Getting one of the best drum sets wouldn’t matter if you don’t know how to set up a drum set. It can be confusing, especially for a beginner. But, don’t worry. This article will walk you through the basic steps to setting up a standard drum set.
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Common Types of Drum Set Configurations
The pieces of a standard drum set consist of a bass drum, a snare drum, and tom-toms. Over the past few decades, drummers have developed different ways to setup their drums. Three of the most common configurations are the 3-piece, 4-piece, and 5-piece. We’ll discuss each configuration in greater detail below.
Five-Piece Drum Set
A five-piece drum set is made up of one bass drum, one snare drum, and three tom-toms (floor tom and two rack toms). It could also include one to two crash cymbals, one ride cymbal, one hi-hat (or high-hat), and stands.
The rack toms are attached to the bass drum using a rim mount and an L-rod mount. Other drummers use a stand for their rack toms.
This type of drum set is extremely common today. It’s great for young drummers because it lets them experiment with a good variety of music styles, from pop music to heavy metal. If you’re new to drumming, this will help you get used to doing drum fills. (A fill briefly puts the spotlight on the drummer, who does “drum fills” to tell the listeners and the band that there’s going to be a transition to the next part of a song.)
Tip: Get a five-piece drum set if you can’t make up your mind. You can just take the tom-toms you don’t need for the music you’re going to play.
Four-Piece Drum Set
Instead of having three tom-toms, a four-piece drum set has only two. In the late fifties, this was the most popular drum set configuration. Even Ringo Starr, the drummer of The Beatles, played a four-piece.
Others might find a four-piece drum set limiting, but it actually has its advantages:
- It forces you to be creative. You’ll have to think differently about your drumming, so you’ll get more out of the pieces you have. Many exceptional drummers, like Max Roach and Buddy Rich, played amazingly well on a four-piece drum set.
- When you have one less tom to work with, you’ll sharpen your skills and become more versatile.
- It helps you to play simply and avoid doing too many fills and fluff, especially if the song doesn’t call for it.
Three-Piece Drum Set
A three-piece drum set is made up of one bass drum, one floor tom (usually 14 inches or 16 inches), and one snare drum. There are no rack toms mounted on the bass drum that you need to deal with. The cymbals are the only highest components of this type of drum set configuration.
There are some manufacturers who offer a different type of configuration. Sometimes, their three-piece drum set would include one bass drum and two tom-toms. You can just add a snare drum to the set to fit your needs.
A three-piece drum set will really test your skills and creativity as a drummer. You’ll have plenty of room to add cymbals, percussion pads, and other instruments to the set, if you find them necessary.
And, since it’s a small set, you won’t have problems packing up for transport and moving from one venue to another. It’s perfect for street performers, people with limited floor space, or drummers who need to play in a smaller venue.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to finding the perfect configuration for your drum set. You do want your drums and cymbals to be positioned in a way that you can easily reach them from where you’re sitting. Choose the configuration you find most comfortable.
Now, let’s go through the different steps for arranging your drum set.
6 Steps for Setting Up a Standard Drum Set
Step #1: Drum Throne
The drum throne refers to the seat made specifically for drumming. You’re going to sit on it for hours at a time, so it’s only logical that you buy the right one to significantly reduce fatigue and get the best performance out of your drumming.
When setting up your drum throne, adjust the height to a level that allows your thighs to be slightly slanted down towards your knees (approximately 5 to 10 degrees). As much as possible, the angle between your lower and upper legs should be 145 degrees (neutral leg position). Keep your back straight and your shoulders back.
The height of most drum thrones on the market can be adjusted from 18 to 24 inches. If you’re tall, you can keep the height at 21 to 24 inches. For a growing child, the height can be around 16 inches (or higher) from the ground.
Shopping for a new drum throne? Here are a few things you need to consider:
Pay attention on the base. A drum throne should have a sturdy and wide base for stability. You have four types to choose from: flat bottom, single, three leg, four leg, and double braced. Among the four, a drum throne with a double-braced base is often preferable because it’s sturdy and doesn’t wobble around.
Think about your height and weight. Choose a drum throne that has a maximum weight capacity that exceeds your weight category. Some of the sturdiest drum thrones out there can support over 300 pounds of weight with ease.
The seat height should also be adjustable, so you can maintain the proper drumming posture. Normally, a drum throne’s height could be adjusted from 16 to 24 inches.
Motorcycle seat versus round seat—which is best for you? Drummers who are big would usually prefer the motorcycle drum throne because of its larger surface area. And, with its shape and exceptionally thick cushion, it provides good back and weight support when you’re sitting for long periods.
Meanwhile, a round drum throne is designed for smaller drummers and beginners. If you’re gigging only once in a while, this one’s a good option for you.
