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Everything You Need to Know About Drum Keys

For those of you who don’t know, my music career started out as a drummer playing for a local metal band. In todays post I decided to focus on the very specific topic of drumkeys, lord knows how many I managed to lose and acquire so I wanted to share tips on not only buying the best ones, but also keeping them safe and using them effectively.

For those of you who just want to know which drum key to buy, I recommend this one if you just want the cheapest option on the market, this one if you want one you can’t lose, or this one if you want a high quality drum key.

A little bit of background about drum keys

A drum key is a type of wrench used by drummers to screw a drum’s tension rods into the lugs. Doing so tightens the drum head (or skin) to the drum, changing its tension and pitch. Drum keys have been used for over one hundred years, with some of the first drum keys looking more like spanners rather than key wrenches.

Almost every drum, drum hardware and cymbal manufacturer has a drum key. Some of the most popular drum key manufacturers include Ludwig, DW, Tama, Sonor, Gretsch, Camco, Pearl, Premier, and Yamaha.

How to use a drum key

There are a number of uses for drum keys – a lot of modern drum hardware requires a drum key to make adjustments or to setup. However, the original and predominant use for a drum key is to tune your drums and replace drum heads.

If you’re replacing a drum head, the first step is to loosen the current skin by using a drum key to twist all of the tension rods anti-clockwise until the rim of the drum lifts off and the drum head can be removed. Once the old drum head is removed, place the new drum head in its place, put the rim back on with the holes in-line with the tension rod holes, put the tension rods into the lugs and tighten them up by twisting them clockwise with your fingers and a drum key. Do this until the drum head plays a desirable pitch when struck.

The next step is to break the drum head in. Put your fist firmly on the center and push down on the drum head five to six times. This stretches the drum head and prevents the drum from going out of tune as often.

Finally, take a drum stick and tap lightly around the drum an inch away from each tension rod and try to make each tone sound exactly the same to ‘fine tune’ the drum.

Keeping Your Drum Key Safe

One of the biggest problems with drum keys is how easy they are to lose. I’m sure any drummer will agree, they’re the one piece of kit that is so vital to have, but so easy to accidentally not have (on par with Gaffa tape!) If you’re the kind of person who is particularly clumsy I recommend a keyring attached drum key like the one below, but otherwise the trick is to either carry several around with you or to store all of your ‘DIY gear’ in a toolbox, with a separate compartment for your drum key (to make it obvious whether it’s missing or not).

Where to buy a drum key

You can buy drum keys pretty cheaply from any music store, but the best variety is on Amazon who have three pages of drum keys. All of the recommendations above are linked to Amazon so you can click on those for your convenience.

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About Marcus Taylor

In 2013, Marcus Taylor won the award for 'Young Visionary of the Year' at MIDEM. Marcus is passionate about marketing and the music industry, and has consulted to some of the biggest names in the music industry through his agency, Venture Harbour. Marcus founded this website in 2009, and has reached over half a million musicians ever since.

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