Beating and banging, bumping and clanging. There are a lot of different noises coming out of a drum set. If you ever take a look at some professional kits (like Mark Temperato’s 2.5-ton monstrosity with 813 pieces), it can easily seem daunting to know what everything does. But that’s what we’re here for!
Whether they’re ridiculous 813-piece kits or a simple four-piecer, all drum sets have the same three main parts:
- Drums – Hit and go thump
- Cymbals – Metal things that make lots of noise
- Hardware – Holds up all the goodies
Let’s take a look at the parts of a drum set in more detail to give you an idea of where to start on your journey to rockstardom.
It’s called a “drum” set, so we might as well start with the drums. They’re the round things you hit to make noise. Okay, that’s not very specific…
Drums are long cylindrical shells, typically made of wood, with a piece of polyester or mylar plastic mix stretched tightly across the top. You hit the head; they go thump.
You can have big drums, small drums, tall drums, skinny drums, and any other sized drum in between. Typically, the bigger the drum, the lower the sound it makes.
There are five basic parts to every drum:
- Batter head – The part on top you hit.
- Resonant head – The head on the bottom side of the drum.
- Shell – The wooden (mostly) cylinder that makes up the drum’s body.
- Lugs – Tighten the heads and the hoop.
- Hoops – The metal rim around the outside of the drum head.
Each part plays an important role in the timbre of the drum.
There are four main types of drums on a standard drum set (and most non-standard ones):
Arguably the most important drum on a drum set, the bass drum is what gives the drummer that awesome deep booming sound that usually comes on beats one and three. It’s easy to spot because it’s always sitting on its side on the floor.
Bass drums are typically the largest drum on any drum set, and they’re always played with a foot pedal — which is why they’re also often called “kick” drums. They’re usually the only drum on the set with a wooden hoop. Not only does the wood make a more resonant sound than metal, but it’s also better for sitting on the ground without sliding around or getting scratched.
Any metalheads in the house? Hard rock and metal drummers like to add multiple bass drums or a double-bass pedal that allows them to hit the bass drum(s) with both feet. That’s how you get those crazy fast bass beats! But most kits come with a single bass drum and single kick pedal on which the rest of the kit is built (double bass equipment sold separately).
If the bass drum is the most important drum on your set, the snare is the second most important. The snare drum sits on a floor stand to the left of the bass drum pedal. If you’re sitting on a drum throne with one foot on the kick pedal and the other on the hi-hat (which we’ll get to), the snare will sit between your legs.
Snare drums make a “snapping” or “clapping” sound. (How the heck do you describe sounds…?) It has metal wires (snares) attached to the resonant head underneath that are pulled tight to make the distinct snare sound. You can turn the snares on and off with the snare throw-off lever on the side of the drum. Without the snares, it’ll sound more like the rest of the drums on your set.
You can find snares made of either wood or metal. Generally, wooden snare drums sound more resonant, while metal snare drums tend to be more bright and snappy.
It’s completely possible to play an entire gig with just the bass and snare drum. But what’s the fun in that!? Everyone knows that the bigger the kit, the better the drummer. Right…?
Rack toms are the drums on top of the bass drum. They can either be attached to the bass drum directly or sitting on a larger drum rack.
Most kits have two toms: a high tom and a mid tom. But you’re welcome to add as many rack toms as you like (or at least as many as fit on your kit).They’re usually positioned with the highest tom on the left and the lowest tom on the right.
Toms are awesome for fills!
Some toms are too big to put on a rack. These are the floor toms. And as the name might suggest, they sit right on the floor! But unlike the snare, floor toms come with their own legs so you don’t need a separate stand.
Floor toms are typically positioned to the right of the bass drum. That way, you can easily knock an incredible fill going from the high rack tom on the left, play every mid tom on your way to the right, and end on the lower floor toms.
If you have multiple floor toms, they’ll usually sit like the rack toms in order of smallest (highest) to Largest (lowest) going from left to right. The biggest toms sit all the way to the right.
Did you know cymbals are more than just shiny decorations for your drum set? They actually make sound!
The more you know…
There are so many different types of cymbals out there. It can be scary for beginner drummers to get their bearings — and even some advanced drummers.
To simplify things, we’re going to talk about the three most important cymbals on any set: hi-hats, crash cymbals, and ride cymbals. Even basic sets should have those three (or at least a hi-hat and a crash/ride combo).
So without further ado, let’s “ride” our way into this “crash” course on cymbals. And on “hat” note…
Hi-hat cymbals are the most important cymbals on your kit. They come in pairs with a top hat and a bottom hat that attach to a hi-hat stand. The bottom hat faces up and the top hat faces down. They sit together on a hi-hat stand with the bells facing each other.
The hi-hat stand isn’t your run-of-the-mill cymbal stand. It moves! The underside of the top hat attaches to something called a clutch. It’s basically a clamp around a metal rod that holds the cymbal up. The pedal at the bottom of the hi-hat stand moves the rod up and down. Press the pedal down to clamp the hats together for a closed, tight sound. Release the pedal for an open, ringing sound.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “They’re not loud or flashy. How could hi-hats be the most important cymbals!?”
Yes, it’s true. Hi-hats are rather quiet as far as cymbals go, but they’re the timekeepers. When playing standard drum rhythms, you’ll play the hi-hat on every single beat. And usually, the fancier the beat, the more hi-hat you’ll use!
