Drum Kit 101: All You Need To Know When Buying A Drum Set

Drum sticks on snare drum

Knowing what to buy for your first drum kit can be an overwhelming experience. Most people see professional drummers with large sets that can have 20-30+ different pieces. We’re here to help you figure out what you actually need to buy and make the process of choosing a drum set super easy.

Most people in this world have fantasized about being in a band at some point or the other in their lives. While you may think that the most popular position — depending on the instrument being played — amongst people is that of the lead vocalist and guitarist, you will be surprised to know how many people actually prefer to go for the position of the drummer instead.

Think about it — literally, anyone in the world would look cool when he or she is sitting in front of a drum set and twirling that drum stick in his or her hands.

Drum set outside

If this has been your dream and you finally want to turn it into reality, you will need to buy yourself a good quality drum set — not necessarily the most expensive one — and just start playing.

However, in order to choose the best possible option for yourself, it is important that you understand some of the basics when it comes to drum sets.

This guide will help you through the journey, starting with the many different components of a drum set.

Drum Set Components

The first thing that you need to acquaint yourself with is the different components of a drum set. Without this knowledge, it is impossible to understand the working of the instrument as a whole.

Before going into the details of each of the parts that make up a complete drum set, let’s look at this brief overview of all the parts.

This will be followed by a more in-depth look into each of these:

  • Bass Drum or Kick Drum — First and foremost is the largest single element of the drum set — the bass or kick drum. This is the distinctively low-pitched drum that helps in setting up the foundation of the rhythm that any piece of music requires.
  • Snare Drum — The next important element is the snare drum, which is more sharp and snappy than the kick drum. This helps with highlighting accents and providing an outline for the rhythmic framework.
  • Toms — While a drum set can have one, two or more toms, the basic purpose of this part of the kit is to give tonal color. The pitches can vary, depending on the number of toms, but they are usually used for filling the bridge between sections.
  • Cymbals — The most important metallic elements of the drum set are the cymbals. This includes the hi-hat, the ride, and the crash.
  • Hardware — Finally, we also need to mention all the things that make a drum set truly playable. This includes a wide range of things including the kick pedal, stands for the snare drum and cymbals, and more.

The Big Three — Kick, Snare, and Hi-Hat 

If you were to look at the three main components that make up a drum set, you cannot look past the kick or bass drum, the snare drum, and the hi-hat. These form the very basis of the overall set, which means it is essential for you to understand the functioning of these to truly get a good grasp over your new — or old — drum set. Keep reading for more!

Kick Drum

One of the most important parts of a drum set is the large bass drum that makes up the center of the set. This is kept on its side and played with the help of a foot pedal. As discussed before, the sound emitted by this drum is deep and lays the basic foundation for the rhythm.

Snare Drum

The second part to be discussed here is the snare drum. Essentially, the main drum that you will be playing as a part of the drum set, this particular instrument uses a stand and has to be placed between the drummer’s knees for the easiest access. The sound produced by the drum is not as deep. Instead, it comes across in a sharper and louder manner.

Hi-Hat

The third important component to be discussed under this section is the hi-hat. This is essentially two cymbals that function as one unit and are kept right next to the snare drum. There are two ways in which the hi-hat may be played — by hitting the cymbals together with the help of a foot pedal and by using a drumstick to hit them.

Man playing drums and hitting cymbals with drum sticks

Toms

Often referred to as the tom-toms, these are just the other drums — excluding the kick and the snare — that make up the drum set. Depending on the size of the drum included in the set, the sound produced can also change in terms of the pitch. Overall, however, the sound is quite hollow. It is interesting to note that your drum set may have one or more toms mounted on top of the kick drum. These are referred to as hanging toms.

  • High Tom — This is the term used for the smallest tom. You will usually find it mounted somewhat over the bass or kick drum, but closer to the snare.
  • Mid Tom — If your set includes a mid tom, it will be mounted right next to the high tom, above the bass drum.
  • Floor Tom — Finally, this is the largest of the toms and has a special stand built to accommodate it. This is usually found next to the drummer’s leg.

If you are a beginner, two or three toms should work well enough for you. It is important to note that not everyone needs a mid tom. There are many professionals who haven’t used a mid tom for most of their lives as their music style did not require it. On the other hand, there are drummers who swear by the mid tom because of the specific sound it produces.

