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Drum kit

The drum kit

1 Bass drum 2 Floor tom 3 Snare drum
4 Hanging toms 5 Hi-hat 6 Crash cymbal
7 Ride cymbal 8 Splash cymbal 9 China cymbal

Not shown

Sizzle cymbal Swish cymbal Crash/ride cymbal
Cowbell Wood block Tambourine
Rototom Octoban Temple block
Gong Triangle

See also

Drum hardware Drum stick Traps case

A drum kit (primarily US English), drum set (primarily UK & Australian English),[1] trap set, or just drums is a collection of drums and other percussion instruments set up to be played/struck by a single player. A musician who plays a drum kit is called a drummer[2]

The traditional drum kit consists of a mix of drums (classified as classically as membranophones, Hornbostel-Sachs high-level classification 2) and idiophones (Hornbostel-Sachs high-level classification 1, most significantly cymbals but also including the woodblock and cowbell for example).[3] More recently kits have also included electronic instruments (Hornbostel-Sachs classification 53), with both hybrid and entirely electronic kits now in common use. A standard modern kit (for a right-handed player), as used in popular music and taught in many music schools,[4][5] contains:

All of these are classed as non-pitched percussion, allowing for the music to be scored using percussion notation, for which a loose semi-standardized form exists for the drum kit. If some or all of them are replaced by electronic drums, the scoring and most often positioning remains the same, allowing a standard teaching approach. The drum kit is usually played seated on a drum stool or throne. The drum kit differs in general from those traditional instruments that produce melody or chords/pitch per se: even though drums are often placed musically alongside others that do, such as the piano or stringed instruments. (See Peter Magadini "The Drummers Guide to Music theory",2004,published by Hal Leonard, on the 'Elements of Music' & 'Form'pp. 6–18;48–52)

Many drummers extend their kits from this basic pattern, adding more drums, more cymbals, and many other instruments including pitched percussion. In some styles of music particular extensions are normal, for example double bass drums in heavy metal music. On the other extreme but more rarely, some performers omit elements from even the basic setup, also dependent on the style of music and individual preferences.

South-African jazz drummer Louis Moholo playing a four-piece kit


  • History 1
  • Beginnings 2
    • Development 2.1
    • Big Band Drumming 2.2
    • Bebop Drumming 2.3
    • Rock and Roll 2.4
    • Recording 2.5
  • Components 3
    • Terminology 3.1
      • Breakables, shells, extensions, hardware 3.1.1
      • Drum sizes 3.1.2
    • Drums 3.2
      • Snare drum 3.2.1
      • Toms 3.2.2
      • Bass drum 3.2.3
      • Other drums 3.2.4
    • Cymbals 3.3
      • Ride cymbal 3.3.1
      • Hi-hats 3.3.2
      • Crashes 3.3.3
      • Other cymbals 3.3.4
        • Effects cymbals
        • Accent cymbals
    • Other acoustic instruments 3.4
    • Electronic drums 3.5
      • Virtual Drums 3.5.1
    • Hardware 3.6
  • Common configurations 4
    • Three-piece 4.1
    • Four-piece 4.2
      • Four piece with floor tom 4.2.1
      • Four piece with two hanging toms 4.2.2
    • Five-piece 4.3
    • Small kits 4.4
    • Extended kits 4.5
  • Accessories 5
    • Sticks 5.1
    • Muffles 5.2
    • Cases 5.3
    • Microphones 5.4
    • Drum screen 5.5
    • Carpets 5.6
    • Practice equipment 5.7
    • Tuning equipment 5.8
  • Playing 6
    • Grooves 6.1
    • Fills 6.2
    • Grips 6.3
    • Notation 6.4
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Dance band drummer Stan Farmer at Mark Foy's Empress Ballroom, Sydney, New South Wales, using a kit with bass drum pedal and low sock. Tom Lennon, 23 October 1935


1865 marked a significant turning point for drummers and their instrument, with the beginning of the experimentation of combining multiple drums into a set. In military and orchestral music settings, drums and cymbals were traditionally played separately by one or many percussionists. The bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and other percussion instruments were all played using hand-held drum sticks. The progressive thinking of drummers in theaters and stage shows around this time also helped contribute to the creation of the drum set because they were focusing on the concept of having one drummer being able to do the job of multiple percussionists. Double-drumming began to allow the bass and snare to be played by one person with sticks, and the cymbals to be played by tapping one's foot on a 'low-boy'. With this approach, the bass drum was usually played on beats one and three and the music was designed to assist large groups of soldiers march. This simple and straightforward drumming approach eventually led to the birth of ragtime music due to the simplistic marching beats becoming more syncopated, resulting in a greater 'swing' and dance feel. The drum set was referred to as a "trap set," and from the late 1800s to around the 1930s the drummers were referred to as "trap drummers."

