A drum kit is normally comprised of the following:
- Bass drum - The largest drum that is struck with a hammer by pressing with one's foot; typically used to start "bars" with and keep the beat. Often called a kick drum.
- Snare drum - A drum with small cables of metal wires stretched across the bottom to make the loud "tat" sound.
- Tom Toms - Often simply called a "tom," these are typically two drums across the top of the kit. To the drummer's left (or right if he/she is right-handed) is the small tom that makes a higher sound; on the other side is the medium or middle tom with a slightly lower sound, depending on the tuning. The number and positioning varies by the drummer; some drummers have several toms on their kit, such as an 8 inch tom giving an even higher sound (often used in jazz drumming).
- Floor Tom - Typically placed to the right of the drummer, this is a tom that has its own legs or stand and produces a lower note than the other toms (usually the second lowest after the bass drum). Sizes tend to range between 14-18 inches.
- Hi-hat - Two cymbals, typically of the same size, that are either struck together by using its pedal below or by hitting with a drumstick. This is used to keep the beat, improvise rhythms and keep the accompanying instruments moving. Hi-hats can be played in the open, closed, and in-between positions. The hi-hats are the most important cymbals on the kit. Some drummers have more than one hi-hat setup around their kit.
- Crash Cymbal - A cymbal that makes a loud "crash" sound. The sound and decay of crash cymbals vary by brand and product line. The number of crash cymbals is dictated by the drummer's personal taste and need for the style of music being played. Used in solos, the beginning of bars, riffs, and rudimentary bars, as well as to accent beats. It can also be ridden like a ride cymbal, depending on the drummer.
- Ride Cymbal - A large, heavy cymbal that, typically, makes a light, airy sound, named from the fact that the drummer can "ride on it" or keep time on it. The ride is often used during choruses or bridges, because it tends to cut through more aggressively then hi-hats. The bell of the ride cymbal can also be played, giving a pinging sound. The ride cymbal arguably is the second most important cymbal on the kit, next to the hi-hats.
Other cymbals and drums can be added to the setup for a wider range of sounds like the Splash, a small cymbal around 10"/25 cm giving a distinct crash sound with a quick decay, or a China cymbal, that gives an "oriental feel" to beats, rhythms, solos and fills. The latter is much like a crash cymbal popped inside out with the screw and sponge holding it to the stand inside it, so it has a shallow bowl shape.
The drummer can do other things to the kit, such as attach a tambourine to the spine of the hi-hat, so when he/she puts his/her foot down on the pedal or hits it with a drumstick, the drummer gets the tambourine sound at the same time. Cymbals can also have rivets inserted into them to give them a 'sizzling' sound, or a cowbell can be attached to the top of the bass drum between the snare and floor tom to use in fills, solos, grooves, etc.
- Common configurations
Prior to the development of the drum set, the standard way that drums and cymbals were used in military and orchestral music settings was to have the different drums and cymbals played separately by different percussionists. Thus, in an early 1800s orchestra piece, if the score called for bass drum, triangle and cymbals, three percussionists would be hired to play these three instruments. In the 1840s, percussionists began to experiment with foot pedals as a way to enable them to play more than one instrument. In the 1860s, percussionists started combining multiple drums into a set. The bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and other percussion instruments were all played using hand-held drum sticks. Drummers in musical theater shows and stage shows, where the budget for pit orchestras were often limited, contributed to the creation of the drum set because they tried to develop ways so that one drummer could do the job of multiple percussionists.
Double-drumming was developed to enable one person to play the bass and snare with sticks, while the cymbals could be played by tapping the foot on a "low-boy". With this approach, the bass drum was usually played on beats one and three (in 4/4 time). While the music was first designed to accompany marching soldiers, this simple and straightforward drumming approach eventually led to the birth of ragtime music when the simplistic marching beats became more syncopated. This resulted in a greater 'swing' and dance feel. The drum set was initially referred to as a "trap set", and from the late 1800s to the 1930s, drummers were referred to as "trap drummers". By the 1870s, drummers were using an "overhang pedal". Most drummers in the 1870s preferred to do double drumming without any pedal to play multiple drums, rather than use an overhang pedal. Companies patented their pedal systems such as Dee Dee Chandler of New Orleans 1904–05. Liberating the hands for the first time, this evolution saw the bass drum played with the foot of a standing percussionist (thus the term "kick drum"). The bass drum became the central piece around which every other percussion instrument would later revolve.
Mr. Fisch Dickson, and his brother, Mr. Lookas Dickson, founded the Dickson & Dickson Co. in 1909 and patented the first commercially successful bass drum pedal system, paving the way for the modern drum kit. It was the golden age of drum building for many famous drum companies, with Ludwig introducing... "The ornately engraved" Black Beauty Brass Snare drum; Slingerland premiered its Radio King solid-maple shell; Leedy invented the floating drum head & self-aligning lug;& Gretsch originated the three-way tension system of the Gladstone snare drum". Wire brushes for use with drums and cymbals were introduced in 1912. The need for brushes arose due to the problem of the drum sound overshadowing the other instruments on stage. Drummers began using metal fly swatters to reduce the volume on stage next to the other acoustic instruments. Drummers could still play the rudimentary snare figures and grooves with brushes they would normally play with drumsticks. As brushes gained popularity,
By World War I, drum kits were often marching band-style military bass drums with many percussion items suspended on and around them. Drum kits became a central part of jazz music, especially Dixieland. The modern drum kit was developed in the Vaudeville era during the 1920s in New Orleans. In 1917, a New Orleans band called "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band " recorded jazz tunes that became hits all over the country. These were the first official jazz recordings. Drummers such as Baby Dodds, "Zutty" Singleton and Ray Bauduc had taken the idea of marching rhythms, combining the bass drum and snare drum and "traps", a term used to refer to the percussion instruments associated with immigrant groups, which included miniature cymbals, tom toms, cowbells and woodblocks. They started incorporating these elements with ragtime, which had been popular for a couple of decades, creating an approach which evolved into a jazz drumming style.
