How to Tune a Steel Tongue Drum Step by Step

How to tune a steel tongue drum? The number of people asking this question is growing along with the increasing popularity of this instrument. While the approach to tuning a guitar is obvious, tongue drum tuning makes people wonder as there are no external tuners attached. The good news is that steel drum tuning is actually easy and does not require much knowledge or special skills. In this article, I will explain how to tune a steel drum in 3 steps and answer the most frequent questions concerning the tuning process.

What I Need to Tune My Steel Tongue Drum

Before beginning, it is important to outline that this specific approach is only suitable for steel drums. The reason is that I recommend using magnets for tuning, and steel drums are perfectly magnetic. The advantage of this instrument is that each of them is a tunable hand drum, the only difference is the approach to tuning. I strongly recommend choosing specifically steel tongue drums as it is much easier to tune them, and the tuning itself is more accurate.

Despite tuning your drums being easy, there are several things you need for the process. To perform the tuning you will need:

Step-by-Step Guide to Tune a Steel Tongue Drum

This approach to tuning your steel tongue drums has several great advantages over other ways to do it. First of all, the “magnetic” tuning is far more accurate compared to manually bending the tongues. Another benefit is that this approach does no damage to the instrument, and its effect is not permanent. Last but not least, this method will allow you to easily customize the tuning in seconds.

Step 1: Prepare the instruments

As I have mentioned above, there are several things you will need to perform the tuning. My advice is to use neodymium, as they are powerful enough to affect the sound and small enough for you to easily put them on the leaves. Another thing you need is a tuning app, which is also quite easy to get: there are lots of free apps of this kind on all platforms.

Step 2: Stick the magnets

The next move is to open up the drum from the bottom and stick the magnets to the leaves. As you can understand, it will take you only a few seconds to perform these two steps when you will be re-adjusting your drums. It is much easier to open up the drum and move the magnets inside than to adjust every leaf manually with special instruments.

Step 3: Tune the leaves

This step is actually very similar to guitar tuning. The only difference is that, instead of adjusting the tuners on the head of your guitar, you will move the magnets inside your drum. The only thing that is necessary to outline is that you should place the magnets on the horizontal center of each leaf. The adjusting is done by moving them up and down, not left and right. The rest is pretty simple: you move the magnet and hit the leaf until your app shows the result you need.

FAQ

Despite the process being simple, the method is not very popular, and I constantly get a lot of questions on tuning tongue drums. I will try to cover the most popular of them in the following section.

How are steel drums tuned?

In general, there are several ways to tune your tongue drums. You can manually adjust the leaves with a thin instrument by bending them up and down. Some people even recommend annealing the metal with a torch to affect the sound. However, I suggest using the magnets, as they won’t damage the instrument, and it is easy to adjust them or take them off.

How does the steel drum work?

Steel tongue drums are solid instruments that produce sounds through the vibrations inside them. Therefore, these drums belong to the idiophone family of instruments. In simple words, you hit a steel leaf of the drum, which makes it vibrate and make different sounds depending on the leaf you hit.

Are steel drums hard to play?

Like any other instrument, steel tongue drums are hard to master. Of course, you can learn to play complicated melodies but it will take a lot of effort. However, steel tongue drums are usually used to make relaxing sounds and have a rest, so the entry threshold is not so high, and there is no race for skill.

Easy to Play, Easy to Tune

I hope that this article will be useful both for owners of steel tongue drums and for people who are just considering playing them. The growing popularity of this type of drums is deserved: it is easy to start playing, you do not have to spend hundreds of hours to produce pleasant sounds, and it is easy to tune them.

What do you think of steel drums? No matter whether you already own such a drum or just got to learn about them, feel free to share your experience or thoughts in the comments section.

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