As early as 1840, experimentation with foot pedals began. Circa 1870, it was standard for drummers to use what was called an "overhang pedal." Most drummers in the 1870s actually preferred to do double drumming without any pedal at all as a way to play multiple drums, rather than use an overhang pedal. Many patented their pedal systems such as Dee Dee Chandler of New Orleans 1904–05.[6] 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") and became the central piece around which every other percussion instruments would later revolve. Ludwig-Musser, William F. Ludwig, Sr., and his brother, Theobald Ludwig, founded the Ludwig & Ludwig Co. in 1909 and patented the first workable bass drum pedal system, paving the way for what was to become the modern drum kit.[7] 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". (Latter quote from pages 5–6 of Jon Cohan's "Star Sets- Drum Kits of the Great Drummers", with a foreword by Bill Bruford). Brushes were introduced 1912. The need for brushes arose due to the ongoing problem of drummers playing overshadowing the other instruments on stage. Drummers in this time period began using metal fly swatters to be able to reduce the volume on stage next to the other acoustic instruments, while at the same being able to play the rudimental snare figures and grooves they would normally play with drumsticks. As brushes gained popularity, the drum companies of that day started manufacturing these metal fly swatters into what would eventually become named and known as, brushes.


Drummer in a Memphis "juke joint" orchestra playing a kit with four non-tunable toms. Marion Post Wolcott, October 1939
Gene Krupa, 400 Restaurant, New York City. William P. Gottlieb, June 1946
Louis Bellson with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Palomar Supper Club. Vancouver, B.C., 19 April 1952

By World War I, drum kits were characterized as a very large bold marching military bass drums and many percussion items suspended on and around them, and they became a central part of jazz music, specifically (but not limited to) Dixieland. The modern drum kit was born by the first ancestors in the Vaudeville era and specifically the 1920s of New Orleans's.[8] In 1917, a band from New Orleans called "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band " recorded jazz tunes that became hits all over the country. These were the first official jazz recordings. The style that these musicians were playing, was a style from New Orleans that started the music genre that is called- Jazz. Drummers such as Baby Dodds, "Zutty" Singleton and Ray Baduc had taken the idea of marching, combining the bass drum and snare drum and also what were called "traps" that were from the immigrant groups which included miniature cymbals, tom toms, cowbells and woodblocks. They started incorporating these elements with the rudimental style of playing and combined it with Ragtime, which had been popular for a couple of decades. By doing so, rudimental drumming started to evolve into a jazz drumming style.

Pecuniary and theater space considerations demanded that fewer percussionists cover more percussion parts. Metal consoles were only later 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.[7]

As early as 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 that existed in the early century and began various sound experiments, playing the drum rims instead of woodblocks, hitting cymbals with sticks (1919), which was not normalized, and creating a side cymbal above the bass drum, what we know today as the Ride Cymbal. William Ludwig's "Sock" or early (low )High- Hat was developed after observing Dodd's drumming when he met Dodds on a St. Louis riverboat & observed him tapping his left foot all the time. Dodds had Ludwig raise the newly produced low hats that Ludwig brought him, 9 inches higher,as it was easier to play: and thus the beginning of the High (Hi) Hat! The evidence for all the above on Dodds is found in his own contemporary journals/biography "The Baby Dodds Story" -Louisiana State University Press, 1992, and by contemporary witness- drummer Gearge Wettling, who confirms Dodds was the first drummer to also keep the now-famous broken-triplet beat that became the standard pulse/roll of what we call ride cymbal playing. Baby Dodds also made popular the use of Chinese cymbals- [pages 8–9, Jon Cohan's- "Star Sets"- Wording,see page nine; paragraphs 1–4 and see above paragraphs for ISBN & pub/date] Further: see the Percussive Arts Society, 'Hall of Fame' Article, by Rick Mattingly- pasorg].