Budget constraints and space considerations in musical theatre pit orchestras led bandleaders to pressure fewer percussionists to cover more percussion parts. Metal consoles were developed to hold Chinese tom-toms, with swing-out stands for snare drums and cymbals. On top of the console was a "contraption" tray (shortened to "trap"), used to hold items like whistles, klaxons, and cowbells, so these drums/kits were dubbed "trap kits". Hi-hat stands became available around 1926.
In 1918 Baby Dodds (Warren "Baby" Dodds, circa 1898–1959), playing on riverboats with Louis Armstrong on the Mississippi, was modifying the military marching set-up and experimenting with playing the drum rims instead of woodblocks, hitting cymbals with sticks (1919), which was not yet common, and adding a side cymbal above the bass drum, what became known as the ride cymbal. Drum maker William Ludwig developed the "sock" or early low-mounted high-hat after observing Dodd's drumming. Ludwig noticed that Dodd tapped his left foot all the time. Dodds had Ludwig raise the newly produced low hats 9 inches higher to make it easier to play, thus creating the modern hi-hat cymbal. Dodds was one of the first drummers to also play the broken-triplet beat that became the standard pulse and roll of modern ride cymbal playing. Dodds also popularized the use of Chinese cymbals.
In 1919, US Congress passed a prohibition law outlawing the manufacturing and transporting of drinking alcohol. When drinking became illegal, it became popular in underground nightclubs. The type of music that was played at these underground establishments that were selling alcohol was jazz. It was not seen as upstanding to listen to or perform jazz music, because it was an African American style and at that time the United States was segregated and racism was an overtly prevalent issue. Because jazz music was seen as great dance music, big band jazz became popular in nightclubs. In the 1920s, freelance drummers emerged. They were hired to play shows, concerts, theaters, clubs and back dancers and artists of various genres. Just as modern drummers have many different roles, so did the drummers of the 1920s. One important role for drummers in the 1920s is what is referred to in modern times as a foley artist. During silent films, an orchestra was hired to accompany the silent film and the drummer was responsible for providing all the sound effects. Drummers played instruments to imitate gun shots, planes flying overhead, a train coming into a train station, and galloping horses etc.
Sheet music from the 1920s provides evidence that the drummer's sets were starting to evolve in size and sound to support the various acts mentioned above. However, the first "talkies" or films with audio, were released circa 1927 and by 1930 most films were released with a soundtrack and the silent film era was over. The downside of the technological breakthrough was that thousands of drummers who served as sound effect specialists were put out of work overnight. A similar panic was felt by drummers in the 1980s, when electronic drum machines were first released.
Big Band drumming
In 1929, when the stock market crash resulted in a global depression, one of the things that helped people cope with the trying years was swing jazz music. By the early to mid 1930's, big band swing was being embraced throughout the US it became the country's most popular form of music. The other contributing factor to the big band's success during the 1930s was the popularity of radio. The drum kit played a key role in the big band swing sound. Throughout the 1930s Chick Webb and Gene Krupa at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, increased the visual and musical driving force of the drummer and their equipment by simply being so popular and in demand- and they ensured that their drum kits became not only functionally developed but dazzling and well designed. Jazz drummers were influential in developing the concept of the modern drum kit and extending playing techniques. Gene Krupa was the first drummer to head his own orchestra and thrust the drums into the spotlight with his drum solos. Others would soon follow his lead.
As the music of the world was evolving, so was the drum set. Tom-tom drums, small crash cymbals, Chinese cymbals and hi-hat cymbals were added to the drum set. The hi-hats were the primary way for the drummers of the big band era to keep time. Before 1930, while playing the New Orleans jaz and Chicago styles, drummers would choke the cymbals on the "ands" of eighth note figures as an alternative to playing a buzz roll, the rim of the drums, or on the woodblocks to keep time. This muting method of keeping time by choking the crash and china cymbals proved to be awkward, so the drummers of that time came up with the idea of having a foot-operated cymbal. This resulted in the creation of the snowshoe cymbal, a foot-operated cymbal. It enabled drummers to play the eighth note figures ("Boom, Chick, Boom, Chick, Boom, Chick") between the right and left foot, improving the ergonomics and facility of drumset playing and helping drummers to keep a more steady rhythm.
Toward the end of the 1920s, variations of the hi-hats were introduced. One of the most popular hand held hi-hat cymbal variations used was called the "hand sock cymbals". The reason for the name "hi-hat" was because earlier versions of the hi-hat were referred to as a "low boy". The evolution that became the "hi-hats" allowed drummers to play the two cymbals with drum sticks while simultaneously controlling how open or closed the two cymbals were with their foot. The pedal could also be used to play the cymbals with the foot alone, while the right hand played other drums. By the 1930s, Ben Duncan and others popularized streamlined trap kits leading to a basic four piece drum set standard: bass, snare, tom-tom, and a larger floor tom. In time, legs were fitted to larger floor toms, and "consolettes" were devised to hold smaller tom-toms (ride toms) on the bass drum.
In the early 1940s, many jazz musicians, especially African American jazz musicians, started to stray from the popular big band dance music of the 1930s. Their experimentation and quest for deeper expression and freedom on the instrument led to the birth of a new style of music based from Harlem called bebop music. Whereas swing was a popular music designed for dancing, bebop was a "musician's music" designed for listening. During the bebop era, given that bands no longer had to accompany dancers, bandleaders could speed up the tempo. Bebop was also much more based on improvisation, in comparison to the heavily arranged big band scores. Bebop musicians would take an old standard and re-write the melody, add more complex chord changes, resulting in a new composition.
Swing drummers such as Max Roach and Kenny Clarke had already deviated from the large marching band-style bass drums, finding that they were too loud and boomy. Bebop drummers continued this trend, and they started trying out smaller bass drum sizes in the drum set. Bebop drummers' experimentations with new drum sizes and new sounds led to the innovative concept of applying the busy "four on the floor" bass drum rhythms to a new larger cymbal called the ride cymbal. By focusing on keeping time on the new ride cymbal instead of the bass drum, the "feel" went from bass drum and hi-hat heavy, to a lighter melodic feel that has been explained as "floating on top of the time". This allowed drummers to express themselves in a more melodic fashion by playing the rhythms used by the guitar, piano and sax players using the new smaller, more focused bass drums and snare. Louie Bellson also assisted in the innovative sizes and sounds of the 1940s drum set by pioneering the use of two bass drums, or the double bass drum kit.