Cymbals

While we have already discussed the most popular set of cymbals — the hi-hats — before, it is important to look at the other types that come with most drum sets today. Two of these, in particular, will be discussed below:

  • Crash Cymbals — These cymbals can come in a number of different sizes but you will mostly find them mounted over the toms. If you compare the sound produced, the crash cymbals are possibly the largest out of the bunch.
  • Ride Cymbals — If you are looking for the cymbals that produce a relatively gentler sound, the ride cymbals are the ones that already may be included in your kit. The ride cymbal will usually be bigger in size than the crash cymbal mentioned above. When it comes to positioning, it may be found around the floor tom.

If you are purchasing a drum kit for your child — usually a junior drum set — it may come equipped with a couple of cymbals that you’d find difficult to put in the categories of crash or ride cymbals. As these are smaller than the full-sized cymbals, they cannot be expected to give you the same quality of sound either.

Throne

This is exactly what it sounds like — a place for you to sit on while you play the drums. While there are many drum kits — even the ones meant for beginners — that will come with a throne for you to sit on and play, there are many that may scrimp on this basic necessity. You may think that any regular chair or stool can serve the purpose of the throne, but keep in mind that the height of the drum sets may be lower than that of any chair you find lying around. Therefore, it is important that you specifically pick up a throne with the drum set that you are investing in.

Things to Keep in Mind While Choosing a Set

Purchasing any equipment for the first time can be quite challenging, regardless of whether or not you have read up a little on the subject. Buying drum sets is no different. In order to be relatively sure about the choice that you are going to be making, it is important that you understand some of the basics and keep them in mind when you are looking at different sets. Some of these considerations, which can make a whole lot of difference to your learning and playing experience, are mentioned in this section.

Shell Packs vs Complete Drum Sets 

If you look up any drum sets for sale online, you may notice that the company will put up pictures of an entire setup.

This includes all the different drums, the cymbals, throne and all the other hardware involved. However, in more cases than you realize, the sets will only include the drums. This means you don’t get any of the hardware or cymbals that are present in that picture you looked at while purchasing the set. Such sets are referred to as shell packs.

It is important to keep in mind that the drums that come in a shell pack are usually of better quality than the drums that come with the complete sets. In addition to this, if you purchase cymbals individually, you may get better quality cymbals than you would have with a complete drumset.

For this reason, many of the more advanced drummers turn to shell packs and resort to mixing and matching their equipment to get the exact sound quality that they want. 

However, if you are a beginner, a complete drum set may be more economical and easy to choose for you!

Drummer sitting at rock drum kit in big room

Number of Pieces 

Building the right drum set for yourself can be quite a tedious task, especially because everyone has a different music style that they are hoping to achieve. If you have any drummers that you look up to or idolize, you may want to look into what kind of equipment they use. For example, most of the jazz legends went with the simplest drum set up with just four pieces, while there were rock luminaries that went with kits that had over 30 different components and pieces. 

You may be tempted to follow a similar path, but as a beginner, it is important to remember that you need to start small. Most people who are just getting started turn to the simpler drum kits with just four or five pieces. As and when their skills improve and they get closer to their goals, they can expand the drum set to what they feel suits them best.

Double vs Single Bass Drum 

When you are just getting started, there are some important decisions that you need to take about the composition of your drum set. Most people recommend that you don’t invest in a ton of toms with your first drum kit but you could give some thought to adding another bass drum. Keep in mind that this is only if you are really into that metal type of music. 

While we won’t recommend this for all beginners as it can get quite difficult to manage, if you think that you have reached that level of expertise that you can use both your feet to play music, you can try opting for double bass drums. Similarly, if you want to play that kind of music but don’t want the added bulk, you can try adding a bass drum pedal that lets you play that single drum with both feet. 

Shell Sizes

Experienced drummers spend a lot of time on determining what kind of drums they want with an added emphasis on the dimensions of each component of their drum set. This isn’t the case with most beginners, as they don’t need to bother themselves with that level of specificity. Instead, the focus can be on two main types of kits, which are mentioned below:

  • Standard Sized Kits — These kits have larger shells, which makes them more appropriate for use by musicians who are interested in learning to play rock music.
  • Fusion Sized Kits — If you are looking for a set of drums that can help you with some of the lighter playing styles like jazz, you can opt for the fusion-sized kits. These are usually smaller in size.

When compared to the fusion kits, you may notice that the standard ones with have lower fundamental pitches, combined with looser heads and more volume.

