Tips / Maintenance
NOTES ON TUNING OUR FRAME DRUMS:
Since the late 1990’s, all Cooperman frame drums and tambourines have been built to be tunable. Our tuning system was designed by us to give players some control over the pitch of the drum, albeit within a limited range defined largely by the diameter of the drum. The tuning system also addresses, to a limited extent, vexations as the drum head tightens or loosens as a result of ambient humidity changes, or as the head material stretches over its lifetime.
Please take a few minutes to go over our notes on tuning (below) and to view the following video of David Kuckhermann demonstrating the process of tuning a 22″ Cooperman Tar.
All new drums go through a breaking-in period. Over time, drum heads become “played-in” and may sound quite different that when they were first built. Both skin heads and synthetic drum heads will stretch some, though synthetic heads are more stable than skins. It’s important to know how to adjust your drum to maintain its optimum sound range.
Keeping frame drums exactingly tuned has long vexed owners of drums mounted with skin drum heads. Although the combination of synthetic drum heads and well crafted drum shells go a long way towards providing a reliably tuned drum, environmental factors and a drum’s age inevitably require a drum, even those with synthetic heads, to be re-tuned from time to time. Our tuning mechanism helps players adjust the relative pitch of both synthetic and skin headed drums.
Skins heads constantly change as they adjust to the ambient humidity, and so require frequent tuning adjustments. Synthetic heads are more stable, but do change over time and in response to changing barometric pressures. When adjustments are indicated you will find:
-The goal is to establish a clean, true sound through even tympanic tension. The drum will be out of tune with itself if different sections of the head are tuned unevenly – you will experience this as an inconsistent, wobbly, oscillating sustain as you tap on the drum head around its circumference. Very slight adjustments will clean-up the uneven sound.
-Small adjustments – ten minute turns – to the tuning screws will have a substantive effect on the way the drum sounds. Turn the screw clockwise to increase tension (make the pitch higher), counterclockwise to decrease tension (lower the pitch). Tune the drum in a pattern like you would the lug-nuts on a car tire – tighten opposing screws as you work your way around the circumference of the drum.
-We sometimes use a DrumDial® to test for even tympanic tension; this tool is precise and effective. You should, however, be able to achieve a good, even, clear pitch just tuning by ear, and without the need to resort to a precision tool. (see also below) More About Tuning-
-Although we wax the edge of the shell to lubricate the contact between the wood shell and the drum head, occasionally the head will stick to the frame. If the head adheres to the rim, the head is prevented from floating evenly on the bearing edge. It is a good habit to apply some pressure all around bearing edge where the head and shell make contact – this is known as “seating the head.” Hold your hand in an open C-shape, and grasp the bottom of the shell with your thumb, and with your fingers squeeze along the top bearing edge. Alternatively, place the drum on the floor and apply pressure with the flat of your hand to the center of the head. You may hear creaking or even a cracking pop as the head releases from the shell – this is normal. The head needs to float to be adjusted.
-The tuning system is responds positively going UP, but drum heads are not as flexible in coming back DOWN. Skins relax into a new position more easily than synthetics, which are more likely to “leap” rather than gently, synchronously tune (especially coming “down”).
-The tuning rim operates against a “set collar” position. The collar on a skin drum heads re-forms itself as the head adjusts to new tension settings and ambient humidity. The collar on synthetic heads is fixed with heat during construction. If the tuning rim does not make good contact with the drum head, you will likely hear a buzz. Be sure that there is positive contact between the tuning rim and the drum head by verifying that there is good, positive tension on the tuning screws. Again, test to make sure that head is “seated” (see above).-
-The screws are threaded through brass inserts that are pressed into the shell. Some screws may feel tighter than others. They will all work-in over time. Any tension you feel in the screw itself is not effecting the tuning of the drum.
-Don’t rely on the visible gap between the shell and the tuning ring to determine the evenness of tension on the head. Variations in the head density, or in the way the head was originally tensioned when it was first mounted, may require one segment to be tensioned differently from another.
FRAME DRUM TUNING RANGE:
Simple frame drums are of indefinite pitch, though you may find yourself needing to tune the drum to a specific note when playing compositions along with keyed instruments in an ensemble. Keep in mind that each diameter drum has limited tuning range, and you should not expect any single drum to perform well beyond its range. Many issues beyond diameter contribute to the tuning range of the drum, for example head type, so it’s easy for a chart based on diameters alone to be reductive. Each drum should be evaluated, independent of any general working chart, by the musician playing the instrument.
David Kuckhermann addresses this topic nicely in the above video. For example, David identifies the range of the 22″ as as between a low C and an E. He prefers to use the 22″ tuned to a D.
We have explored the topic with several endorsing artists and have tried to developed a simple chart – though it’s bot simple, of course. Appended below are some random comments from Randy Crafton, River Guerguerian, and N. Scott Robinson that expand on the chart.