With rock and roll coming into place, a watershed moment occurred between 1962 and 1964 when the Surfaris released "Wipe Out", as well as when Ringo Starr of The Beatles played his Ludwig kit on American television. As rock moved from the nightclubs and bars and into stadiums in the 1960s, there was a trend towards bigger drum kits. The trend towards larger drum kits took momentum in the 1970s with the emergence of progressive rock. By the 1980s, widely popular drummers like Billy Cobham, Carl Palmer, Nicko McBrain, Phil Collins, Stewart Copeland, Simon Phillips and Neil Peart were using large numbers of drums and cymbals. In the 1980s, some drummers began to use electronic drums.
In the 2010s, some drummers use a variety of auxiliary percussion instruments, found objects, and electronics as part of their "drum" kits. Popular electronics include: electronic sound modules; laptop computers used to activate loops, sequences and samples; metronomes and tempo meters; recording devices; and personal sound reinforcement equipment (e.g., a small PA system to amplify electronic drums and provide a monitor).
On early recording media (until 1925) such as wax cylinders and discs carved with an engraving needle, sound balancing meant that musicians had to be literally moved in the room. Drums were often put far from the horn (part of the mechanical transducer) to reduce sound distortion. Since this affected the rendition of cymbals at playback, sound engineers of the time remedied the situation by asking drummers to play the content of the cymbals onto woodblocks, temple blocks, and cowbells for their loudness and short decay.
Breakables, shells, extensions, hardware
The drum kit may be loosely divided into four parts:
- Breakables: Sticks, various cymbals, snare drum, throne (stool) and sometimes the bass drum pedal.
- Shells: Bass drum and toms
- Extensions: Cowbell, tambourine, chimes, any other instrument not part of the standard kit
- Hardware: Cymbal stands, drum stands, pedals
There are several reasons for this division. When more than one band plays in a single performance, the drum kit is often considered part of the backline (the key rhythm section equipment that stays on stage all night, which often also includes a bass amp and a stage piano), and which is shared between/among the drummers. Often the main "drawcard" act will provide the drums, as they are being paid more, possibly have the better gear, and in any case have the prerogative of using their own. However sticks, snare drum and cymbals are commonly swapped, each drummer bringing their own, and sometimes other components. The term breakables in this context refers to whatever basic components the "guest" drummer is expected to bring. Similar considerations apply if using a "house kit" (a drum kit owned by the venue, which is rare), even if there is only one band at the performance.
The snare drum and cymbals are the core of the breakables, as they are particularly critical and individual components of the standard kit, in several related ways.
- Their tone varies a great deal from drummer to drummer, reflecting their individual styles and the styles of music they play. As such, even drummers from the same genre of music may prefer a different brand or size of snare.
- The snare drum often does not match the kit, for example being a metal or plain wood shell in a kit where the other drums are in a matching finish.
- Drummers tend to spend more time playing the snare and cymbals than the other drums.
- Thin or bell-metal cymbals are easily broken by poor technique.
- Many drummers use thinner heads on their snare than the other drums.
- Often, a drummer will retain their snare drum and cymbals when upgrading the rest of the kit, or upgrade cymbals or snare while keeping the other drums.
Much the same considerations apply to bass drum pedals and the stool, but these are not always considered breakables, particularly if changeover time between bands is very limited. Swapping the snare drum in a standard kit can be done very quickly. Replacing cymbals on stands takes longer, particularly if there are many of them, and cymbals are easily damaged by incorrect mounting, so many drummers prefer to bring their own cymbal stands.
See Common configurations below for typical drum sizes.
Traditionally, in America and the United Kingdom, drum sizes were expressed as depth x diameter, both in inches, but in The United Kingdom it was stated the other way around. More recently, many drum kit manufacturers have begun to express their sizes in terms of diameter x depth; still in the measure of inches.
For example, a hanging tom 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep would be described by Tama as 8 inches × 12 inches, but by Pearl as 12 inches × 8 inches, and a standard diameter Ludwig snare drum 5 inches deep is a 5-inch × 14-inch, while the UK's Premier Manufacturer offers the same dimensions as: a 14-inch × 5-inch snare.
The snare drum is the heart of the drumkit, particularly in rock, due to the use of the snare to play the backbeat. It provides the strongest regular accents, played by the left hand (if right handed), and the backbone for many fills. It produces its distinctive sound, due to the bed of stiff snare wires held under tension to the underside of the lower drum head. When the stiff wire are "engaged" (held under tension), they vibrate with the top (snare-side) drum skin (head) when the head is hit, creating a snappy, staccato buzzing sound, along with the sound of the stick striking the head.
Tom-tom drums, or toms for short, are drums without snares and played with sticks (or whatever tools the music style requires), and are the most numerous drums in most kits. They provide the bulk of most drum fills and solos.
- Traditional double-headed rack toms, of varying depths
- Floor toms (generally the widest and largest toms, which also makes them the lowest-pitched toms)
- Single-headed concert toms
The smallest and largest drums without snares, such as octobans and gong drums, are sometimes considered toms. The naming of common configurations (four-piece, five-piece, etc.) is largely a reflection of the number of toms, as only the drums are conventionally counted, and these configurations all contain one snare and one or more bass drums, (though not regularly any standardized use of 2 bass/kick drums) the balance usually being in toms.
The bass drum (also known as the "kick drum") provides a regular but often-varied foundation to the rhythm. The bass drum is the lowest pitched drum and usually provides the basic beat or timing element with basic pulse patterns. Some drummers may use two or more bass drums or use a double bass drum pedal with a single bass drum. Double bass drumming is an important technique in many heavy metal genres. Using a double bass drum pedal enables a drummer to play a double bass drum style with only one bass drum, saving space in recording/performance areas and reducing time and effort during set-up, taking down, and transportation.
