In Search of the Missing Fundamental: by Richard K. Jones
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Step No. 5

Other devices that can be very useful are the DrumDial™ or the Tama Tension Watch which precisely measure the tympanic pressure at each lug point. However useful these tools maybe, they should not be the final process for fine tuning timpani. Since they don’t measure pitch (but only the timpanic pressure of the head at specific points), these pressure readings are best used as a guide to get you in the general range of the drum’s optimum sound rather than a mechanism for fine tuning. If the head has been excessively stretched at any point (i.e. the playing area), the timpanic pressure readings may not be accurate. This device works best on new or lightly played heads. There are just too many variables involved with the way timpani work (specifically Air loading) to rely solely on pressure readings for accurate pitch, but these devices are very useful for getting you to that sometimes elusive fine tuning zone where you can begin to fine tune and temper your drum.


1) Place the drum so that it is in its lowest range, heel to the floor as before, making sure that the bottom note is 1/2 step (or lower) below the lowest note of the MSR for the size of the drum, and that the pedal doesn’t move (I can’t stress this enough). If the drum has a master tuner, release the tension until the head is at its threshold of pitch.

2) Start at any lug on the drum. Place the edge of the dial so that it is sitting close to the bearing edge of the drum. Get a reading; the dial should be between 6o-80 but don’t worry if it is not. When mounting new heads, the author likes to end with a reading between 65-70.

3) Move the dial to the next adjacent lug. (The manufacturer does not recommend using the cross-tuning method at this point.) If you get a lug that is dramatically off, it is recommended that you move back one lug and recheck. Be aware, as you alter each lug it can affect lugs on adjacent sides.

4) Work your way around the entire drum at least two times until all the tension rods register the same number. It is not important what number it is, just as long as each is the same.

5) Once you’ve completed step No. 4, check the pitch of the drum to make sure it’s correct for the MSR (1/2 step below the  lowest pitch). If it is not, tighten or loosen the tension to get the pitch approximate and then repeat steps 1-5. For drums with master tuners, make sure that the timpanic pressure is consistent at all lugs.

6) Take the drum into mid playing range and strike the drum in the normal striking position with a medium hard stick a few times softly and once loudly. The pitch should match with no wavering and with no flatting or sharping. If the tension at each lug is the same, and if the head is centered and true, and if the mechanism tensions evenly, then the drum should be starting to produce a strong principal tone and clear near harmonic overtones throughout its range.

You may need to repeat steps 1-6 a few times in order to get the head to stabilize. If at all possible, leave the drum overnight with all the tension off of the head (heel to the floor) and then proceed to step six Fine Tuning. Once the heads have had a chance to settle, it will be easier to fine tune and refine the pitch.

Using The DrumDial

The video below (produced by DrumDial) shows how to properly clear and tune timpani heads with a DrumDial. It includes suggested tuning patterns, DrumDial settings for each size timpani, tuning range charts and correct pedal tension adjustment for maximizing the tuning range of each drum.

The DrumDial™ and the Tama Tension Watch work very well and do accurately measure the timpanic pressure, but the pitch clarity of your drum may not be 100% accurate. Although it works much more consistently than most measuring devices, it can sometimes produce an unclear head. After adjusting the head tension (or timpanic pressure) at each tension rod to a point where the gauge indicates the tension to be exactly the same, the sound and clarity of pitch may still be false. If the DrumDial™ or the Tama Tension Watch produce unsatisfactory results, you may have a head that is excessively stretched at some point, or, have a false head and/or tolerance issues with the drum itself. They work best on new, non-coated heads or smooth heads. Coated heads may not be the same thickness at each measuring point yielding slight variations in measurements even though the tension may be the same.