In speaking with Randy Crafton we came up with the following guideline:
22″ drum A-D possible, B-C best range
20″ B-E possible, C-D best range
18″ E-A possible, F-A best range
16″ G-C possible, A-B best range
To generalize about a set of diameters/drums you might try:
RIVER GUERGUERIAN’s NOTES:
If you are going to get serious about recording with frame drums & playing with other instrumentalists, then yes… you will probably need more drums. I would recommend getting 2-3 tunable frame drums. If I am mainly playing frame drums, I bring about 5-7 to the gig. And sometimes, the group will switch keys on you at the last minute.
These are based on Cooperman frame drums with REMO Fiberskyn® heads.
REMO Renaissance® heads can generally be tuned a little
22” G# to about C
20” A# to about D
18” C# to about G
16” up to around A
I also have [a Cooperman] 14” Ghaval (renaissance). I use it around a C but can get a D or higher.
[The Cooperman] Riq sounds good between C-E.
So… 3-4 drums can give you a range of an octave. I’ll tell you my set-up with Omar Faruk Tekbilek, this is after years of experimenting.
We play in many keys
D-20” (this is the most important note in Middle Eastern music, and the most difficult to get a good tone on. Sometimes, 20” seems too tight; I think 19”might be ideal.
**I try to tune the drum so that it is in the middle of its range. If you tune too tight, then you go past a certain threshold… and you loose the fundamental, then you are hearing more higher partials. I am mainly talking about tuning with other instrumentalists of course. If you are playing solo, then that is a different story, and you do what you like.
These are all approximate pitches and totally depend on the shell and what type of skin you have. Most of them can go higher than what I wrote, but for me they get too ringy, especially in the studio.
98% of my gigs I am amplified. The key is to get the Dum and Tek to sound equal in volume, without one tone overshadowing the other.
Yes, of course the tonic, fourth and fifth are good pitch choices.
But, if there already is a bass player in the band, then experiment with the other musicians until you find a pitch that’s good for your drum and that works well in the scale of that song.
You can become a creative part of the harmony! You can play one drum for the verse, and another for the chorus.
If you have too much ring in the studio… you will probably end up using compression, and some parametric EQ to find that one frequency/pitch that is disturbing (isolate it, and bring it down), and you might need to use muffling.
Experiment, Experiment, Experiment!!
peace and good luck,
FROM N.Scott Robinson:
21″ Cooperman Persian Daf – tuning range – low A to high E (a range of a perfect fifth).
My drum (22”) goes to a low C no problem and my tar (14”) goes to a high C no problem.
The bendir (12”) with snares will go to a B or Bb but not below that but it’s buzzier and probably not the best choice for oud.
The 18 will sound fine at d but below that it will be too floppy sounds (bottom of the drums tension and not the best place to be for playing).
I don’t think we have any drums that go down to a low G but my tar goes to a G (above the D) but that’s on the low side of that drum. If he really needs a good G then he should go with a drum bigger than a 14″ but no bigger than an 18″ drum.
If you are still having issues with tuning:
You will want be sure that the tuning system is functioning properly. If you feel your drum is not in tune with itself, you should make sure the head is floating freely on the shell – that the “collar” of the head is not binding on the shell.
On re-setting the collar:
Both synthetic and skin heads form a “collar” – the bend where the head transitions from playing surface to the shell. As you tune the drum up or down the head stretches as the collar is tensioned. From time to time the head material can drag on or even stick to the shell. This can cause uneven and uncontrolled tensioning. You will hear this as uncontrolled overtones. If the head is sticking or dragging on the shell, you will need to free it up – effectively “re-settting the collar.”
As you change the tension to the head you may hear creaking or even a louder snapping/cracking sound. This is expectable, maybe even desirable, as it indicates that the head is moving freely and adjusting properly.
Please take a look at the following video:
ABOUT OUR BENDIRS:
About the snares:
We mount the snares in a functionally effective yet low-tech way, with really no hardware. Although the snares are set at our shop, changes during shipping and acclimatizing may necessitate an adjustment. Experiment to find the most effective, desired sound.
There are two strands looped and threaded through the shell; the four ends are knotted off. Each snare can be adjusted individually, or as a group (by using the knot). They vibrate most effectively when they are all making slightly-loose contact with the head. If they are too tight they become “choked” and unresponsive; if they are too slack they will not vibrate.
You can de-tension, loosen, the snares by gently pulling on them at a point near the center of the drum. They can be slackened off so much that there is no contact with the head, hence no snare sound. We left enough material for you to then loop the loosened snares around the tuning screw. (It is handiest to use the screw opposite the knotted end).
Pull gently on the knot to snug them around the screw. With the snares held away from the head, the bendir can then function as a traditional tar. You can free the snares and then retension them to engage the snare sound.