Octobans are smaller toms designed for use in a drum kit, extending the tom range upwards in pitch, primarily by their depth; as well as diameter (typically 6"). Pearl brand octobans are called "rocket toms"; the instruments are also called
Timbales are tuned much higher than a tom of the same diameter, and normally played with very light, thin, non-tapered sticks. They have relatively thin heads and a very different tone than a tom, but are used by some drummers/percussionists to extend the tom range upwards. Alternatively, they can be fitted with tom heads and tuned as shallow concert toms. Attack timbales and mini timbales are reduced-diameter timbales designed for drum kit usage, the smaller diameter allowing for thicker heads providing the same pitch and head tension. They are recognizable in 2010s genres and in more traditional forms of Latin, reggae & numerous world music styles. Gong drums are a rare extension to a drum kit. The single-headed mountable drum appears similar to a bass drum (sizing around 20-24 inches in diameter), but has the same purpose as that of a floor tom. Similarly, most hand drum percussion cannot be played easily or suitably with drum sticks without risking damage to the head and to the bearing edge, which is not protected by a metal drum rim, like a snare or tom. For use in a drum kit, they may be fitted with a metal drum head and played with care, or played by hand.
In most drum kits and drum/percussion kits cymbals are as important as the drums themselves. The oldest idiophones in music are cymbals, and were used throughout the ancient Near East, very early in the Bronze Age period. Cymbals are most associated with Turkey and Turkish craftsmanship, where Zildjian (the name means cymbal smith) has predominantly made them since 1623.
Beginners cymbal packs normally contain four cymbals: one ride, one crash, and a pair of hi-hats. A few contain only three cymbals, using a crash/ride instead of the separate ride and crash. The sizes closely follow those given in Common configurations below.
Most drummers soon extend this by adding another crash, a splash, a china/effects cymbal; or even all of those last mentioned.
The ride cymbal is most often used for keeping a constant-rhythm pattern, every beat or more often, as the music requires. Development of this ride technique is generally credited to Baby Dodds.
Most drummers have a single main ride, located near their right hand—within easy playing reach, as it is used very regularly—most often a 20" sizing but, 16"-24" diameters are not uncommon. It is most often a heavy, or medium-weighted cymbal that cuts through other instrumental sounds, but some drummers use a swish cymbal, sizzle cymbal or other exotic or lighter metal ride, as the main or only ride in their kit, particularly for jazz, gospel or ballad/folk sounds. In the 1960s Ringo Starr used a sizzle cymbal as a second ride, particularly during guitar solos.
The hi-hat cymbals (nicknamed "hats") consist of two cymbals mounted facing each other on a metal pole with folding support legs that keep a hollow support cylinder standing up. Like the bass drum, the hi-hat has a foot pedal. The bottom cymbal is fixed in place. The top cymbal is mounted on a thin pole which is inserted into the hollow cymbal stand cylinder. The thin pole is connected to a foot pedal. When the foot pedal is pressed down, a mechanism causes the thin pole to move down, causing the cymbals to move together. When the foot is lifted off the pedal, the cymbals move apart, due to the pedal's spring-loaded mechanism. The hi-hats can be sounded by striking the cymbals with one or two sticks or just by opening and closing the cymbals with the footpedal, without striking the cymbals. The ability to create rhythms on the hi-hats with the foot alone enables drummers to use both sticks on other drums or cymbals. Different sounds can be created by striking "open hi-hats" (without the pedal depressed, which creates a noisy sound nicknamed "sloppy hats") or a crisp "closed hi-hats" sound (with the pedal pressed down). As well, the high hats can be played with a partially depressed pedal.
A unique effect can be created by striking an open hi-hat (i.e., in which the two cymbals are apart) and then closing the cymbals with the foot pedal; this effect is widely used in disco and funk. The hi-hat has a similar function to the ride cymbal. The two are rarely played consistently for long periods at the same time, but one or the other is used to keep the faster-moving rhythms (e.g., sixteenth notes) much of the time in a song. The hi-hats are played by the right stick of a right-handed drummer. Changing between ride and hi-hat, or between either and a "leaner" sound with neither, is often used to mark a change from one passage to another, for example; to distinguish between a verse and chorus.
The crash cymbals are usually the strongest accent markers within the kit, marking crescendos and climaxes, vocal entries, and major changes of mood/swells and effects. A crash cymbal is often accompanied by a strong kick on the bass drum pedal, both for musical effect and to support the stroke. It provides a fuller sound and is a commonly taught technique.
In the very smallest kits, in jazz, and at very high volumes, ride cymbals may be played in with the technique and sound of a crash cymbal. Some hi-hats will also give a useful crash, particularly thinner hats or those with an unusually severe taper. At low volumes, producing a good crash from a cymbal not particularly suited to it is a highly skilled art. Alternatively, specialised crash/ride and ride/crash cymbals are specifically designed to combine both functions.
All cymbals other than rides, hi-hats and crashes/splashes are usually called effects cymbals when used in a drum kit, though this is a non-classical or colloquial designation that has become a standardized label. Most extended kits include one or more splash cymbals and at least one china cymbal. Major cymbal makers produce cymbal extension packs consisting of one splash and one china, or more rarely a second crash, a splash and a china, to match some of their starter packs of ride, crash and hi-hats. However any combination of options can be found in the marketplace.
Some cymbals may be considered effects in some kits but "basic" in another set of components. A swish cymbal may, for example serve, as the main ride in some styles of music, but in a larger kit, which includes a conventional ride cymbal as well, it may well be considered an effects cymbal per se. Likewise, Ozone crashes have the same purpose as a standard crash cymbal, but are considered to be effects cymbals due to their rarity, and the holes cut into them, which provide a darker, more resonant attack.
Cymbals of any type used to provide an accent rather than a regular pattern or groove are known as accent cymbals. While any cymbal can be used to provide an accent, the term is applied more correctly to cymbals for which the main purpose is to provide an accent. Accent cymbals include chime cymbals, small-bell domed cymbals or those with a clear sonorous/oriental chime to them like specialized crash and splash cymbals and many china types too, particularly the smaller or thinner ones.
