Are you wondering how to set up a drum kit as a beginner? You're in the right place!
In this in-depth guide to setting up a drum kit, you will learn:
- What Are The Different Parts Of A Drum Kit?
- How Do I Set Up A Drum Kit? (Step By Step)
- How Do I Make My Drum Kit Sound Good?
And Much More!
So you’ve decided to start on the awesome journey that is learning to play the drums.
You’ve spent hours online deliberating on all the different features to find the best kit.
Finally, you’ve ordered the drum kit, a few days later it arrives….you eagerly rip open the boxes, drum sticks in hand, ready to tear into your beautiful new instrument…
Only to find it’s in a million different pieces…And you have no idea how to put it together!
Well, don’t worry! I’ve got you covered.
In this essential beginner's guide, I’m going to take you through everything you need to know to set up those drums like a pro.
What Are The Different Parts Of A Drum Kit?
The amazing thing about drum kits is that they are modular, so each individual drummer can have a completely unique arrangement of drums and cymbals, specific to their own playing style or music.
However, when you’re looking to buy a new drum kit, there are some standard drum setup configurations that are universal for every manufacturer.
The main components included with a new drum kit are usually:
- Bass Drum (also called a kick drum)
- Snare Drum
- 2 or 3 toms (also called Tom toms)
- Ride cymbal
- Crash cymbal
- A pair of hi-hat cymbals
To mount all these things so they are in a playable drum set configuration, you will need a variety of stands and pedals. The group name for this equipment is called ‘drum hardware’.
Let’s take a look at all these different components in a little more detail:
The bass drum is the largest instrument on the drum kit. It provides the majority of the low-frequency punch and, combined with the snare drum, is integral in playing drum grooves on the kit (also known as drum beats).
The bass drum is played using a bass drum pedal. Which attaches to the rim of the batter side (playing side) of the bass drum itself.
Note: The batter side is usually the side that doesn’t have the drum kit logo printed on it.
The bass drum has two fold-out ‘spurs’ that stop it from moving when you’re playing.
Example of a bass drum:
The snare drum is another drum that is essential for playing drum grooves.
It gets its name from the beaded snare ‘wires’ that are stretched across the underside of the drum. These snare wires give the drum a military-style, snappy sound that’s used to form what’s called the ‘backbeat’ in most modern musical styles.
Snare drums have a ‘snare-strainer’ that allows adjustments in the snare wire tension as well as the ability to disengage the snares altogether, which creates a more open ‘tom’ like sound.
The snare drum sits between the drummers’ legs on a specially designed snare stand, that has a three-pronged basket the cradles the drum.
Example of a snare drum:
Toms (also known as Tom toms) are additional drums that are arranged, usually from small to large, around the drum kit.
Here’s an excellent example of toms in action:
Toms, similar to snare and bass drums, have two drum heads. A batter head (the head you hit) and a resonant head.
Toms are most commonly used in drum fills and to change the sound of drum grooves.
Cymbals are the shiny metal discs that provide the hi-frequency sounds on a drum kit. There are loads of different types of cymbals but there are three types that make up the core of any drum kit:
A ride, a crash and a pair of hi-hats.
Read More >> The Ultimate Guide to Different Types of Drums
The ride cymbal is the largest of the cymbals. It gets its name from the way in which you play it. Ride cymbals usually range from 20-22 inches in diameter, but can get as big as 26”!
Unlike a crash cymbal, which is most commonly struck for explosive accents, the ride cymbal is constantly ‘ridden’ with the stick. This creates a consistent rhythm for the other drums to sit underneath.
The ride and crash cymbals are both mounted on specially designed cymbal stands.
Crash cymbals are primarily designed as ‘accent’ cymbals, allowing the drummer to punctuate patterns and fills with an explosive ‘CRASHHHH!’ sound.
They can vary massively in size from 14 inches in diameter all the way up to 24 inches.
Just like the ride cymbal, they are mounted on a specially designed cymbal stand.
Read More >> What Are The Best Cheap Drum Kits?
The hi-hat (or hi-hats) are actually two cymbals that come together to create different sounds.
