Ask Aureus • Drums

December 2021

All You Need to Know About the Drum Set

Thinking of taking up drum lessons and becoming a drummer? For starters, it might be useful to gain some understanding of what constitutes a good set of drums.  Should you get a 3-piece, 5-piece or even a 7-piece drum set? What makes up a standard drum kit for drum lessons or drum exams? Should you get an electronic drum set or an acoustic drum set for practising at home?

I have taught drum lessons for many years and I believe I can help to answer these burning questions and share my knowledge and experience. At Aureus Academy, we use a 5-piece acoustic drum set which is considered a standard set. Not only does it provide just the right amount of tonal diversity, it is also what is used in a drum exam. In this article, I will be introducing the different types of drums in a standard 5-piece drum set, as well as other important parts of a drum kit that you may consider starting out with as a beginner.


 

Snare Drum


First, we have the snare drum. The shells are usually made of metal or wood and they are usually around 12 or 14 inches in diameter. A snare drum comes with 2 drum heads – a batter (top) and a resonant head (bottom). The skin that you hit with the drumsticks is known as the ‘batter’ head. While the skin underneath is known as the ‘resonant’ head. Below the resonant head, you will find a set of suspended snare wires. Once the snare wire is engaged, it provides the snappy buzzing sound of the snare which is bright and sharp.


Bass Drum


Besides the snare drum, the bass drum is also an important part of a drum kit. It is the biggest drum in a drum set and also one of the key parts in a drum kit. Bass drums are usually made from wood, with many sizes available in the market. The most common sizes available being 20 or 22 inches in diameter. The bass drum’s most notable characteristic is its low and booming sound achieved by striking the batter head with a foot pedal. I would recommend a smaller bass drum kit for young adults or kids so that the tom-toms can be mounted in a lower position for smaller drummers to reach them with their arms and drumsticks comfortably.


Tom-Toms


A standard 5-piece drum set consists of 3 tom-tom drum pieces that are usually made of wood. Though they are not essential in composing drum rhythm patterns, they can offer greater tonal diversity in your playing. They are usually used for the drum solos and drum fills. Similarly, the toms can come in many sizes. For a standard 5-piece rock drum kit, the sizes are 12 inches for the high tom, 13 inches for the mid tom and 16 inches for the floor tom. For a jazz drum kit on the other hand, the sizes are 10 inches for the high tom, 12 inches for the mid tom and 14 inches for the floor tom. Depending on personal preference, some drummers may use bigger toms for jazz performances too.


Cymbals


While cymbals and any other extra accessories or hardware are not considered drum pieces, I figured I should still share about them since cymbals are also an important element in drumming. They are mostly made of brass, copper alloy and zinc, and commonly have a bell shaped in the middle. Cymbals act like punctuation marks or spices, since keeping time with the drums alone can often make the music sound monotonous. They can be used to keep time while spacing out the notes on drums. A standard cymbal pack that we use in drum lessons at Aureus Academy consists of five cymbals: a pair of hi-hats, one ride and two crashes:


Hi-Hats


Hi-hats are made up of two cymbals mounted together on one stand. They’re usually 14 inches in diameter with a fixed lower cymbal. When the drummer steps on the hi-hat pedal, it brings the top cymbal down to crash with the bottom cymbal. Hi-hats are very versatile as they can be played both using the attached foot pedal or by striking them with drumsticks. In terms of tonal quality, the hi-hats make a tinny, higher pitched sound as compared to the other cymbals. The drummer controls the volume produced by the hi-hat, it can be altered by applying varying pressures on the pedal. The more weight placed on the pedal, the quieter the cymbals will sound when hit. Conversely, when the space between the two cymbals is wider, they will sound louder when hit.


Ride Cymbal


The ride cymbal is the largest cymbal among all the cymbals. Typically 20 inches in diameter and producing the longest sustained sound out of all the cymbals. You can usually find one placed on the right side of a drum kit. It has a similar function as the hi-hats. Typically used in cooperation with the bass and snare drums, it produces a consistent rhythmic pattern. The ride cymbal is usually hit with just the tip of the drumstick to produce the distinctive “ping” sound, and its sound can vary significantly depending on the size and thickness.


Crash Cymbals


Crash cymbals are typically around 16 inches in diameter. Unlike the ride cymbals where it continues to resonate long after being struck, the crash produce a quick, sharp and loud sound. The crash cymbal is perfect to use when changing into a different rhythm pattern or motif in a song. A standard drum kit would typically include two crashes to provide more tonal diversity. It is one of the requirements from drum exam boards.

There are accessories you can add to a drum kit. You can add an extra crash, effect cymbals, splash, or other percussion instruments like cowbell, wind chimes and so on.


As a drum teacher, my goals are to instil a lifelong passion and love for drumming in my students, as well as for them to achieve excellence in drumming at all levels. To do so, having a conducive learning environment and proper instruments are crucial. Teaching at Aureus Academy, I never have to worry about that, as the school provides state-of-the-art facilities and equipment equivalent to the drum exam standard, allowing me to help my students better prepare and sit for their exams.


If you still have concerns, worries, or questions about drum lessons for beginners, fret not! You can try your hands at learning how to play by booking a free trial lesson with a drum teacher at Aureus Academy!

Alex Sarabi