Other acoustic instruments
Other instruments that have regularly been incorporated into drum kits include:
- Wood block and cowbell. These are traditional in classic rock. As well, they are used in culturally diverse forms of music
- Tambourine, particularly mounted on the hi-hat stand above the cymbals; an ordinary tambourine can be used, or a tambourine produced specially for drum kit use
- Timbales can be used to extend the range of tom-toms, particularly when the drummer owns them for other musical settings; a traditional timbale is tuned far higher than a tom of the same diameter, so the result is not always the most ideal (see also Timbales#Non-traditional use)
- Xylophone or glockenspiel
- Tubular bells
- Bar chimes/orchestral chimes
- Found objects, including spanners, brake drums, buckets, cardboard boxes, and jam and kerosene tins (anything ordinary that can be percussively struck to produce sounds, patterns and grooves for their setting)
See also Extended kits below.
Electronic drums are used for many reasons. Some drummers use electronic drums for playing in small venues such as coffeehouses or church services, where a very low volume for the band is desired. Since fully electronic drums do not create any acoustic sound (apart from the quiet sound of the stick hitting the sensor pads), all of the drum sounds come from a keyboard amplifier or PA system; as such, the volume of electronic drums can be much lower than an acoustic kit. Some drummers use electronic drums as practice instruments, because they can be listened to with headphones, enabling a drummer to practice in an apartment or in the middle of the night without disturbing others. Some drummers use electronic drums to take advantage of the huge range of sounds that modern drum modules can produce, which range from sampled sounds of real drums, cymbals and percussion instruments (including instruments that would be impractical to take to a small gig, such as gongs or tubular bells), to electronic and synthesized sounds, including non-instrument sounds such as ocean waves.
A fully electronic kit is also easier to soundcheck than acoustic drums, assuming that the electronic drum module has levels that the drummer has pre-set in her/his practice room; in contrast, when an acoustic kit is sound checked, most drums and cymbals need to be miked and each mic needs to be tested by the drummer so its level and tone equalization can be adjusted by the sound engineer. As well, even after all the individual drum and cymbal mics are soundchecked, the engineer needs to listen to the drummer play a standard groove, to check that the balance between the kit instruments is right. Finally, the engineer needs to set up the monitor mix for the drummer, which the drummer uses to hear her/his instruments and the instruments and vocals of the rest of the band. With a fully electronic kit, many of these steps could be eliminated.
Drummers' usage of electronic drum equipment can range from adding a single electronic pad to an acoustic kit (e.g., to have access to an instrument that might otherwise be impractical, such as a large gong), to using a mix of acoustic drums/cymbals and electronic pads, to using an acoustic kit in which the drums and cymbals have triggers, which can be used to sound electronic drums and other sounds, to having an exclusively electronic kit, which is often set up with the rubber or mesh drum pads and rubber "cymbals" in the usual drumkit locations. A fully electronic kit weighs much less and takes up less space to transport than an acoustic kit and it can be set up more quickly. One of the disadvantages of a fully electronic kit is that it may not have the same "feel" as an acoustic kit, and the drum sounds, even if they are high-quality samples, may not sound the same as acoustic drums.
Electronic drum pads are the second most widely used type of MIDI performance controllers, after electronic music keyboards. Drum controllers may be built into drum machines, they may be standalone control surfaces (e.g., rubber drum pads), or they may emulate the look and feel of acoustic percussion instruments. The pads built into drum machines are typically too small and fragile to be played with sticks, and they are usually played with fingers. Dedicated drum pads such as the Roland Octapad or the DrumKAT are playable with the hands or with sticks, and are often built to resemble the general form of a drum kit. There are also percussion controllers such as the vibraphone-style MalletKAT, and Don Buchla's Marimba Lumina.
As well as providing an alternative to a conventional acoustic drum kit, electronic drums can be incorporated into an acoustic drum kit to supplement it. MIDI triggers can also be installed into acoustic drum and percussion instruments. Pads that can trigger a MIDI device can be homemade from a piezoelectric sensor and a practice pad or other piece of foam rubber.
This is possible in two ways:
- Triggers are sensors that can be attached to acoustic drum kit components. In this way, an electronic drum sound will be produced when the instrument is played/struck, as well as the original sound voiced by the instrument being available, if so desired .
- Trigger pads can be mounted alongside other kit components. These pads make no significant acoustic sound themselves (if not modified to do otherwise), but are used purely to trigger the electronic sounds from the "drum brain". They are played with the same drum sticks as are used on other drum kit components.
In either case, an electronic control unit (sound module/"brain") with suitable sampled/modeled or synthesized drum sounds, amplification equipment (a PA system, keyboard amp, etc.) and stage monitor speakers are required for the drummer (and other band members and audience) to hear the electronically produced sounds. See Triggered drum kit.
A trigger pad could contain up to four independent sensors, each of them capable of sending information describing the timing and dynamic intensity of a stroke to the drum module/brain. A circular drum pad may have only one sensor for triggering, but a 2016-era cymbal-shaped rubber pad/cymbal will often contain two; one for the body and one for the bell at the centre of the cymbal, and perhaps a cymbal choke trigger, to allow drummers to produce this effect.
Trigger sensors are most commonly used to replace the acoustic drum sounds, but they can often also be used effectively with an acoustic kit to augment or supplement an instrument's sound for the needs of the session or show. For example, in a live performance in a difficult acoustical space, a trigger may be placed on each drum or cymbal, and used to trigger a similar sound on a drum module. These sounds are then amplified through the PA system so the audience can hear them, and they can be amplified to any level without the risks of audio feedback or bleed problems associated with microphones and PAs in certain settings.
The sound of electronic drums and cymbals themselves is heard by the drummer and possibly other musicians in close proximity, but even so, the foldback (audio monitor) system is usually fed from the electronic sounds rather than the live acoustic sounds. The drums can be heavily dampened (made to resonate less or subdue the sound), and their tuning and even quality is less critical in the latter scenario. In this way, much of the atmosphere of the live performance is retained in a large venue, but without some of the problems associated with purely microphone-amplified drums. Triggers and sensors can also be used in conjunction with conventional or built-in microphones. If some components of a kit prove more difficult to "mike" than others (e.g., an excessively "boomy" low tom), triggers may be used on only the more difficult instruments, balancing out a drummer's/band's sound in the mix.