The 1920s are known as the jazz age or the roaring 20's. In 1919, congress passed a law called prohibition. This law prohibited people from manufacturing and transporting drinking alcohol. Drinking at that time while illegal, became popular in the underground. The type of music that was played at these underground establishments that were selling alcohol was jazz music because jazz music was also underground and illegal. 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. Because jazz music was seen as great music to be able to dance to, it started to evolve into the jazz style that would become known as big band, Chicago style jazz. Drummers of the 1920s pioneered what is referred to in modern times as- Freelance Drummers. Freelance drummers are 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 of the most important roles for drummers in the 1920s is what is referred to in modern times as a foley artist. A foley artist is a sound effects person. In the time period of the 1920s, radio had been invented, but TVs and computers were yet to be created. Technology had advanced to the point where films were able to be created from a visual aspect, but not advanced enough to support audio, or a soundtrack to the film. These films were known as silent films. When a film was released in theaters, a piano player or in some instances in bigger cities, an orchestra was hired to back up the silent film and the drummer was responsible for providing all the sound effects needed for the silent picture. I.e. of sound effects: Gun shots, planes flying overhead, a train coming into a train station, a baby crying, galloping horses etc. Sheet music from the 1920s provides evidence that the drummer's drum 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 tens of thousands of drummers who served as sound effect specialists, were put out of work overnight. Similar panic was felt again by drummers in the 1980s, when drum machines were first released.

Big Band Drumming

1929 was a significant year for drumming, but also for the world, due to the stock market crash that resulted in a global depression. One of the things that helped people cope with the trying years of the depression, was jazz music. By the early to mid 30's, jazz music was being embraced throughout the country and big band music became America's most popular form of music. The other contributing factor to the big band's success during the 1930s was the popularity of radio. As the music of the world was evolving, so was the drum set. Tom-tom drums were added to the drum kit, as well as small crash cymbals and Chinese cymbals.

The main instrument that was introduced and added to the drum set circa 1930, was the hi-hat cymbals. 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 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, which resulted in the creation of what's called the snowshoe cymbal. The invention of this foot cymbal enabled drummers to be able to play the eighth note figures as mentioned above (Boom, Chick, Boom, Chick, Boom, Chick) between the right and left foot, improving the ergonomics with regards to keeping time and overall drum set facility. Toward the end of the 20's, variations of the hi-hats were also introduced and used by drummers. One of the most popular hand held hi-hat cymbal variation 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 them with their foot.

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 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. Throughout the 1930s Chick Webb, & 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. (ref: J. Cohan page 13- entire page). Jazz drummers were highly influential in developing both the concept of the modern drum kit and extending the playing techniques in this era.

Gene Krupa was the first drummer to head his own orchestra and thrust the drums into the world spotlight with his drum solos. Others would soon follow his lead.

Bebop Drumming

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. Bebop was a style of music based from improvisation. These bebop musicians would take an old standard and re-write the melody, resulting in a more complex composition. Swing drummers Max Roach and Kenny Clark deviated from the popular large marching bass drums that were being used in big band music that were loud and boomy, and started implementing smaller bass drum sizes into the drum set for this new style of jazz. These drummer's experimentations with sizes and sounds led to the innovative concept of applying the busy "4 on the floor" bass drum rhythms to a new larger cymbal that is 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 is explained as "floating on top of the time." This allowed drummers such as Max Roach and Kenny Clark to express themselves in a more melodic fashion by playing the guitar, piano and sax lines of these new complex bebop melodies between 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.

Rock and Roll

John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, New York City, 1975

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.

A trend towards bigger drum kits in Rock music began in the 1960s and that gave momentum in the 1970s. 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 and had also begun using electronic drums.

In the 21st century, it has not been uncommon for drummers to 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[9]) such as wax cylinders and discs carved with an engraving needle, sound balancing meant that musicians had to be literally moved in the room.[9] 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

Foreground: Snare drums. Midground: Hi-hat cymbals. Background: Ride/Crash cymbals

The drum kit may be loosely divided into four parts:

  • The breakables: Sticks, various cymbals, snare drum, throne (stool) and sometimes the bass drum pedal.
  • The 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, and 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; extremely 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.
  • 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 and/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.

Drum sizes

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.

