Tuning Tenors

Marching tenors (a.k.a “tenors,” “quads,” “quints,” “multi-tenors” or “toms”) have become an important and interesting voice in the marching percussion ensemble. They occupy the critical mid-ground between the “soprano” voice (snares) and the “baritone-bass” voice (bass drums) in the battery choir.

Tuning Hints. The most common makeup for quads is either 8-10-12-13, 8-10-12-14 or 10-12-13- 14. For best results, know the natural tuning range of each size; don’t try to make a 10-inch drum sound like an 8 or a 14.

Tune your largest drum first, then work your way to the smallest. Tune to specific pitches, or intervals, or simply until you like the sound of each drum. I suggest tuning the same way all the time, so your students get used to the process and the staff will always hear the same ensemble sound. If you have quints, tune the basic four drums as I have outlined above and keep the 6-inch “gok” drum separate; it really makes only one sound!

The sizes and tuning scheme you select should have relevance to the music your ensemble plays: larger and deeper for jazz, rock or Latin shows; smaller and tighter for fast, non-groove music.

Never tune the tenors so tightly that they interfere with the snares or so loosely that they interfere with the basses. Aim for clarity while occupying that “tenor” range.

Heads. You have so many choices; clear pinstripes and black suede are my favorites.

Clear pinstripes work very well on drumset and marching toms. They are resonant, versatile and durable. “Marching” pinstripes are less resonant but more durable. They sound drier than “regular” pinstripes. “Ebony” pinstripes produce a strange ring that I don’t like. Smooth white heads (medium or heavy) sound fine but might present tuning challenges. “Suede” and the new “Black Suede” heads offer an intriguing option in terms of quality of sound, ease of tuning, durability and projection.

Choose your sticks and mallets wisely to create the kind of sound, or timbre, that best suits your music. Also, every player should know exactly how and where to strike each head!

About the Author

Dennis DeLucia is a percussion teacher, arranger, clinician and judge. A former member of the West Point Band, he is best known for his successes with championship corps and bands. He has been inducted into three of the major Halls of Fame: Drum Corps International, WGI Sport of the Arts and the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame.

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