Drum Kit Guide

An introduction to the drums for wannabe drummers

This is an introduction to the drum kit, its individual pieces (and there’s many) and how they are contemporarily played.

The fundamentals of percussion playing are really quite simple. Percussion is all about hitting things and making a noise! How it sounds depends on how you hit things (soft, hard, varying degrees of pressure), where your hitting them (in the middle, the edges, the rims) what your hitting them with (hands, sticks, beaters, brushes) the dampening if any (cutting off the noise after you have hit something) and what your hitting (a drum, a snared drum, bongos, congas, timbales, cultural drums) and the surface that you hit (the skin type, plastic, real skin). All these things are fundamental and what makes the difference in playing percussion.

First let’s look @ the standard drum kit and then how to change the skins (the heads) and tune the kit.

Pro Drum Kit

The usual drum kit consists of:

º The Kick Drum (and kick drum pedal)
ºThe Snare (snare drum holder)
ºThe Hi-Hats (stands and cymbals)
ºThe Toms (tuned drums that sit atop the kick)
ºThe Floor Tom (as above but floor standing)
ºCymbals and Stands(depending on style, and personal taste - but usually a ride and at least one crash)
ºStix (else the kit is very quiet)
ºA stool

The kick

the kick drum The kick drum is the large round drum that sits on the floor. This is the basis of any kit, and a good kick drum makes a big difference to a kits sound. They are played via a kick drum pedal that is attached to the back of the kick drum. The pedal is played by pushing down with your foot which pulls down either a chain or belt which is attached to the pedal which hits the drum. Again, good pedals are essential as uncomfortable ones, or ones that have a weak response will not allow you to play well, or make a good sound! The sound is also dependant on the kind of beater that you have on and how hard the beater hits the skin. The beaters usually are plastic or a felty material and can be soft or hard and come in different shapes, all of which have an impact on the quality / type of sound produced. The skins on kick drums are quite thick, and the front skin sometimes can have a sound hole in, which gives the sound more of a thump and is essential for recording or live playing where the kick is to be miked up. A ‘slam pad’ or similar is a pad which is stuck to the bass drum skin on the batter side (the one that the pedal hits), and is used to get a tighter beefier sound from each kick. This is to be positioned where the beater will hit it square on.

The Snare

the snare drum The Snare drum is fundamental to any kit, and again, a good quality snare can make all the difference to a kits overall sound. They consist of a batter head, shell, snare head and snare wires. The batter head is, quite literally, the top skin which is hit. The shell is the body of the snare and comes in a variety of types from metal, i.e. chrome and steel to wood, e.g. maple. To tune the snare - you adjust the tension on the tension rods( see below for details.....). The snare head is the skin on the bottom of the shell that sits under the snare wires. The snare wires are strung across the bottom of the snare and produce the snappy sound that can be heard when the snare is played. A normal, basic, fundamental beat consists of the kick drum, the snare and a cymbal to be played along in time. Usually the high hats or a ride cymbal.

The High Hats

the high hats The Hi-Hats are the two cymbals on a stand that sit next to the snare and are played via a pedal. They are played opened or closed, played tight or loose to create a diverse selection of sounds. The 'hats are usually used to keep the pace of the beat along. The pedal grasps the top cymbal and depending on the height you set it at (by tightening the nut on the clutch) either pushes the cymbals tightly together or has them just touching to create a slushy sound. The Hi-hats are usually high sounding cymbals and can be played on the ‘bell’ of the cymbal to get a tinnier sound. The ‘hats’ can create a very eclectic range of sounds. Being opened and closed quickly, tightly or gently, fast or slow all create different types of sound as well as the area on the cymbal that you hit. The thinner, lighter cymbals tend to have a higher more cutting sound, whereas the larger, thicker ones tend to have a fuller, richer sound. Low quality cymbals (i.e. very cheap ones - can produce a brash and nasty sound that can - to be honest - sound terrible.

The 'Hanging' Toms

the toms The toms are the drums which sit atop the kick drum and you usually have 1 or 2, although many more is not uncommon, with kits having up to 8 or 9 toms! Jazz kits tend to only have 1 - but the number is totally down to personal taste, and each style tends to have a different preference. Toms are drums consisting of a shell with a skin on either end, a batterhead and a resonant head. These are tuned via the tension rods( see below for details.....).These are played with sticks generally and the sound can be varied by the area of the skin that is hit i.e. near the rim, or the centre. The toms are fantastic for fills, as they add the extra sounds to the normal beat of kick, snare & high hats. A tribal sound is produced when beats are played across all the toms for extended periods. The difference between the toms is the size, as the smaller ones produce a higher, tinnier sound - and the lower ones produce more of a lower rumble, or a thump - depending on the skin quality / size and how hard / the area played.