Manufacturers still using the American traditional format in their catalogues include these:

Those using the European measures of diameter x depth include these:

For example, a hanging tom 12" in diameter and 8" deep would be described by Tama as 8" x 12", but by Pearl as 12" x 8", and a standard diameter Ludwig snare drum 5" deep is a 5" x 14", while the U.K.'s Premier Manufacturer offers the same dimensions as: a 14" x 5" snare.


Snare drum

Snare drum on a modern light-duty snare drum stand

The snare drum is essential as it is the musical center of the kit. 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 snare wires fitted to the underside of the drum which, when engaged, vibrate with the bottom (snare-side) drum skin (head), creating a snappy, buzzing sound.


Keith Moon of The Who with a mixture of concert toms and conventional toms, 1975

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.

They include:

The smallest and largest drums without snares, such as octobans and gong drums, are sometimes considered toms.

The naming of common configurations 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.

Bass drum

A drum kit bass drum

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 prefer to play with a double bass drum pedal, giving the ability to play a double bass drum style with only one bass drum, saving space in recording/performance areas and reducing transportation chores.

Other drums

Octobans/Rocket toms (Pearl)/Deccabons were designed for use within a drum kit, extending the tom range upwards in pitch, primarily by their depth; as well as diameter (typically 6").

Anders Johansson with an array of Octobans

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 specifically for drum kit usage, the smaller diameter allowing for thicker heads for the same pitch and head tension and are clearly recognizable in modern genres and in more traditional forms of Latin, Reggae & numerous world music styles too .

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 drum rim. For use in a drum kit, they may be fitted with a suitable drum head and played with care, or require playing by hand.


Cymbal innovator Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater with many cymbals. Rio de Janeiro, 7 March 2008

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.[11]

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.

Ride cymbal

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.[12]

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 for use during guitar solos.


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, usually is employed to keep the finer rhythm much of the time within a piece of music. It is 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 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 usually accompanied simultaneously, by a strong kick on the bass drum pedal, both for musical effect and to support the stroke. It provides a fuller sound when played thus and is a 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.

Other cymbals

Effects cymbals

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.

Accent cymbals

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 and/or thinner ones.

Other acoustic instruments

Günter Sommer with bodhrán and bongo drums in his kit

Other instruments that have regularly been incorporated into drum kits include:

See also Extended kits below.

Electronic drums

Triggers sensors in use, here they are red and mounted on the rims of the snare drum, bass drum and hanging toms. The larger box in the same colour red is the "brain" to which they are connected.
A Korg trigger pad
Pat Mastelotto playing a kit with both acoustic and electronic drums, 2005

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.

This is possible in two ways:

  • Triggers are sensors that can be attached to 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 sound, within the electronic source and are played with the same drum sticks as are used on other drum kit components.

In either case, a control unit (module/"brain") with suitable sampled/modeled sounds, and amplification equipment are both required. see Electronic drum#Acoustic triggered drum kit.

A trigger pad could contain up to four independent sensors, each of them capable of sending, to the drum module/brain, information describing the timing and dynamic intensity of a stroke. A circular drum pad may have only one sensor for triggering, but a modern cymbal-shaped rubber pad/cymbal will often contain two; one for the body and one for the bell of the cymbal, and perhaps a choke facility.

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. 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. These sounds are then amplified through the PA so the entire audience can hear them, and they can be amplified to any level without the feedback or bleed problems associated with microphones in certain settings.

The sound of the drums and cymbals themselves is heard by the drummer and possibly other musicians in close proximity, but even so, the foldback (audio monitor) system will be 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/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, triggers may be used on only the more difficult instruments, balancing out a drummer's/band's sound via the mix.

Trigger pads/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 of barking dogs, sirens, braking glass and stereo recordings of aircraft taking off and landing have all been used to great effect. Along with the more obvious electronically generated sounds there are human voices or song parts or even movie audio or digital video/pictures that (depending on device used can also be played/triggered.

Virtual Drums

The term commonly refers to a type of software that simulates a functional drum kit. Different drum software products offer a variety of features, including a recording function, the ability to select from several visually and acoustically distinctive drum kits, as well as the option to incorporate different songs into the session. This is mostly on mobile or tablet formats, but not exclusively.


Hardware is the name given to the stands that support the instruments. Generally the term also includes the hi-hat pedal and bass drum pedal or pedals, and the drum stool, but not the drum sticks.

