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Parts of a Drum Set—The Structure & What You Should Know

New to drumming? If so, you’re probably overwhelmed with all that there is to learn. Techniques, exercises, and music theory are just a few topics that come to mind.

We know that you have a lot on your plate. But if there’s one topic that you shouldn’t overlook, it’s the structure of your drum set. 

Knowing the parts of your drum set is crucial. It will help you better understand what you’re playing. And, you can customize your setup to suit your unique playing style. 

So, if you’re new to the world of drumming, read on! We will break down everything you need to know about the different parts of your drum set.

And, even if you’ve been jamming for a while, this guide will be helpful. It will provide a useful review and empower you to better understand your instrument.

The Standard Five-Piece Set - An Acoustic Drum Kit

A drum kit is an arrangement of percussive instruments (note we’re not covering electric drums in this guide). The setup allows one player to play all of them at once. You’ll see different kinds of setups depending on playing style.

For this article, we’ll focus on the common parts of a standard 5-piece acoustic drum kit. You’re bound to find these parts on most acoustic drum sets, regardless of any modifications the drummer might’ve made.

Note: A “five-piece” set kit doesn’t have only five components. The five pieces refer to the actual drums (a snare drum, a bass drum, and three toms). The drum kit will have other components like hardware (throne, bass drum pedal, cymbal stand, etc.) and cymbals. Read on to learn about all of these and more!

Snare Drum

A snare drum is a crucial component. Some consider it to be the “main” drum. It takes center stage as it sits between your legs while you play. 

The snare drum is relatively shallow with a depth of 6 inches and a diameter of 12 inches. Its shell is typically made of either wood or metal.  On either side of the shell, you’ll find skins. The skin facing the ceiling is the batter side. The skin facing the floor is the resonant head.

If you look underneath the resonant head, you’ll see suspended snare wires. A snare strainer connects these wires, which are responsible for the snare drum’s classic cracking sound.

A snare drum is vital because of its wide range of tones. It has a “throw off” lever that lets you switch the wires on and off. It also has a screw to adjust wire tension. Thanks to these features, you have complete control over the snare’s pitch.

Drummers commonly use snare drums to sound the backbeat. So, for example, during a song in 4/4 timing, the snare sounds on beats 2 and 4.

A three-armed bracket on top of a metal stand holds it in place regarding the position of a snare. You can adjust the stand so that the snare is at a comfortable height. The angle of the snare depends on your personal preference; some drummers tilt it towards them while others let it lie flat.

Bass Drum

Next up, we have the bass drum.

This component, also known as the kick drum, sits on the floor in front of your dominant leg. Unlike a snare drum, a bass drum has a foot pedal. You can also have double bass drums depending on your style and if you want to make different sounds. To play a bass drum, you add pressure to the pedals with your feet. This action triggers the beater to strike the skin.

The shell of a bass typically has a depth of around 16 inches and a diameter of approximately 22 inches. However, there are different sizes available. 

Different diameters produce different pitches. So, you should choose a size that fits your main genre. If you play heavy rock, you’ll want a 24-inch diameter that produces lower, louder sounds. If you play pop, a 20-inch diameter should do the trick.

Aside from the shell’s diameter, you’ll also want to consider the material it's made of. Wooden shells, for instance, produce warmer sounds than plastic shells.

All shells have two skins on either side. On a bass drum, the batter skin is the skin that your pedal hits. The resonant head is the skin that faces the audience.  Some drummers cut a hole in the resonant head as this reduces a note’s sustain by allowing air to escape quickly. You can make an even more defined sound by stuffing an old blanket into the shell.

You’ll normally use the bass on the “on” beat. So, in 4/4 timing, it will sound on beats 1 and 3.

Toms

A tom, sometimes referred to as a tom-tom, is smaller than a bass drum but has a similar shape. It adds fills between sections of songs and tempo changes. The tone is deeper than that of a snare and resonates longer. However, the tone is still higher than that of a bass.   