The Floor Toms

the The floor tom is the floor standing tom, which - if you are a right handed drummer - sits to the right of the kick drum (left in the picture above). This is in essence, exactly the same as a 'hanging' tom except that it has legs! These are adjustable via the nuts on the side which grasp the leg. The major difference with floor toms is that many have no bottom skin (resonant skin) - just a batterhead. This is because the floor tom is the very bassiest of all the toms and with no resonant skin, this produces a rolling, thundering sound. The sound projects more - but is not to every drummers taste. With a resonant skin, the sound is contained more, and more of a thump can be created.

Cymbals and Stands

cymbals and stands The cymbals and stands are what surround the basics of the kit. These are totally down to personal taste - but what we shall look at here are the types. There are the following cymbals which are the most used:

Crash cymbals are cymbals which are the most generic and can be used in any style. They tend to be fairly thin and produce a high sweeping noise.

Ride cymbals are large cymbals and are used in the same vein as the hi-hats. They have a 'riding' sound which carries nicely with a beat. The cymbal rings out but only produce short sounds which tend to cut through the kits overall sound. The bell of the ride cymbal is often used to accentuate beats as it creates a very high 'pinging' noise.

Splash cymbal are very small and thin cymbals. They produce a very low volume (in comparison) sound which can be used mid-bar for accents where a stronger cymbal may squash the sound.

China cymbals are quite large and are bent outwards at the rims. They create an Oriental sweeping / swooshing sound.

To start with a set of high hats ( see above), a ride cymbal and a crash are my own recommendations, as they offer the most useful for a starter. Then add a splash and a china and then another crash. To be surrounded by cymbals is no bad thing! Cymbals are very diverse and often not used enough by drummers. Every thing from where you hit the cymbal, to which part of the stick, what kind of stick and how hard all make major differences to what you can do.


drum sticks Now for another of the fundamental parts of the kit......the sticks. What you beat the percussion with makes a hell of a difference. Sticks are chosen on what the body is made out of, the weight & thickness and the tip. The body of the sticks is usually wooden and can sometimes have support rods through the middle, and the tip is either wooden or nylon. The tip creates a different sound depending on either wooden or nylon as this is what makes the most contact with the batter head / cymbal. A nylon tipped stick will create a tinnier - higher - pinging sound whereas the wooden ones have a smoother sound but the tips warp, chip and have lumps come out. Nylon tips tend to warp or have the entire end snap off. Snapping sticks is a frequent occurrence, usually at the most inappropriate time! Depending on style / personal taste, the thickness of a stick is important only for the player. Each style of sticks (Jazz, nylon tipped, signature series) will come in any thickness or weight, so find a kind you like and try a few different variations of it. Beaters are used for percussion / tuned percussion such as glockenspiels or xylophones. These also come in a variety of thicknesses and styles but vary less than a drum stick. Timbale sticks are very, very thin wooden sticks that have no tapered end, and are used for latin percussion, especially the timbales. Brushes are used for any kit, and create an incredibly light sound that literally brushes over the skins. Most suited to acoustic styles of music and jazz where the kit plays a softer, more emotive role rather than a well defined beat that cuts through and carries the bands tempo and feel.

Replacing heads & Tuning your kit

drummers key The kit has many tuneable parts. The Snare drum, any hanging toms, the kick drum and the floor tom all require tuning. Each drum is tuned in the same way, operating on the same principle. Every time a skin (the drum head) is replaced it will require tuning. On each drum there will be a rim, a tension rod, a tension rod holder, the skin and the tightening top (which can vary, but generally the standard drum fitting). A drum key will be needed. The batterhead goes onto the top of the shell, fitting over the edge into the rim on the skin, followed by the rim. The rim keeps the drum head secured to the shell. Then the tension rods fit over the rim. The tension rods are attached to the shell and these grip the rim - which in turn pushes the head down onto the shell edge, keeping it taught. There are several (between 6 and 12 usually) tension rods around the top and bottom of the shell. These are all tightened - but not as far as they can all go. Just tighten them all so they are fairly comfortable on the shell. Then, picking one, tighten it and hit the drum head just near it, listen, and tighten it until it satisfies. Then miss the next one and tighten the next (so they are tightened in triangles) hitting it and the previous to get the right sound. Move round, tightening in triangles, until the drum sounds just as you want. Its also best (in my personal view) to add and tune the bottom (resonant) head first, then the batter (top) head. Snare drums are slightly different in the fact that they have snare wires on the resonant skin. These are applied over the resonant head and are secure through a metal clutch that holds the snare wires taught over the skin. An arm on the shell is used to apply the wires to the head and how tightly stretched across they are.

B en.
Check out this great selection of guitar, drum and general music accessories we have put together for you - free guitar tablature search, online metronome / drum machine to play along to and we even have an online guitar tuner for you.