Hardware is carried along with sticks and other accessories in the traps case, and includes:

Particularly for large kits, many or even all of the stands may be replaced by a drum rack.

Common configurations

A two-piece kit in action

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.[13]

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.


Three-piece set for a young player: 16" bass, 10" snare, one 10" hanging tom

A three piece drum set is the most basic set. A conventional three-piece kit consists of bass drum, 14" diameter snare drum, 12"-14" hi-hats, and 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.

Such kits were common in the 1950s and 1960s and may still be found in small acoustic dance bands. It is a common configuration for kits sold through mail order, and, with smaller size drums and cymbals, for very young drummers.


Mitch Mitchell playing a classic four piece kit in the Jimi Hendrix Experience

A four-piece kit extends the three-piece by one tom, either a second hanging tom mounted on the bass drum and often displacing the cymbal, or 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 on the bass drum to the player's right and the crash on a stand.

The standard cymbal sizes are 16" crash and 18"–20" ride, with the 20" ride most common.

Four piece with floor tom

The floor tom is most often 14" for jazz, and 16" otherwise.

Many historic bands and early rock music recordings used this configuration, notable users including Ringo Starr in the Beatles, Mitch Mitchell in the Jimi Hendrix Experience, John Barbata in the Turtles and many others.

The four-piece kit with floor tom remains popular, particularly for jazz.

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.


A basic five-piece fusion kit, with one crash cymbal and no effects cymbals, complete with throne and sticks

The five-piece kit is the full entry-level kit and the most common configuration. It adds a third tom, making three 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".

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 recent years, it is very popular to have 10" and 12" hanging toms, with a 16" floor tom. This configuration is often called a hybrid setup.[14]

The bass drum is most commonly 20" in diameter, but rock kits may use 22" or 24", jazz 18",[13] and big 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 17" 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 stands in addition to that of standard drum hardware packs. Because of this, many higher level kits are sold with little or even no hardware, to allow the drummer to choose the stands and also the bass drum pedal they prefer. At the other extreme, many 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.

Modern digital kits are often offered in a five-piece kit, usually with one crash and one ride.

Small kits

Neo-Rockabilly pioneer Slim Jim Phantom playing a two-piece kit while standing

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 visual impact or space requirements, 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 easily fitted extra muffling to the point of allowing quiet or even silent practice in a hotel room or bedroom.

Extended kits

A seven-piece kit with snare, double bass drums, three hanging toms, one floor tom, hi-hats, ride cymbal, three crash cymbals, splash cymbal and china type

Common extensions beyond these standard configurations include:

See also other acoustic instruments above. Another versatile extension becoming increasingly common is the use of some electronic drums in a mainly conventional kit.

Less common extensions found particularly, but not exclusive to very large kits, include:

A very large kit played by Terry Bozzio



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).

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 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, and in view of this, some makers now produce tipless sticks with two "wrong" ends.

Tools of the trade: 7N, 5B, "double bummer", and side drum No3 sticks, standard 19 cane rutes, sheathed 7 cane rutes, nylon brushes, steel brushes, cartwheels


Mylar muffle ring on snare.

Drum muffles can reduce the ring, overtone frequencies, or 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 tape, and placing one's wallet near the edge of the head.[15]

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 with pillows 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.

Exemplary list of companies with muffle products:


Historical Uses Muffled drums are often associated with funeral ceremonies as well, such as the funerals of John F. Kennedy and Queen Victoria.[16][17] The use of muffled drums has been written about by such poets as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Mayne, and Theodore O'Hara.[18][19][20] 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.[21]


A five-piece kit in hard cases. From left: Traps case, floor tom case, snare drum case (in front), twin hanging toms case, cymbal case. Rear: Bass drum case.

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, but are adequate for drums transported rarely and in private cars for example, and may be the only option for working drummers starting out, particularly when air travel is involved
  • Hard cases are of similar construction to suitcases, commonly of fibre composite
  • Flight cases or road cases are standard for touring drummers

As with all musical instruments, the ultimate protection is afforded by a combination of a hard case or road case, padded on the inside, inside a soft padded bag.


Carl Palmer with rim-mounted tom mics

In "micing" a drum kit, dynamic microphones, which can handle high sound-pressure levels, are usually used to close-mic drums, while condenser microphones are used for overheads and room mics.

Close micing 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 feed back at any one time.