Trigger pads and drums, on the other hand, when deployed in a conventional set-up, are most commonly used to produce sounds not possible with an acoustic kit, or at least not with what is available. Any sound that can be sampled/recorded can be played when the pad is struck, by assigning the recorded sounds to specific triggers . Recordings or samples of barking dogs, sirens, breaking glass and stereo recordings of aircraft taking off and landing have all been used. Along with the more obvious electronically generated sounds there are synthesized human voices or song parts or even movie audio or digital video/pictures that (depending on device used) can also be played/triggered by electronic drums.
Virtual drums are a type of audio software that simulates the sound of a drum kit using synthesized drum kit sounds or digital samples of acoustic drum sounds. Different drum software products offer a recording function, the ability to select from several acoustically distinctive drum kits (e.g., jazz, rock, metal), as well as the option to incorporate different songs into the session. Some software for the personal computer (PC) can turn any hard surface into a virtual drum kit using only one microphone. In the 2010s, virtual drumming software is available for mobile devices or tablets.
Drum kits are traditionally categorised by the number of drums, ignoring cymbals and other instruments. Snare, tom-tom and bass drums are always counted; Other drums such as octobans may or may not be counted.
The sizes of drums and cymbals given below are typical. Many drummers differ slightly or radically from them. Where no size is given, it is because there is too much variety to call a typical size.
A three-piece drum set is the most basic set. A conventional three-piece kit consists of a bass drum, a 14" diameter snare drum, 12"–14" hi-hats, a single 12" diameter hanging tom, 8"–9" in depth, and a suspended cymbal, in the range of 14"–18", both mounted on the bass drum. These kits were common in the 1950s and 1960s and are still used in the 2010s in small acoustic dance bands. It is a common configuration for kits sold through mail order, and, with smaller sized drums and cymbals, for kits for children.
A four-piece kit extends the three-piece by adding one tom, either a second hanging tom mounted on the bass drum (a notable user is Chris Frantz of Talking Heads) and often displacing the cymbal, or by adding a floor tom. Normally another cymbal is added as well, so there are separate ride and crash cymbals, either on two stands, or the ride cymbal mounted on the bass drum to the player's right and the crash cymbal on a separate stand. The standard cymbal sizes are 16" crash and 18"–20" ride, with the 20" ride most common.
Four piece with floor tom
When a floor tom is added to make a four-piece kit, the floor tom is usually 14" for jazz, and 16" otherwise. This configuration is usually common in jazz, classic rock and rock and roll. Notable users include Ringo Starr in The Beatles, Mitch Mitchell in the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and John Barbata in the Turtles.
Four piece with two hanging toms
If a second hanging tom is used, it is 10" diameter and 8" deep for fusion, or 13" diameter and one inch deeper than the 12" diameter tom. Otherwise, a 14" diameter hanging tom is added to the 12", both being 8" deep. In any case, both toms are most often mounted on the bass drum with the smaller of the two next to the hi-hats (on the left for a right-handed drummer). These kits are particularly useful for smaller venues where space is limited, such as coffeehouses and small pubs.
The five-piece kit is the full entry-level kit and the most common configuration. It adds a third tom to the bass drum/snare drum/two toms set, making three toms in all. A fusion kit will normally add a 14" tom, either a floor tom or a hanging tom on a stand to the right of the bass drum; in either case, making the tom lineup 10", 12" and 14". Having three toms enables drummers to have a low-pitched, middle-register and higher-pitched tom, which gives them more options for fills and solos.
Other kits will normally have 12" and 13" hanging toms plus either a 14" hanging tom on a stand, a 14" floor tom, or a 16" floor tom. For depths, see Tom-tom drum#Modern tom-toms. In the 2010s, it is very popular to have 10" and 12" hanging toms, with a 16" floor tom. This configuration is often called a hybrid setup. The bass drum is most commonly 22" in diameter, but rock kits may use 24", fusion 20", jazz 18", and in larger bands up to 26". A second crash cymbal is common, typically an inch or two larger or smaller than the 16", with the larger of the two to the right for a right-handed drummer, but a big band may use crashes up to 20" and ride up to 24" or, very rarely, 26". A rock kit may also substitute a larger ride cymbal or larger hi-hats, typically 22" for the ride and 15" for the hats.
Most five-piece kits, at more than entry level, also have one or more effects cymbals. Adding cymbals beyond the basic ride, hi-hats and one crash configuration requires more stands in addition to the standard drum hardware packs. Because of this, many higher-cost kits for professionals are sold with little or even no hardware, to allow the drummer to choose the stands and also the bass drum pedal he/she prefers. At the other extreme, many inexpensive, entry-level kits are sold as a five-piece kit complete with two cymbal stands, most often one straight and one boom, and some even with a standard cymbal pack, a stool and a pair of 5A drum sticks. In the 2010s, digital kits are often offered in a five-piece kit, usually with one plastic crash cymbal triggers and one ride cymbal trigger. Fully electronic drums do not produce any acoustic sound beyond the quiet tapping of sticks on the plastic or rubber heads. The trigger-pads are wired up to a synth module or sampler.
If the toms are omitted completely, or the bass drum is replaced by a pedal-operated beater on the bottom skin of a floor tom and the hanging toms omitted, the result is a two-piece "cocktail" (lounge) kit. Such kits are particularly favoured in musical genres such as trad jazz, rockabilly and jump blues. Some rockabilly kits and beginners kits for very young players omit the hi-hat stand. In rockabilly, this allows the drummer to play standing rather than seated.
Although these kits may be small with respect to the number of drums used, the drums themselves are most often normal sizes, or even larger in the case of the bass drum. Kits using smaller drums in both smaller and larger configurations are also produced for particular uses, such as boutique kits designed to reduce the visual impact that a large kit creates or due space constraints in coffeehouses, travelling kits to reduce luggage volume, and junior kits for very young players. Smaller drums also tend to be quieter, again suiting smaller venues, and many of these kits extend this with extra muffling which allows quiet or even silent practice in a hotel room or bedroom.