They are mounted on a specially designed hi-hat stand that allows the drummer to adjust the distance between the two cymbals with their foot.
If the foot is pushed down, the hi-hats are pushed tightly together, creating a tight ‘tick!’ sound when struck. This is called a ‘closed’ hi-hat sound.
When the drummer releases the pressure on the foot, the cymbals will move away from each other, creating a louder sizzle sound when struck... know as the ‘open’ hi-hat sound.
Professional drummers can get a great deal of musical expression just out of these cymbals alone.
How Do I Set Up A Drum Kit? (Step By Step)
(NOTE: If you are left-handed, just follow the same steps but with everything on the opposite side. For example, the ride cymbal will be to your left, not right, etc)
- Position your throne (stool) and pedals
- Move the bass drum into position
- Position the snare drum
- Mount the toms
- Set up the cymbal stands and cymbals
- Set up the hi-hat cymbals
- Final adjustments
Step 1: Position your throne (stool) and pedals
- Once you have put your drum stool together. Position it a few feet in front of where you’re going to set up your kit
- Adjust the throne so your feet are flat on the floor, comfortably out in front of you. Your thighs should angle down to the floor slightly
- Now take your bass drum pedal and hi-hat stand (without the cymbals) and place them where your feet sit comfortably on the ground. If you are right-handed the bass drum pedal will be under the right foot and the hi-hat pedal will be under the left foot. If you are left-handed just swap it around.
Step 2: Move the bass drum into position
- Once you’ve fitted the heads to the bass drum. Carry the bass drum to where your bass drum pedal is sitting on the floor.
- Attach the bass drum pedal to the batter side drum hoop, using the built-in clamp on the pedal. NOTE: The playing side is usually clear and doesn’t have the drum kit logo.
- Once the bass drum is in position, extend or fold out the bass drum legs or ‘spurs’ that are attached to either side of the bass drum. You want to position them so they evenly raise the front (side furthest away from the drummer) a couple of inches off the ground.
Read More >> Should You Choose Acoustic or Electric Drums?
Step 3: Position the snare drum
- Set up your snare drum stand so the three-pronged ‘basket’ is wide enough for the snare drum to sit inside. Place the drum on the stand.
- Gradually rotate (tighten) the adjustable ring that will reduce the width of the basket, until the snare stand is holding the snare drum firmly in place. Make sure the snare wires are on the underside of the drum, DO NOT play the ‘snare’ side with drum sticks.
NOTE: Be careful that the snare stand isn’t pushing against the snare strainer (the part that stretches the snare wires on the bottom of the drum)
- Sit down on the drum throne and place the snare drum between your legs. It should be roughly equal distance between the hi-hat and bass drum pedals.
Step 4: Mount the toms
There are generally two types of toms, rack toms and floor toms.
Rack toms (mounted toms) are suspended from specially designed mounts that either attach to the top of the bass drum or clamp onto cymbal stands. Floor toms have their own legs that are attached to their sides.
- Most new beginner drum kits include a mount for the rack toms that attaches to the bass drum.
- Take the tom mount and put the main pole into the hole in the top of the bass drum, securing it with enough room for you to mount the toms.
- Take your smallest tom drum and mount it on the post that is closest to the hi-hat stand NOTE: different manufacturers have different mounting mechanisms, refer to your manual for specific instructions.
- Now mount the next largest tom drum directly next to it, ensuring both drums have the batter heads facing towards the drummer (a good way to check is the drums manufacturer logo printed on the shell shouldn’t be upside down).
Most floor/low toms have a set of three legs that they use to stand on the floor:
- Slide the floor tom legs into the clamps that are attached to the outside of the drum.
- Adjust the length so that the drum sits with the playing head horizontal the ground
- Move the floor tom to the other side of your ‘bass drum’ leg
Read More >> How Do You Record Electronic Drums?
Step 5: Set up the cymbal stands and cymbals
Most new drum kits should come with two stands, one for the ride and one for the crash (you’ve already set up the hi-hat stand).