Tris Imboden using a perspex drum screen

Drum screen

In some styles or settings, such as country music clubs or churches, or when a live recording is being made, the drummer may use a perspex or plexiglass 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.

Two hi-hat stands both with retractible spikes extended


A carpet should be an essential thing for drummers because drummers who play in different venues generally use carpeting, mats or rugs to prevent the bass drum and hi-hat stand from "crawling" (moving away) on a slippery surface.

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.

It is also common for the location of stands and pedals to be marked on the carpet to allow for quicker positioning of kits in comfortable positions when setting up.

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.

Practice pad on snare drum stand

Practice equipment

Drummers are often using a variety of accessories when they are 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; These have largely been superseded by electronic drums and kits with non-sounding mesh heads.


Tuning equipment

An essential need of every drummer is a drum key, which is used for tuning of drums and adjusting some drum hardware. Besides the basic type of drum key (a T-handled wrench) exist various tuning wrenches and tools. Basic drum keys are divided in three types which allows tuning of three basic types of tuning screws on drum: 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, which are set on the head, aid in consistent tuning.

The basic common time groove with bass (bottom), back beat snare, and cymbal (top) is common in popular musicAbout this sound   
A swing groove, common in jazz and early rock music, with a duple time shuffle rhythm understood as is traditional rather than explicit. About this sound   



Kit drumming, whether playing accompaniment of voices and other instruments or solo, consists of two elements:


A fill is a departure from the repetitive rhythm. Fills vary from a simple, single stroke on a tom, to sequences several bars long that are short drum solos in themselves.

As well as simply adding interest and variation to the music, fills serve an important function in preparing and supporting significant events in the music. A vocal cue is a short drum fill that introduces a vocal entry. A fill ending with a cymbal crash on beat one is often used to lead into a chorus or verse.


Most drummers hold the drumsticks in one of two types of grip:

  • The traditional grip, originally developed for playing the military side drum, most commonly with an overhand grip for the right hand and an underhand for the left. It arose from the need to clear the counter-hoop (rim) of an angled marching drum (due to the single-point attachment of the drum sling).
  • The matched grip, in which the sticks are held in similar (but mirror image) fashion.

Within these two types, there is still considerable variation, and even disagreements as to exactly how the stick is held in a particular method. For example, Jim Chapin, an early and influential exponent of the Moeller method, asserts that the technique does not rely on rebound,[22] while Dave Weckl asserts that it does rely on rebound.[23]

Neutral or percussion clef, two versions


Drum kit music is most commonly written on a standard five-line staff. In present-day notation, a special percussion clef is used, while previously the bass clef was used. However, even if the bass or no clef is used, each line and space is assigned an instrument of the kit, rather than to a pitch.

Audio samples
Component Content Audio (Vorbis: click the arrow to play)
Snare Unmuffled snare drum
Muffled snare drum
Rim click (knock) on a snare
Bass drum Muffled bass drum
Toms 8-inch (20 cm) rack tom
12-inch (30 cm) rack tom
Floor tom
Hi-hat Closed hi-hat
Open hi-hat
Hi-hat being opened and closed by its foot pedal (chick)
Crash Crash cymbal
Ride Hit on the bow
Hit on the bell of the cymbal
Hit on the edge
Beat A typical rock beat on hi-hat
Typical rock beat on ride cymbal

See also


  1. ^ Peckman, Jonathan (2007). Picture Yourself Drumming, p.30. ISBN 1-59863-330-9.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Remnant, M. (1989). Musical instruments. (pp. 159–174). London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Porter/Hull man/Hazel (1993). Jazz – From its Origins to the Present, p.18. ISBN 0-13-512195-7.
  7. ^ a b Nichols (1997), p. 8–12.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Porter/Hullman/Hazel (1993). Jazz – From its Origins to the Present, p.44. ISBN 0-13-512195-7.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Remnant, M. (1989). Musical instruments. (pp. 159–174). London: B.T. Batsford Ltd
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b Peckman (2007), p.31.
  14. ^ Steve Weiss Music 5/10/2012
  15. ^ [1] Archived June 17, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^
  17. ^ The Funeral of John F. Kennedy in color on YouTube
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Ryan , A. (n.d.). Learning to play the drum: an experiential. 43(4), 435–444.
  22. ^
  23. ^

External links

  • Drum resources at DMOZ
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