While all toms have a batter skin, they may or may not have a resonant head. If there is a resonant head, there are no wires underneath. 

Most standard five-piece drum sets have three toms. The high and mid toms are smaller in diameter and thus produce higher tones. They sit above the bass drum via a frame with an attaching arm. If there is no drilled-in mounting bracket, you’ll have to clamp the tom onto a rack or separate stand.  

Aside from the high and mid tom is the low tom. A low tom is much deeper and sits on top of a cymbal stand. Some low toms have three built-in legs and rest on the floor; these toms are called floor toms.

Arranging the Drums

So far, we’ve discussed the five main drums of a standard drum set (a snare drum, a bass, and three toms).

Before moving on to other components, here’s an important note on the arrangement of the actual drums: From left to right in front of the drummer, the drums should be in order from highest to lowest tone. So, because a snare drum has a higher tone, it is typically closer to the left side of the kit. High toms are also near the left. Meanwhile, medium and floor toms and bass drums are closer to the right. 

Bass Drum Pedal

Now that we’ve covered the main drums, let’s dive into some of a kit’s hardware.

The first type of hardware we’ll discuss will be the bass drum pedal. As discussed earlier, this pedal lets you play the bass drum. You simply press your right or left foot on it; this triggers the beater to hit the batter skin. It should bounce right back after creating a deep, booming sound.

A clamping mechanism holds the pedal in place. This mechanism is adjustable, allowing you to control the tension of the pedal.

How do you know if you need to adjust the tension? If pressing the pedal requires a lot of effort, the tension might be too tight. On the flip side, if the pedal doesn’t bounce back after it strikes the batter skin, the tension is likely too loose. All you have to do is turn the screw on the pedal to make the tension tighter/looser.

Drum Throne

Many drummers write off the importance of a good drum throne. But, if you decide to use just any old seat, it might affect your playing.

A drum throne that sits too low will cause your sticks to hit the rims rather than the center of the drum head. On the flip side, a throne that sits too high might make your bass drum sound not as full.

So, make sure you pick a throne that is at an ideal height. Consider going with an adjustable one. The throne should also be comfortable and provide plenty of stability. This will make your movements fluid and allow you to use the proper technique.

Drum Sticks

Yet another crucial piece of hardware, drum sticks come in many different varieties. They vary by thickness, tip type, and wood type.

Thinner sticks are good for light, quick playing. They produce softer sounds, making them good for genres like jazz. Heavier sticks, on the other hand, are better for rock music. You can use more force when playing with them to create louder sounds.

 The type of wood also affects the sound. All-wood sticks create a warmer tone. Sticks with plastic tips result in higher pitches.

There’s no question that different sticks produce different sounds. The different sounds, however, are most obvious when you strike cymbals. Test it out for yourself to hear the varying pitches and resonances.

Stands and Racks

To set up your drum kit, you’ll need either stands or a rack.

Stands are a popular option among many drummers. Each one supports a drum/cymbal. They are a bit cumbersome to carry around and assemble, but they give you the freedom to set up your kit as you like.

Racks are another popular option. Unlike stands, one rack holds multiple components. They aren’t as flexible as stands, but they are much easier to set up and retain your preferred adjustments.

Hi-Hat

Moving on from hardware, let’s discuss the different cymbals. A standard 5-piece kit usually has hi-hat cymbals, crash cymbals, and ride cymbals.

Hi-hat cymbals consist of two cymbals sandwiched together. They rest on top of a hi-hat stand above the rest of the kit to keep them from clashing with other components. Even though the hi-hat stands on the left side of the kit, you usually use your right hand to strike them (if you’re a right-handed drummer).

The hi-hat cymbals are usually the smallest in a kit with a diameter of around 14 inches. Their tone tends to be tinny and high-pitched.

