No musical instrument is simple to master. With drums, it’s quite sophisticated from the beginning. There is more to a drum set than just kicking everything that resonates with a stick. Once you start with that, you will end up knowing about optimal headphones for electric drum sessions or comparing Zildjian and Sabian cymbals.
As you start, you need two things. One is a decent drum set that wouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Second is the basic knowledge of playing and maintenance. These two things are well-connected, so keep on reading to know how to set up your drum kit.
What Should Your Drum Kit Have?
The basic drum kit used today hasn’t changed much since the 1920s. Usually, it includes:
- The bass drum (or the kick drum). It’s the lowest in all the meanings: Not only does it produce the lowest sound but it’s also positioned on the floor level and operated with a pedal.
- The snare drum. Its crisp sharp sound is one of the most frequent in today’s music. It’s positioned on a stand.
- A tom drum (or two). The sounds made by toms are quite diverse, and though they are not as sharp or low as snares or kicks, they saturate the sound and make it full. Toms are also placed on stands.
- Cymbals. Crash or ride cymbals are responsible for sharp crisp high sounds.
- Hi-hat. This dual cymbal is operated by both a pedal and a stick. The pedal is responsible for opening it; open and close hi-hat sounds are very different, so this is the most flexible cymbal.
This is a standard setup. Sometimes, it’s enhanced by ethnic drums, like congas or bongos, but this is required only for certain genres. Most drummers deal with the combination above, sometimes even dropping some of its elements. The set can be modified to achieve a certain sound, and here are some examples:
- Lars Ulrich (Metallica) and Dave Lombardo (Slayer) use double kick drums, so they can achieve machine gun speed with them.
- Keith Moon (The Who) avoided hi-hats in his very rich customized sets that included multiple toms.
- Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats) had a minimal drum set without toms at all, though sometimes he does use them.
All these musicians, though, made their decisions while being well-established drummers, so they knew exactly what they wanted from their modified sets. As you begin playing, it’s better to master a standard kit and then choose whether you’ll stay with it or add (or, well, remove) something.
Along with drums, you’ll need sticks (more than one pair) and hardware to install the drums on. Sets sold now usually include everything you’ll need to assemble the kit and start playing.
Acoustic or Electronic?
Electronic drums are rather a new invention. Not only are they capable of modifying the sound by choosing between various sample kits and adjusting their parameters. They allow for combining traditional drum techniques and MIDI output that allows to doctor the track after the recording – replace samples, move notes, adjust their velocity, and remove or add some. A great thing for studio sessions, isn’t it?
Electronic drums have other advantages as well:
- They can be much quieter than training drum sets. The real drum sound only comes through the output, so you can hear it in your headphones or via a speaker.
- Electronic drums can be very compact. There are even tabletop models that don’t take up much space.
- You can load a sample kit that doesn’t resemble any real drums and apply your drum technique to other instruments too.
Classical acoustic drum kits, though, have just one advantage which for many trumps all those of e-kits: They are real. The sound you make with them is undistorted. It is felt with all of your body, not with your ears only. The energy you deliver and the feedback you receive with an acoustic drum set are visceral. The feeling is what music is all about.
What can we recommend to beginners? Electronic models are good for learning if your priority is to make as little noise as possible. In other respects, though, it’s better to learn the technique with an acoustic drum kit and then apply it to an electronic one to really get all its benefits.
Accessories and Extras
When it comes to buying a drum kit, you need more than just it. There are other things that you’ll need to use it, including:
- Bags and cases. They are an absolute must if you plan to transport your drum kit anywhere, should it be a studio, a venue for a gig, or just a new place for rehearsals. Many drum sets, as well as separate drums, come with these. There are some by third-party manufacturers too, due to standard drum sizes;
- A drum key. Due to standardization, a single drum key is enough to tighten all the nuts of your hardware. Often, drum sets, as well as separate parts of it, come with the key. Though modern drum keys are all compatible with nearly all the hardware, they can seriously differ in quality and convenience;
- A metronome. No need to explain why it’s a must for a beginner;
- A stick holder;
- A drum rug. It will prevent your drum kit from slipping away, which is inevitable as you’re beating the dust out of it;
- Headphones. With electronic drums, it’s a must. For acoustic drummers, they allow them to hear the band clearer, and, at the same time, they protect the ears from the acoustic pressure.
There are some accessories for training only which help make the sound much quieter while preserving the physical feel.
- Silence pads for drums. Put upon the skin, they reduce the volume.
- Perforated training cymbals. They sound much lower than professional ones while preserving the other properties.
- Bass training pedal. It helps you learn to play the bass drum without the drum itself.
As you buy the first kit, you might be puzzled by some questions, each of which deserves an article for itself. We’ll address them briefly here.
- Used or new? Used can be much cheaper but the condition might be poor. If you choose a used one, you’d better inspect it in person.
- The size. It depends on your height and weight. You should feel comfortable behind it: Don’t ignore this.
- An unknown brand or a respectable one? The former can be much cheaper, while the latter is more reliable. The answer lies in how strong your intention is.
We hope that you find the drum kit which you will feel satisfied with, which will grant you both the perfect result and that irreplaceable feel when you are the backbone of the band. No matter if you aim at being a pro or just find that a hobby: It will reward you anyway.