It doesn’t matter if you’ve just bought your first brand spanking new set of drums or a banged-up old 5th-hand set. You need to know how to set up your drums. This goes not only for operating the hardware but also for ideal placement and positioning for each piece of your kit.
By ideal, we mean that you can strike each piece comfortably and with full confidence. No drum or cymbal requires you to stretch too far or move awkwardly. This also means that the pieces are set up in such a way that you won’t damage them as you play.
Perhaps you’ve been playing for years but have never had any instruction on how to set up drums properly. However, I’m sure you can still learn a thing or two. I definitely did while researching this article!
Setting Up a Standard Drum Kit
If you’ve purchased a drum set online or otherwise completely boxed, there’s going to be some assembly involved in each piece. This may involve putting skins and rims on your drums and putting together cymbal stands.
The Ludwig Accent Drive Blue 5-Piece Drum Set is a nice drum set that is pretty standard for most drum setups. But because each manufacturer uses different hardware and usually provides either written or video instructions, we’re going to skip this step.
So, let’s assume every piece of your drum kit is already assembled…
To keep things easy, we’ll choose a pretty standard 5-piece drum kit as our example here, along with hi-hats, a crash, and a ride cymbal. Note that for drum kits, we only count drums as “pieces.” So a 5-piece kit has five drums, regardless of how many cymbals there are.
If you have more to your kit, try to set these five drums, and three cymbal stands first, then see where you can add the extra pieces comfortably. We’ll also assume your drum kit has wing nuts on all height-adjustable pieces or else can be adjusted with a drum key or hex key.
1 – Throne
A drummer’s seat is their throne. Yes, as it should be. While you can get away with playing on a stool or even a chair, a padded and height-adjustable drum throne is an important component of your drum kit. One fully worth investing in. Here’s a nice, affordable drum throne for your consideration, the Donner Adjustable Drum Throne.
Set up your throne so that you can sit comfortably. Look at the angle of your leg from your thigh, bending at your knee and down to your lower leg. That angle shouldn’t be less than 90 degrees.
To work your pedals, you need to be on top of them. But if your leg is too bent, you won’t have the power to work them. You’ll also find you get a lot of fatigue in your ankles and even some pain.
Most drummers sit a bit up from 90 degrees to get a bit more power into their legs. Find yourself a comfortable height, and you can sit for a couple of hours. Lock it in, and your throne is ready for you to rule.
2 – Kick Drum
The bass drum is also known as your kick because you use your foot to batter it. It’s actually not the best name since you don’t kick out your foot but instead stomp down on the bass pedal. For a great kick drum, have a look at the Yamaha Stage Custom Birch 18×15 Bass Drum.
The kick drum rests on its side but shouldn’t (or just barely) touch the floor. You’ll find two legs on the sides of the drums that will swing to different angles to support its weight. If you’re playing on a hard floor, use the rubber feet.
But if you have a (highly recommended) carpet to set up on, screwing the rubber feet up the legs should reveal pointed metal spurs. Adjust the legs, so the drum is sitting on them just a hair off the floor.
On the beating side of the kick drum…
You clamp on your kick pedal. This should clamp on to the lowest point of the drum’s rim and support its weight. So now, your drum is sitting on three points: the two legs and the pedal. The line from your thigh (right for right-handers, left thigh for lefties) to the pedal should be straight and point straight towards the center of the kick drum.
You’ll also notice that the beater on your kick drum is adjustable, probably with a small hex key. The head of the beater should strike dead center on your bass drum. If it doesn’t, loosen the clutch and slide the beater shaft up or down until you get the sweet spot, then lock it in place.
For an excellent kick pedal, check out this beauty, the TAMA HP200P Iron Cobra 200 Single Pedal.
Now you’re ready for boom boom!
3 – Hi-hats
Your hi-hats sit on a single pedal-controlled stand. When you sit down comfortably, your legs should form a V-shape (also known as man-spreading posture) with your right foot on the kick pedal. Position the hi-hat stand, so the pedal is where your left foot wants to sit. This is an affordable hi-hat stand you may like.
Again, the pedal should be in line with your thigh. If you’re left-handed, do the mirror image so your right foot is on the hi-hat pedal and your left is on the kick pedal.
The height of your hi-hats depends on your playing style. Most drummers cross their hands over so that their dominant hand strikes the hi-hat cymbals. In this case, you’ll need your hi-hats high enough to leave room for your bottom hand to strike the snare drum. For a nice set of hi-hats, check out the Meinl 13” Hi-Hat Cymbal Pair – HCS Traditional Finish Brass for Drum Set.
For drummers who play open-handed, it’s more comfortable to have the hi-hats low, just a bit higher than the snare. However, both playing styles rely on the importance of hi-hat position to ensure you can play comfortably and accurately.