- Fold-out the cymbal stands legs to medium width, they don’t have to go as far as they will go, just enough so the stand is stable.
- Position the first stand just to the left of the smallest tom.
- Position the second stand to the right of the middle (mid) tom
- Now take the wingnuts and first felt ring off each stand (there should be two).
- Place the crash cymbal on the stand closest to the smallest tom and the ride cymbal on the stand near the mid tom.
- Replace the felt ring and screw the wingnuts back on. (NOTE: Don’t screw the wingnuts too tight, the cymbals should swing freely without falling off)
Step 6: Set up the hi-hat cymbals
- Included with your hi-hat stand should be a small unit called a hi-hat ‘clutch’.
- Unscrew the bottom washer from the hi-hat clutch and take off one small ring of felt.
- Take your ‘top’ hi-hat cymbal and slide the rest of the hi-hat clutch through the hole on the top of the cymbal
- Turn the cymbal upside down and replace the felt ring and the washer until the hi-hat clutch is secured on the cymbal
- Now place the bottom hi-hat cymbal on the hi-hat stand
- Take the top hi-hat cymbal and slide the hole in the clutch onto the small pole on the hi-hat stand
- When the two cymbals are 2-3cm apart, tighten the wingnut on the hi-hat clutch
- Test the hi-hat cymbal action by pressing down on the hi-hat pedal, the cymbals should come together like two cups.
Step 7: Final adjustments
Everything is now set up.
Sit down at your stool and check everything is within reaching distance. Often setting up a drum kit will take some fine-tuning, you may have to move cymbals closer/further away, or the toms may be too high or low.
Experiment and adjust until you feel comfortable.
Read More >> How Do You Play Electronic Drums?
Troubleshooting/How To Make Your Drums Sound Good
Here are some common issues when setting up a new drum kit and how to solve them.
Parts of my drum kit move away from me while playing…
This is usually because your drums are on a hard, slippery surface, such as wooden laminate flooring. Placing a rug, large entrance mat or even an old piece of carpet under your kit is an instant fix for this.
Just make sure the drums AND the throne are both on the mat.
The bass drum pedal doesn’t work properly…
Often bass drum pedals that come with beginner drum kits haven’t been set up that well. It usually requires just a bit of adjustment with the spring that is on the side of the pedal.
If your pedal feels very loose and unresponsive, try tightening the spring by adjusting the washer underneath it.
If the pedal has a lot of resistance and its difficult to move the beater, then experiment with loosening the spring tension instead.
The bass drum sounds very boomy…
Using a drum key, firstly try loosening both heads. You’ll want both heads to be just above the point of there being visible wrinkles in the drum head.
Another very effective method to get a good solid ‘thump’ is placing a pillow (or anything soft, a hoodie or jacket will do) actually inside the bass drum itself.
Arrange the pillow so it touches both heads. Don’t put too much in the drum though as this will completely kill the sound of the drum.
The snare drum rattles and sounds bad…
Firstly if your snare drum is rattling it means the snare wires are too loose.
On the side of the drum, there should be a little dial on top of the snare strainer. If you turn this clockwise it will tighten the snare against the bottom of the drum. You want the snares to be tight enough so the drum sounds snappy, without being too tight so the drum sounds ‘choked’ and dead.
Another useful tip is to tighten the bottom (underside) head much tighter than the batter/playing head. This should instantly make your snare sound better and more responsive.
Read More >> How Do You Read Drumming Sheet Music?
The toms are very ringy…
A great DIY solution to make your toms sound more punchy and less ringy is good old duct tape!
Simply tear a strip a few inches long. Roll up the strip so the sticky side is on the outside, you should be left with a stick hoop.
Simply stick the strip of tape to the edge of the batter head of the drum you want to tame. It should help reduce unwanted overtones and focus the sound.
If you need more dampening just add more rolls around the edge!
Final Thoughts On Setting Up Your Drum Kit
So there you have it! An in-depth guide to setting up a drum kit and getting those tubs sounding awesome straight out of the box.
Read More >> The Ultimate Guide To Cardio Drumming?