How to tune a tongue drum

Updated April 17, 2017

A tongue drum or slit drum is an instrument used in African, Asian and South American cultures. A series of tongues are cut into hollow wood or metal to create notes or tones. Tongue drums are played with mallets or fingers to create rhythmic vibrations through and out of the drum. Tuning a tongue drum is done when the drum is constructed. The size of the tongue determines the tone it projects. The tongue is shaved and reduced until the correct note is achieved.

Lay the tongue drum down in front of you.

Set your tuner to the note you are trying to achieve.

Strike the tongue you are tuning with your finger. Read the tuner dial to see if the pitch of the tongue is in tune. The needle should point to the middle of the dial. If note is too sharp the needle will point to the right. The needle will point to the left if the note is flat.

Use a slim filing tool to shave the edge of the specific tongue you are tuning, in very small increments. Slightly shave the wood until the tuner dial indicates the correct pitch. Be careful not to shave too much wood off of the tongue. You can shave off wood to reach pitch, but you can't add on.

Use your mouth to blow away any excess dust. Dust can get caught inside the drum and interfere with the tuning process.

Repeat this process until all the tongues are tuned to their correct notes.

Things You'll Need

  • Filing tool
  • Chromatic tuner
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About the Author

David Shaw has been writing professionally since 2006. He has featured music-related articles in "Connections" and "Axis Magazine." Shaw attended Florida State University where he majored in communications and he was granted a certificate of completion from Full Sail Real World Education for the recording arts program.