4 – Snare Drum
The snare drum is really the center of the modern drum kit. You won’t know how to set up your drums without one. An example of one of the best snare drums on the market is the Pearl Snare Drum.
That’s why it’s set up in the center, right between your legs. As you sit with your feet on the two pedals in your V-shape, the snare drum should fit in between your thighs. That’s the best position for a snare drum. If it doesn’t, try moving the hi-hat stand away from you just a bit for a compromise.
Once it’s in the right spot…
You need to think about angle and height. Most drummers these days play with a match grip, where both sticks are held the same way. In this case, you won’t want the snare to be flat but a little bit tilted toward you. If you play with a military grip (snare hand turned palm-up) you might want to tilt the drum away from you just a bit.
Once the tilt is right, adjust the height of the snare stand. You want to find the sweet spot between too high (you won’t get as much power and control) and too low (you’ll hit your thighs with your elbows). The Gibraltar 5706EX Double Braced Extended Weight Snare Stand is a nice option.
Find a comfortable height and set it for now. You can always tweak it later when you play the whole kit.
5 – Toms
There are two possibilities for your two smaller toms. These drums may have their own stand(s), or they might be set up on arms that connect them to the top of your bass drum.
Either way, find a height that allows you to strike down onto them. You don’t want to be reaching up or too far out to hit your drums. The best toms position for a right handed drummer is where your toms fall into a comfortable semi-circle. From the highest tom on the left, over and down to the floor tom on the right. Once again, mirror for lefties.
One mistake that beginners make is angling their rack toms too sharply. Keeping them flatter will let you get the full sound out of them and also let the heads last longer.
It’s really useful to have a person to help you…
Borrow a bass player – they’re almost always not doing anything. Hold your stick in your dominant hand and strike your toms so that the stick hits smack in the center of each tom. Have your assistant move the drum around until you find that sweet spot, then lock it in place.
The floor tom is going to be standing on legs on the floor to your right for righties and left for lefties. The height should be about the same as your snare height or slightly lower for heavy rock and metal hitters. Angle the drum toward you slightly by letting the closest leg in a bit relative to the other two legs.
6 – Ride Cymbal
Your ride cymbal, like your hi-hats, is primarily used for keeping time. Keeping this in mind, you need to find a comfortable position for the ride cymbal, which can somewhat mirror the hi-hat. But there’s also a compromise between comfort and blocking your toms.
For a right-handed drummer, the ride stand is usually placed behind the floor tom and beside your second rack tom. So the cymbal falls between these two drums. Find a somewhat flat angle that you can strike comfortably without the cymbal smacking any drum rims.
This can be tricky, but don’t be tempted to put it too far away. That will just tire you out and make playing the ride uncomfortable. If you need a high-quality ride cymbal, check out the Meinl 20″ Ride Cymbal – HCS Traditional Finish Brass for Drum Set.
7 – Crash Cymbal
The last piece in how to set up your drums is still hugely important. A crash cymbal needs to be in a position where you can strike it fast and with lots of power (geez, we sound like Cobra Kai here – Strike Fast, Strike Hard!). Normally, you should place your crash cymbal between the hi-hat stand and the bass drum, behind your snare so you can get to it easily.
However, one of the problems with positioning crash cymbals is that a lot of hardware and a rack tom are there already. A straight stand will have to wiggle its feet in as close as possible. A boom stand with an arm that can angle toward you makes this a whole lot easier.
Finally, angle the cymbal toward you so you can smash it on its shoulder (the long flattish part). If you strike it on the rim, sort of perpendicular to your sticks, your sticks will get chopped to pieces, and your cymbal will chip or even tear. The Meinl 16” Crash Cymbal – HCS Traditional Finish Brass for Drum Set is a nice crash cymbal option.
Looking for Great Drums and Drum Accessories?
Then check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Drumsticks, the Best Cheap Beginner Electronic Drum Sets, the Best Beginner Drum Set, the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Drum Thrones, the Best Snare Drums, and the Best Drum Tuners you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our comprehensive Roland TD-25KV Electronic Drum Set review, our Ludwig Junior 5 Piece Drum Set Review, our Yamaha DTX562K Electronic Drum Set Review, and our Ludwig LC178X0 Drum Set Review for more amazing products currently on the market.
Now You Know How to Set Up Your Drums
With everything in its place, have a good solid practice and see how it all feels. Tweak things up and down and change angles as you see fit. Test things out. You’ll find there is a lot of trade-off between comfort, ease of striking, and sound quality.
The perfect drum set-up probably doesn’t exist, so feel relieved. Just try to get your kit feeling and sounding as good as possible so you can stop worrying about the setup and focus on what’s important – rocking your drum kit.
Until next time, may the beat go on.