Keep in mind that you can play hi-hats by either striking them with your sticks or using the attached foot pedal. This versatility allows you to vary your sound. A few things you can do with a hi-hat include: 

  •   Hit the middle of the batter skin to create a bright, quick sound
  •   Hit the rim to create a longer-lasting note
  •   Keep the cymbals closed with the pedal and strike the top to create a sharp clash
  •   Open the cymbals quickly to create a clashing sound (also known as splashing)

 

Crash Cymbal

The crash cymbal is a mid-sized cymbal with a diameter of around 16 inches. It is usually made of a copper-tin alloy that produces a very loud, bright sound.

To play the crash cymbal, you have to use a little extra force. You should hit the cymbal with the stem of your drum stick for the best sound. In songs, the sound enhances fills and builds tension. You can also “ride the crash.” This technique involves tapping out rhythms like you would with a hi-hat or ride cymbal.

Most beginners have one crash that sits above the toms. More experienced players often have multiple crashes in their kit. Their variety of sizes make your drumming much more versatile.

Ride Cymbal

With a diameter of around 20 inches, the ride cymbal is the largest of the three main cymbals. It is usually made of a copper and zinc alloy and sits on a stand above the floor tom.

You shouldn’t play the ride cymbal with as much force as you would with the crash cymbal. In fact, you should play the ride cymbal like you would the hi-hat cymbal (just without the foot pedal).

When you strike the ride cymbal’s bell-shaped middle, it produces a bright tone. Striking the rim of the ride cymbal creates a low, sustained pitch.

Blending the ride cymbal with the hi-hat cymbal creates a very unique sound. The two are quite different, but by taking advantage of them, drummers can create a distinctive percussion section.

Crash/Ride Cymbal

A standard 5-piece usually has the three cymbals we discussed above. However, there are many other different kinds of cymbals you can add to your kit. We’ll go over some of the most popular ones and help you decide which might be right for you.

The first additional cymbal on our list is the crash/ride cymbal. It’s usually around 18-20 inches in diameter.

Just as its name indicates, it is a sort of middle ground between a crash cymbal and a ride cymbal. It can act as either/or as a combination of the two. It’s the perfect option if you want to save money, seeing as you basically get two cymbals for the price of one. It’s also a good choice if you’re going to make your sound more interesting.

Splash Cymbal

The next additional cymbal on our list is the splash cymbal. It’s around 8 inches in diameter, and it is easy to fit into your existing drum set.

Splash cymbals might be small, but it’s mighty. It functions much like a regular crash cymbal and adds extra color and brightness. True to its name, its sound is similar to that of a short, sharp water splash.

China Cymbal

China cymbals vary in size; some models have 8-inch diameters while others have diameters up to 24 inches. You might hear China cymbals called by different names depending on their size (lion, swish knocker, pang, etc.)

These cymbals have a unique structure. They have a bell-shaped center with an upturned rim. Some drummers mount them upside to make them easier to play.

The best China cymbals are made of high-quality B20 (a blend of 80% copper alloy and 20% tin). When struck, they produce a bright, powerful tone. They are popular in more extreme genres like heavy metal. Hitting them with lots of force adds the perfect accents.

You can also use China cymbals in genres like jazz. Note that you should not use the same amount of force as you would in heavy metal. When playing jazz with Chinas, you’ll want to use the tip of your stick to gently tap the batter skin.

Cowbell 

The cowbell isn’t necessarily a cymbal, but it’s a useful percussion instrument for many drum sets.

Traditionally, a cowbell consists of a metal shell with a ball on the inside. Cowbells on drum kits, however, don’t have the inner ball. The metal shell is much stronger and able to withstand hard strikes.

Its flat, clunky sound adds variety to songs. You’ll commonly hear cowbells in Latin music, but they also make appearances in other genres like rock. 

To add a cowbell to their drum set, drummers can clamp it to their rack or use a separate stand. They may have a single cowbell or multiple ones to add more variety. Note that larger cowbells produce lower-pitched sounds, and smaller ones produce high-pitched sounds.

Customizing Your Drum Kit

We hope this guide helps you become more familiar with your instrument. Now that you know more about all the different parts, cymbals and all, you can customize your drum set to suit your playing style!