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First, I would like to say that Im not sure if this question belongs in sound or music stackexchange since it is related to the musicality and the mixing of a song.

I know that each part of a drum set (snare, kick, etc) has a pitch (note like A, B, C, etc). And I am wondering how to pick these notes for a song written in a certain Key. How would this affect the mix of the song and its tonality. Should the drum notes be notes of the key of the song? What pitch should the snare has?

Thanks!

  • 2
    There's a similar Q/A in Music Practice - music.stackexchange.com/questions/24690/… – Tetsujin Nov 8 '15 at 10:51
  • It's more common for drums to be considered unpitched. The relative tuning of a rock drum kit between the different toms is important, but most of the time there is no concern about having the partials that the drums are creating match the music at all. Most drum kit sounds are very brief and do not even settle on a single pitch. – Todd Wilcox Nov 9 '15 at 14:00
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Drum tuning is largely dependent on the style of music being played. A jazz kit will usually be tuned to exact pitches in a scale, such as the snare being tuned to the root, one tom tuned to the fifth, one to the third, one to the root an octave lower, etc. A jazz kit will also usually be tuned such that the top and bottom heads are in tune with each other. This results in a sound that resonates well. For jazz drummers that play more melodically (such as Joe Morello on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five"), this resonance and intonation is more important to the sound than, say, a more rhythmic drummer, such as Buddy Rich.

A rock kit, however, might be tuned higher than a jazz kit in order to give each drum a sharper sound with less resonance. The snare is usually tuned higher in order to cut through. The top and bottom heads are also sometimes tuned differently on each drum, such that the bottom head is slightly sharp or slightly flat compared to the top head. This cuts down on resonance and can give the drums a more attack-oriented sound. This technique is also used to direct the sound for mic'ing purposes. A drum with the bottom head tuned higher than the top head will reflect more of the sound upward, which may be desirable depending on the sound the engineer wants to get out of it. You'll notice that the snare, for example, on rock tracks tends to snap or pop sharply, whereas the snare on jazz tracks tends to sing out more. This comes down mainly to tuning.

As far as producing a track with drums that are tuned to the song, I don't think this is a necessity. Drummers don't re-tune their drum kits between songs when the key changes. It's probably desirable to have the drum kit in tune with itself, but its not necessary to pick drum samples or tune drums to specific notes that fit within the chord changes of a song. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try it, though. If that's the sound you're going for, then by all means try it. It's just not a common practice.

  • Well explained, and makes sense. Good answer. So do Jazz drummers(the best kind) re-tune their kit if the next song is in a different key?? – Marc W Nov 16 '15 at 4:07
  • No, not generally. Perhaps there is someone out there who has re-tuned their kit for a portion of a studio session just to get a different sound on a track or two, but jazz drummers usually tune their kit to the key that gives them the sound they like and leave it at that. If someone is looking for a specific sound out of a drum for use on certain parts, they'll usually add that as a separate drum to their kit. For example, Adam Deitch of Lettuce (not purely jazz, but in the neighborhood) often uses two snares in live performances: one is his primary, and the other is tuned higher. – Dr. Funk Nov 16 '15 at 22:24
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What you are hearing from the drums is really an overtone. It may please the ear in some styles of music to have the overtones match the song key. like hip hop or dance music which has heavy sub-basses.

Also depends on the type of drum. If you are using acoustic drums or samples, then it's best to have the natural drum sound.
Tuning differentiates, depending on style of music. Do a google search for drum tuning.

With electronic music, the sky is the limit. Just what ever you as the producer thinks sounds pleasing.

Good luck!

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