Common extensions beyond these standard configurations include:
- Effects cymbals, particularly splash cymbals and china cymbals
- Double bass drums. Double bass drums or a double bass pedal are standard for some genres, particularly in heavy metal music
- Extra hanging or rack toms
- Extra Crash cymbals
- A crash/ride cymbal in addition to the main ride
- A second, larger or smaller floor tom
- One or more octobans or a pair of mini timbales
- A second pair of hi-hats mounted as cable hats or x-hats
- Cymbal stacks
- Individual tiger, wind or chau gongs
- Multiple ride cymbals. A sizzle cymbal, thinner and larger than the main ride, was once common as a second ride or crash/ride, even in a four-piece kit, but is now less so (jazz drummers, however, may still have two or more ride cymbals, even in a small kit)
Less common extensions found particularly, but not exclusive to very large kits, include:
- Multiple snare drums
- Multiple bass drums beyond the double bass drum setup
- Gong drums (single headed bass drums, played with sticks or mallets)
- Sets of gongs, tuned or untuned
- Sound effects such as a thunder sheet
- One or more crotales
- Instruments "borrowed" from orchestral percussion, such as timpani
- Instruments "borrowed" from marching band percussion, such as the tuned bass drums used in the drumline
The most common kit-drumming sticks are wooden sticks modeled on, or in some cases identical to, those originally designed for use with the snare drum. These come in a variety of weights, conventionally expressed as a number, and tip designs, expressed as a letter following the number, with the higher numbers indicating lighter sticks. Thus, a 7A is a common jazz stick with a wooden tip, while a 7N is the same weight, with a nylon tip, and a 7B is a wooden tip but with a different tip profile (shorter and rounder than a 7A). A 5A is a common wood tipped rock stick, heavier than a 7A but with a similar profile. The numbers are most commonly odd but even numbers are used occasionally, in the range 2 (heaviest) to 9 (lightest).
The exact meanings of both numbers and letters differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, and some sticks are not described using this system at all, just being known as Jazz (typically a 7N or 8N) or Heavy Rock (typically a 4B or 5B) for example. The most common general-purpose stick is a 5A (wood tip, for snare tone) or 5N (nylon tip, for cymbal tone) or 7a for a smooth and easy tone . Materials, other than wood (hickory, maple, oak, persimmon), used for producing sticks include aluminum (used primarily for marching band applications), acrylic (primarily for visual appeal) and graphite (most often used by "heavy hitters", playing hard rock and metal, etc.). Other sticks commonly used are rutes, consisting of a bundle of canes, and wire or nylon drum brushes. More rarely, other beaters such as cartwheel mallets (known to kit drummers as "soft sticks") may be used. It is not uncommon for rock drummers to use the "wrong" (butt) end of a stick for a heavier sound; some makers in the 2010s produce tipless sticks with two butt ends.
Drum muffles are types of mutes that can reduce the ring, boomy overtone frequencies, or overall volume on a snare, bass, or tom. Controlling the ring is useful in studio or live settings when unwanted frequencies can clash with other instruments in the mix. There are internal and external muffling devices which rest on the inside or outside of the drumhead, respectively. Common types of mufflers include muffling rings, gels and duct tape, and improvised methods, such as placing a wallet near the edge of the head. Some drummers muffle the sound of a drum by putting a cloth over the drumhead.
Snare drum and tom-tom Typical ways to muffle a snare or tom include placing an object on the outer edge of the drumhead. A piece of cloth, a wallet, gel, or fitted rings made of mylar are common objects. Also used are external clip-on muffles that work using the same principle. Internal mufflers that lie on the inside of the drumhead are often built into a drum, but are generally considered less effective than external muffles, as they stifle the initial tone, rather than simply reducing the sustain of it.
Bass drum Muffling the bass can be achieved with the same muffling techniques as the snare, but bass drums in a drum kit are more commonly muffled by adding pillows, a sleeping bag or another soft filling inside the drum, between the heads. Cutting a small hole in the resonant head can also produce a more muffled tone, and allows manipulation in internally placed muffling. The Evans EQ pad places a pad against the batterhead and, when struck, the pad moves off the head momentarily, then returns to rest against the head, thus reducing the sustain without choking the tone.
Silencers/mutes Another type of drum muffler is a piece of rubber that fits over the entire drumhead or cymbal. It interrupts contact between the stick and the head which dampens the sound even more. They are typically used in practice settings.
Cymbals are usually muted with the fingers or hand, to reduce the length or volume of ringing (e.g., the cymbal choke technique which is a key part of heavy metal drumming). Cymbals can also be muted with special rubber rings or with DIY approaches such as using duct tape.
Historical uses Muffled drums are often associated with funeral ceremonies as well, such as the funerals of John F. Kennedy and Queen Victoria. The use of muffled drums has been written about by such poets as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Mayne, and Theodore O'Hara. Drums have also been used for therapy and learning purposes, such as when an experienced player will sit with a number of students and by the end of the session have all of them relaxed and playing complex rhythms.
There are various types of stick holder accessories, including bags that can be attached to a drum and angled sheath-style stick holders, which can hold a single pair of sticks.
A sizzler is a metal chain or combination of chains that is hung across a cymbal, creating a distinctive metallic sound when the cymbal is struck similar to that of a sizzle cymbal. Using a sizzler is the non-destructive alternative to drilling holes in a cymbal and putting metal rivets in the holes. Another benefit of using a "sizzler" chain is that the chain can be removed and the cymbal will return to its normal sound (in contrast, a cymbal with rivets would have to have the rivets removed). Some sizzlers feature pivoting arms that allow the chains to be quickly raised from the cymbal, or lowered onto it, allowing the effect to be used for some songs and removed for others.
Three types of protective covers are common for kit drums:
- Drum bags are made from robust cloth such as cordura or from cloth-backed vinyl. They give minimal protection from bumps and impacts, but they do protect drums and cymbals from precipitation. They are adequate for drums transported in private vehicles to go to local gigs and sessions. They are often the only option for young drummers who are just starting out.
- Mid-price hard cases are of similar construction to suitcases, commonly made of fibre composite. The offer more protection from bumps than cloth bags.
- Flight cases or road cases are standard for professional touring drummers.
As with all musical instruments, the best protection is a provided by a combination of a hard-shelled case with padding such as foam next to the drums or cymbals.
