension of the drum heads or skin, the higher the pitch, and the lower the tension, the lower pitch.
Simply put, if you want to increase the pitch of a drum, you have to tighten the skin, and if you want to lower the pitch, you loosen the skin or drum heads.
2. Density or thickness of the drum heads
The thickness of a drum head also affects the pitch of the drums
Thick drum heads are not only durable; they also have a higher pitch than thin drum heads. There is no denying the fact that the tension of thin drum heads can be increased, so it has a similar pitch as a thick skin.
3. Size of the drum shell
Drums with a bigger drum shell have a lower pitch, while drums with a smaller drum shell are, the higher the pitch.
That’s because drum heads on a bigger shell vibrate slower when they are hit, hence the lower pitch. Drum heads on smaller drum shells, on the other hand, vibrate faster when they are hit. Hence they produce a higher pitch. More on this later.
The diameter of the hole a drum skin is stretched across determines the size of the drum. Smaller-sized drums produce higher pitches than larger ones.
4. Part of the drum head or skin that is hit
Finally, striking the drum closer to the center while playing will also produce a lower pitch. This is because striking the center will cause the drum to produce a relatively slower vibration. Since slower vibrations produce lower pitch, this will cause your drum to produce a lower pitch.
However, when you hit the drums closer to the sides, they produce a higher pitch. That’s because the tension on the sides of the drum is much higher than on the center.
Do Smaller Drums Have Higher Pitch?
Yes, smaller drums have a higher pitch. The smaller the diameter of a drum, the higher the pitch it produces. This implies that, even when we have two drums of the same shape and made of the same material, the smaller drum will have a higher pitch.
The size of a drum affects its pitch. Hitting or beating a drum skin applies pressure to the drum, which causes the drum surface to bounce back and forth. This bouncing back and forth is responsible for the vibration of the drum skin.
Drums with larger drum surfaces take relatively longer to bounce back and forth. This creates slower vibrations and lower pitches in large drums.
On smaller drums, this bouncing to and fro takes a relatively shorter time to occur. This means, when you hit a small drum, it makes a higher pitch than a larger drum would.
The larger a drum skin is, the slower it moves or vibrates when it is struck. The slower it moves, the lower the pitch it produces and vice versa. In plain terms, bigger drums produce lower pitches while smaller drums produce higher pitches.
Do Drums Have To Be In Key?
An instrument is said to be in key if the pitch of the song being played is considered natural for the instrument playing it. The key of a song helps to tell you what pitch and chords will be used in the song.
No, drums do not need to be in key. Drums are classified as non-pitched instruments. Therefore, they do not need to be tuned to a particular key to fit in with pitched instruments like guitars, keyboards, etc.
Drums are usually tuned to make the individual drums sound as good as they possibly can and not necessarily to fit a particular note in a key. If your drums are out of key, a lot of people won’t notice it. It is usually hard to notice drums that are out of key because the purpose of drum sounds is not to play a melody. Hence it is not necessary for them to be in key.
In spite of this, nowadays, people sometimes tune drums to notes on a scale. During the recording of tracks, some drums are sometimes tuned to the key of the song being recorded. However, the effects of these drums on such records are very subtle and barely noticeable.
Can You Change The Pitch Of A Drum?
Yes, you can change the pitch of a drum. This is known as tuning. Drums are tuned by loosening or tightening the tension rods or ropes that control the tension on the drum head. The tightening and losing of drum heads are done using a tool known as a drum key.
Drum tuning refers to the adjustment of the frequency or pitch of a drum. You can reduce or increase the pitch of your drum to meet your requirements. Drums can be tuned to different pitches by using a drum key.
It is worth noting that how hard your strike or hit your drum can also change the pitch that it produces. Strike a drum softly, and the vibrations are smaller and the pitch not as loud.
Can Drums Be Tuned To A Specific Pitch?
Few drums such as the timpani, rototoms, or steel drums can be tuned to a specific pitch. However, most drums cannot be tuned to a specific pitch. This is why drums are said to have an indefinite pitch. Generally, drums are not tuned to specific pitches. They are only tuned to produce clear, full tones that the drummer prefers.
Tuning drums does not mean tuning the drum to a pitch like “C” or “D.” Instead, drums are tuned to the drum’s resonant frequency or the tone preferred by the drummer. In plain terms, drums are tuned by the ear. So tune your drums without much concern for its key or not.
Even though drums are not tuned to specific pitches, they need to be tuned to remove unwanted overtones and sounds. When it comes to tuning drums, usually, it isn’t really about a specific pitch. It is more about the feel and what type of sound you want to get out of your drum.
Most drums, when tuned and being played, actually produce different pitches at the particular period it is being played.
Although most drums cannot be tuned to a specific pitch, there are three types of drums that can be tuned to a specific pitch. These are the timpani drum, steel drums, and rototoms. Even though the rest of the drums out there, such as the toms, snares, bass drums, etc., have indefinite pitch, some drummers still prefer to tune them to a specific pitch of their choice.
How To Tune Drums
Tuning drums requires some amount of practice and can be frustrating at times. There is one important thing you will need when tuning your drum. This is a drum key. This key is a small tool that is used to tighten or loosen the tension rods that control the pitch of your drum.
It is not possible to tune all drums to sound the same. For example, you can’t really tune a 12-inch tom to sound like a kick drum. I have observed that most drummers tune their drums using the cross tuning method. To do this, tune one lug, then tune the one on the exact opposite of that lug. Keep tightening them till you achieve your desired pitch.
You just need to experiment and practice more on the tuning of drums in order to get the hang of it. The video below will shed more light on how to tune drums.
When it comes to drums, most drummers have their preferences on what they normally like to play. Some prefer smaller drums to bigger ones, and vice versa. The pitch of a drum is how high or low the sound it produces is. Every drum has a pitch.
However, most drums produce indefinite pitches. Drums can be tuned to different pitches using a drum key. If a drum is larger, it is likely to have a lower pitch; while smaller drums have a higher pitch.