Step #2: Bass Drum and Kick Pedal
Your bass drum should be at the center of your drum set. There should be plenty of space behind it and on the left and right sides, so you can move freely and build the rest of your drums around it.
Then, install and adjust the bass drum legs. Make sure they’re equal in length to avoid wobbling as you play. The spurs at the bottom of each leg should be planted firmly in the floor, so your bass drum won’t slide around if you’re on the carpet.
At the back of the kick pedal, you’ll find the hoop clamp that attaches to the bottom rim of the bass drum. Loosen the fastener wing head screw (also called a wing bolt), and then lift the center of the bass drum to slide in and tighten the hoop clamp.
Additional information about the kick pedal:
- Try to place your kick pedal 4 inches from of the bass drum. It should be right in the center as much as possible. Hitting it off center will produce a sound that’s uneven and weak.
- Adjust the tension of the kick pedal, so you don’t have to step on it too hard and make your legs and feet feel tired quickly. Depending on the brand and model, most kick pedals have a spring tension adjustment knob or screw that you can tighten or loosen to get the right foot pressure you need.
- Loosen the pedal if you want a powerful bass drum punch with minimal effort. If it’s too loose, the beater doesn’t usually bounce off of the top (batter) head.
- Set the tension higher if your music style requires less amount of power in your kicks. If you need more power to push the beater towards the bass drum, which eventually strains your muscles, then you need to make it less tight.
Step #3: Snare Drum
The first step is to put your snare drum in a stable snare stand. The ‘basket’ (refers to the three adjustable metal arms) should be parallel with the ground.
The general rule is to place your snare drum between your legs and right in front of your drum throne. The top surface should be flat, while the rim comes in just a couple of inches above your upper leg or just below your belly button. Your rack toms should be positioned above the snare drum.
Remember: Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle to give yourself the freedom to do rim shots, which happen when you hit the top head and rim at the same time.
Step #4: Tom-Toms
Since people come in many different shapes and sizes, the arrangement of the floor tom and rack toms should accommodate you ergonomically. Make sure you feel comfortable, and it’s easy for you to play.
Set the height of your floor tom approximately the same height as your snare drum (about one inch or so). The angle of your floor tom will depend on your personal preference. Some like to keep it flat, while others like it slightly tilted towards them. Whatever angle you choose, make sure it helps you maintain the proper drumming posture and technique.
Depending on the setup method you used—mounted on the bass drum or placed in a standard snare basket—your rack toms should have the same angle and a few inches of space between them. You can increase or decrease the angle to make sure your drumstick would stay substantially parallel to the drum head surface, without hitting it on the rims.
Step #5: Hi-Hats
The hi-hat consists of two cymbals on a stand that are closed (clamped together) to make a “tick” sound or opened (raised at a predetermined distance) to make a sloshy sound by pressing a foot pedal. It’s used to increase or decrease the volume of a sound, keep time for yourself and the band, or produce different sounds.
The hi-hat foot pedal is usually positioned under your other foot (not the foot for the kick pedal), specifically in the area where it’ll naturally land. The hi-hat itself should be sitting to the left side of your snare drum (from your view).
The height of your hi-hat is ultimately a personal choice because it highly depends on your drumming style. For instance, if you play the drums open-handed, your hi-hat should be set quite low. (The open-handed drumming style is used to prevent your hands from crossing over each other while playing.)
In general, you want your hi-hat to be 6 to 12 inches above your snare drum. If you set your hi-hat too high, too low, or the same height as your snare drum, you’ll make it harder for yourself to hit the cymbals.
Step #6: Cymbals
A typical bare-bone drum set will have one hi-hat, one ride cymbal, and two crash cymbals. Since we already discussed the hi-hat, we’ll proceed to the crash and ride cymbals.
How do you know which one is your crash cymbal and your ride cymbal?
Manufacturers will usually print the word “ride” or “crash” on the cymbal. Compared to crash cymbals, a ride cymbal is usually heavier and thicker. When struck, crash cymbals make a rich and loud sound that fades quickly, while a ride cymbal has a large, sustaining, and shimmering sound.
The ride cymbal is usually set up first. You can place it on your right, either beside or in front of your floor tom, for easy access. You don’t want it to be too low that it catches your floor tom or too high that you’re unable to comfortably rest your arm to your side.
If you’re only going to use one crash cymbal, you can place it between your rack tom and snare drum. If ever you decide to use a second crash cymbal, you can place it between your rack tom and floor tom.
As for the appropriate height, your crash cymbals should be at least the same height or slightly higher than your ride cymbal. You’ll know you got the height right if you can easily hit the border of your crash cymbal at a 45-degree angle with the main body of your drumstick.
These are just the basics of setting up a standard drum set. If you want to know more about how to set up a drum set, talking to more experienced drummers, joining online forums, and reading other related articles will greatly help.