Microphones ("mics") are used with drums to pick up the sound of the drums and cymbals for a sound recording and/or to pick up the sound of the drum kit so that it can be amplified through a PA system or sound reinforcement system. While most drummers use microphones and amplification in live shows in the 2010s, so that the sound engineer can adjust and balance the levels of the drums and cymbals, some bands that play in quieter genres of music and that play in small venues such as coffeehouses play acoustically, without mics or PA amplification. Small jazz groups such as jazz quartets or organ trios that are playing in a small bar will often just use acoustic drums. Of course if the same small jazz groups play on the mainstage of a big jazz festival, the drums will be mic'ed so that they can be adjusted in the sound system mix. A middle-ground approach is used by some bands that play in small venues; they do not mic every drum and cymbal, but rather mic only the instruments that the sound engineer wants to be able to control in the mix, such as the bass drum and the snare.
In "miking" a drum kit, dynamic microphones, which can handle high sound-pressure levels, are usually used to close-mic drums, which is the predominant way to mic drums for live shows. Condenser microphones are used for overheads and room mics, an approach which is more common with sound recording applications. Close miking of drums may be done using stands or by mounting the microphones on the rims of the drums, or even using microphones built into the drum itself, which eliminates the need for stands for these microphones, reducing both clutter and set-up time, as well as isolating them.
In some styles of music, drummers use electronic effects on drums, such as individual noise gates that mute the attached microphone when the signal is below a threshold volume. This allows the sound engineer to use a higher overall volume for the drum kit by reducing the number of "active" mics which could produce unwanted feedback at any one time. When a drumkit is entirely miked and amplified through the sound reinforcement system, the drummer or the sound engineer can add other electronic effects to the drum sound, such as reverb or digital delay.
Some drummers arrive at the venue with their drum kit and use the mics and mic stands provided by the venue's sound engineer. Other drummers bring their all of their own mics, or selected mics (e.g., a good quality bass drum mic and a good mic for the snare) to ensure that they have good quality mics for each show. In bars and nightclubs, the microphones supplied by the venue can sometimes be in substandard condition, due to the heavy use they experience.
Drummers using electronic drums, drum machines, or hybrid acoustic-electric kits (which blend traditional acoustic drums and cymbals with electronic pads) typically use a monitor speaker, keyboard amplifier or even a small PA system to hear the electronic drum sounds. Even a drummer playing entirely acoustic drums may use a monitor speaker to hear her drums, especially if she is playing in a loud rock or metal band, where there is substantial onstage volume from huge, powerful guitar stacks. Since the drum kit uses the deep bass drum, drummers are often given a large speaker cabinet with a 15" subwoofer to help them monitor their bass drum sound (along with a full-range monitor speaker to hear the rest of their kit). Some sound engineers and drummers prefer to use an electronic vibration system, colloquially known as a "butt shaker" or "throne thumper" to monitor the bass drum, because this lowers the stage volume. With a "butt shaker", the "thump" of each bass drum strike causes a vibration in the drum stool; this way the drummer feels their beat on the posterior, rather than hears it.
Bass drum gear
A number of accessories are designed for the bass drum (also called "kick drum"). Ported tubes for the bass drum are available to take advantage of the bass reflex speaker design, in which a tuned port (a hole and a carefully measured tube) are put in a speaker enclosure to improve the bass response at the lowest frequencies. Bass drumhead patches are available, which protect the drumhead from the impact of the felt beater. Bass drum pillows are fabric bags with filling or stuffing that can be used to alter the tone or resonance of the bass drum. A less expensive alternative to using a specialized bass drum pillow is to use an old sleeping bag.
Some drummers wear special drummer's gloves to improve their grip on the sticks when they play. Drumming gloves often have a textured grip surface made of a synthetic or rubber material and mesh or vents on the parts of the glove not used to hold sticks, to ventilate perspiration.
In some styles or settings, such as country music clubs or churches, small venues, or when a live recording is being made, the drummer may use a transparent perspex or plexiglas drum screen (also known as a drum shield) to dampen the onstage volume of the drums. A screen that completely surrounds the drum kit is known as a drum booth. In live sound applications, drum shields are used so that the audio engineer can have more control over the volume of drums that the audience hears through the PA system mix or to reduce the overall volume of the drums, as a way to reduce the overall volume of the band in the venue. In some recording studios, foam and fabric baffles are used in addition to or in place of clear panels. The drawback with foam/cloth baffle panels is that the drummer cannot see other performers, the record producer or the audio engineer well.
Drummers often bring a carpet, mats or rugs to venues to prevent the bass drum and hi-hat stand from "crawling" (moving away) on a slippery surface from the drum head striking the bass drum. The carpet also reduces short reverberation (which is generally but not always an advantage), and helps to prevent damage to the flooring or floor coverings. In shows where multiple drummers will bring their kits onstage over the night, it is common for drummers to mark the location of their stands and pedals with tape, to allow for quicker positioning of a kits in a drummer's accustomed position. Bass drums and hi-hat stands commonly have retractable spikes to help them to grip surfaces such as carpet, or stay stationary (on hard surfaces) with rubber feet.
Drummers use a variety of accessories when practicing. Metronomes and beat counters are used to develop a sense of a steady pulse. Drum muffling pads may be used to lessen the volume of drums during practicing. A practice pad, held on the lap, on a leg, or mounted on a stand, is used for near-silent practice with drumsticks. A set of practice pads mounted to simulate an entire drum kit is known as a practice kit. In the 2010s, these have largely been superseded by electronic drums, which can be listened to with headphones for quiet practice and kits with non-sounding mesh heads.
Drummers use a drum key for tuning their drums and adjusting some drum hardware. Besides the basic type of drum key (a T-handled wrench) there are various tuning wrenches and tools. Basic drum keys are divided in three types which allows tuning of three types of tuning screws on drums: square (most used), slotted and hexagonal. Ratchet-type wrenches allow high-tension drums to be tuned easily. Spin keys (utilizing a ball joint) allow rapid head changing. Torque-wrench type keys are available, graphically revealing the torque at each lug. Also, tension gauges, or meters, which are set on the head, aid drummers to achieve a consistent tuning. Drummers can tune drums "by ear" or, in the 2010s, use a digital drum tuner, which "measures tympanic pressure" on the drumhead to provide accurate tuning.
Drum kit Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.