The hi-hats are usually placed to the left of the snare drum. Play them with your right hand and use your left foot to control the pedal. Right foot blue, left hand green, and you win!
You want volume? The crash cymbal is ready to bring the noise! Crash cymbals are larger than hi-hats and have thinner edges. Whack the edge of the cymbal with your drumsticks to create a loud crash that can be heard across state lines. They’re great for putting emphasis at the ends of phrases and fills (or really any time you feel like it).
Crash cymbals come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials to produce different sounds. Many drummers like to have multiple crash cymbals on their kit to give them more tonal options.
Your primary crash cymbal should sit just above the hi-hat and to the left of the high tom. If there’s a second crash, you’ll usually find it to the right of the floor tom. Any more than that and you can make up your own rules!
The ride cymbal will usually be the largest cymbal on your kit. It produces a nice, smooth sound when you give it a tap.
There are three parts of a ride cymbal:
And they each make different sounds.
The shoulder is the edge of the ride. Many ride cymbals have thinner shoulders that sound like a crash when you smack them. These are usually called crash rides (imagine that). They’re perfect if you want another crash option (or you don’t have a crash) but don’t feel like plonking down more money on another cymbal.
The bow is the top surface of a ride cymbal, and it’s usually where most of the playing takes place. Tapping on the bow produces a longer smoother tone that can be used as an alternative to the hi-hat when you want to change up the beat.
The bell is the center part of the ride. It’s the little bump in the middle of the cymbal. It’ll make a bright pinging sound when you give it a tap.
When shopping for your perfect ride, be sure to hit each part of the cymbal to make sure you like all three tones.
Yeah, I said we’d only talk about the three main cymbals on a kit — but I lied! Cymbals are too much fun to stop there. And there are so many that at least deserve a quick mention.
Specialty cymbals add even more tonal options to your beat-making abilities. They might not be “mandatory,” like a hi-hat or a crash, but they can definitely add some different flavors to your kit.
Splash cymbals are a bit of an acquired taste for some drummers. Some people love them and have dozens scattered around their set, and other people can’t stand them and refuse to even listen to drummers who use them. If you’re not sure which camp you’re in, give one a whack and hear for yourself!
Splashes are smaller cymbals that produce a high-pitched sound with a short and stiff ring. You can control the stiffness of the sound by tightening the cymbal to the stand — and vice versa.
Because their sound is so unique, splash cymbals are usually only used as an accent. You likely won’t touch them nearly as much as your hi-hat, crash, or ride cymbals. Also because they aren’t used as much, you’re welcome to place them wherever you like on your kit. There’s no “standard” placement for a splash cymbal.
Big, aggressive, and dirty. China cymbals are a heavy rock or metal drummer’s dream. They’re typically larger cymbals that look like an inside-out crash cymbal with an upturned edge. The larger the cymbal, the more aggressive the sound!
You’ll usually find China cymbals placed to the right of the floor tom. That way, it’s easy to give it a big-old whack with your right hand at full power!
Basically, any cymbal that doesn’t fit into one of the above categories is called a special effect cymbal. And as the name might suggest, they make some unique sounds.
Some effects cymbals might have holes drilled in them for a trashier sound. Others might have multiple cymbals put together for a crazy clashing sound. Others yet might be made of varying materials or feature a crumpled metal pattern.
There’s really too many to count. Just take a peek at the various special effects cymbals, smack a few with your sticks, and pick one that intrigues you the most.
The third and final major part of a drum set is the hardware. And luckily, it’s a simple one to explain.
The hardware holds up the various parts of your kit. That’s it. It keeps all your drums and cymbals in perfect whacking position.
Drum hardware includes the various stands to hold up the cymbals and snare, all the pedals for the bass drum and hi-hat, the metal racks on the bass drum supporting the high and mid toms, and the stool you sit on, along with all the clips and clamps that keep the drums and cymbals in place.
Basically, if it’s not meant to be hit, it probably counts as hardware.
When picking hardware for your drum set, it’s important to choose equipment that’s easy to adjust to make everything comfortable for your playing style. It also needs to be able to take a beating without moving. This isn’t a place to skimp!
Ready to build a drum kit?
Okay, that was a lot of information. And even though you now know all about the three main parts of a drum set, you might still have feelings of dread about where to get started — or maybe even an increased feeling of dread?
If you’re just starting out in the world of drumming, we suggest getting a complete kit. They come with everything you need to start beating and banging right away. You can always use your newfound knowledge about drum sets to expand as you go.
In our humble opinion, the best kit for a beginner is a five-piece drum set. One bass drum, one snare, two rack toms, and a floor tom. Many even come with cymbals. It’s the perfect starting point for any future drum superstar.
Pro Tip: Look for the word “complete” when shopping for a full kit to make sure you get all the pieces like the cymbals and hardware. If you see something that says “shell kit,” you’re going to get literally just the drum shells. It’ll be up to you to find the hardware and cymbals and such separately.
Have more drumming questions? We have the answers! Call our resident AMS Gear Nerds at 800-458-4076 to learn more about all the wonderful drum kits available and which one might be right for you. We always love talking gear! Build the perfect drum set to make your beat-making dreams a reality.