Electronic Drum Kits

Everything seems to be going electronic these days and why should your traditional instruments stay out of this race? For many different reasons — some of which will be discussed below — there are tons of people who are switching over to electronic drum kits to learn the instrument and produce music. 

One of the main advantages of an electronic drum kit is that you have limitless opportunities in front of you. That one single set will give you access to a number of different cymbals, toms, drums and more, instead of you having to purchase each of those separately for your drum set.

How Do These Kits Work?

Electronic drums have a relatively simple mechanism that is used to produce the sound.

The set comes with a rubber pad or a mesh head — depending on your preference — under which there will be a sensor.

When the pad or mesh head is struck, this is the component that emits a voltage value to a separate section called a brain or a sound module. This brain will, in turn, trigger the sound that you wanted to play by translating the value. The sound produced may be that of a drum or a cymbal, depending on what you strike. 

Roland brand electronic vdrums

You can manipulate the type of sound being produced — whether it is softer or louder — on the basis of the velocity with which you strike the pad or mesh head. Depending on the number of sensors under the pad, you can also play more than one sound from that particular pad. With this, you will be able to get the feel of playing a real drum without the bulk or heftiness that comes associated with a drum set. 

Why Do People Turn to Electronic Drum Kits?

While there are many who prefer the feel of a regular drum set, there are also people who are turning to electronic drum kits to learn, practice and record all the things that they could have been playing on a regular drum set.

Here are some of the main reasons why:

  • Versatility — Different types of music styles require different kinds of acoustic drum kits. If you are a musician who works on different kinds of music and doesn’t want to set up and maintain different kinds of acoustic drum sets, investing in a single electronic drum kit may get the job done.
  • Convenience in Live Performances — Not every location where you may be playing will have a full-fledged acoustic drum set that suits your needs. Similarly, when the area that you are performing in is small, you may be required to reduce the volume, which isn’t really possible with regular drum sets but can be done with electronic drum kits.
  • Recording Capabilities — With the help of an electronic kit, you can play your track and then fix any of the notes within that track to make them suit your liking. You can also edit the instruments so that you can get that exact sound that you’d be proud of. We think electronic drum kits are amazing for any home recording studio.
  • Portability — When you compare an electronic drum kit to a regular acoustic one, the difference in size and compactness can hit you pretty hard. 
  • Easier Practice Sessions — Drummers can be a nightmare for the people who live around them, as not everyone has the resources to soundproof their practice room. With the help of the features offered by electronic drum kits and a set of headphones, you can be the only person who hears yourself play.

Hybrid Kits — the Middle Path?

If you already have a good amount of experience playing on an acoustic drum set, you may find it difficult to adjust to an electronic drum kit because of the difference in feel. However, the level of flexibility and versatility offered by an electronic drum kit is difficult to overlook, even for seasoned musicians. 

In order to get the best of both worlds, a lot of drummers are turning to acoustic triggers, which when added to their regular drum kits, allow them to get the feel of an acoustic drum with many of the benefits of an electronic one. Newly developed trigger pads can work out very well for those of you who want all the benefits of an acoustic drum without compromising on digital capabilities.

Additional Equipment Required

Drumming equipment doesn’t end with just the drums, the cymbals, and the throne. There are a bunch of other things that you will be required to purchase separately so that you can learn and practice the drums in the most effective manner. Some of these are discussed in more detail below:

  • Sticks — Not every beginner’s set with come with a pair of drum sticks. This means that you should be open to the possibility that you will have to purchase your own set. The sticks will be sorted on the basis of a number and letter, with the thinner ones having higher numbers. If you have smaller hands and not so much experience, you may need wider sticks.
Drum sticks on snare drum
  • Dampening Devices — When you strike the surface of a drum, you will notice that distinct ring. While this adds to the experience, too much ring can be an issue. You can purchase and use specialized dampening gels or control rings to control this ringing. For the kick drum, an impact pad may be helpful.
  • Practice Pads — Practice times can be quite trying, especially when you are trying to be quieter. You can use practice pads to hone your skills without actually using the drum set.

While there is no end to the number of upgrades that you can get for your drum set — including drums, cymbals, accessories and more — beginners should start off with a simple kit so that they can learn all the basics of drumming before adding additional equipment as they progress towards a deeper knowledge of the instrument. The drums can be an absolute delight to play, especially if you have the right kind of equipment backing you up.

Keep all these things in mind when you buy yourself a drum set and you should be set for a fun musical journey!

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