When you’re looking to buy your first kit or get started in the world of drumming, it helps to know a bit about the gear you’re going to be using. The parts of a drum set are varied and have different functions, even on a standard kit.
So, it’s good to know what these parts are and what they are normally used for. In addition, I’ll also throw in some tips on what to look for in a good quality piece of drum gear.
We’ll also look at how to maintain and care for the different pieces in your kit so they’ll last as long as possible. Are you ready to rock? Then let’s get started.
How Many Parts in a Drum Kit?
The first and foremost thing to learn in the world of drums is how different kits are called. When we look at kits, no matter the size, drummers only count the drums.
Not the cymbals, cowbells, or wind chimes, and not even your stool (AKA throne – that’s right, you’ve earned it). We only count the number of drums you have in your kit.
Example of a 5-piece drum kit
Take a look at the Pearl Roadshow drum kit, an affordable yet durable beginner drum kit. This kit comes with five drums, a snare stand, a hi-hat stand, hi-hat cymbals (pair), a crash/ride cymbal, a cymbal stand, and a throne.
If you want to count up all those parts, you could make a case for saying this is a 12-part kit. But since we only count the drums and not cymbals or hardware, this is known as a 5-piece kit.
In contrast, the Gretsch Catalina Maple 7 drum kit comes with seven drums and nothing else. It’s still considered a 7-piece kit. Got it?
Types of Drums
The main bulk of any drum kit is, of course, drums. Let’s talk about the different types of drums you’ll find in a typical drum kit and also the setup, mounting, and parts of them.
This is arguably the most important part of a drum kit. The snare drum isn’t the biggest, but it’s the loudest drum in the kit. Its sound cuts through just about everything, helping you to play steady beats to keep the band in line.
The snare drum is typically a 14-inch diameter drum. Although, some drummers use smaller diameters for a tighter sound. Its depth can vary from 5 – 7 inches, with a deeper snare giving a more robust, fatter sound to appease the rock gods.
There are also piccolo snares that are about 3 – 4.5 inches deep. These provide a much tighter, sharper sound like you might want in jazz or hip-hop.
A little bit on drum anatomy…
Your snare drum can have a metal or wood shell. That’s the hoop-shaped main body of the drum. Metal snares will generally be louder and sharper, while wooden drums will have richer, more muted tones.
The drum will have two skins, or heads, on the top and bottom. No one uses actual skins anymore – these are mostly synthetic now. The skins are held down to the body with metal or wooden hoops. These can be tightened on, loosened off, or tuned by adjusting the lug nuts around the rims.
This anatomy is pretty much the same for all drums in a drum set. However, the snare has one more trick up its sleeve – its namesake.
What are the snares?
Sets of coiled wires that can be tightened up to the bottom head of your snare drum. When they’re on, they add loud, buzzing snappiness to your hits.
This is what makes the snare have so much punch. Likewise, you can also release, or “turn off,” the snares, and the drum will sound more like a tight tom.
The snare drum has some more versatility…
You can play it softly near the rim or loud in the middle. You can get extra volume with a rimshot, or you can play a laid-back cross-stick by striking the rim only.
This is the drum that sits between your legs and is right in front of you in the drum kit. It’s also the piece that gets bashed about the most by a long shot.
Tom or tom-tom drums (not to be confused with Tom Thumb or Tom Thum) are more or less regular drums. Each one has one tone, and tuning aside, this is controlled mostly by the diameter.
They have the same parts as a snare drum, except they’re lacking the snare. They’re also usually as deep as or deeper than they are wide for more reverb.
These sit either on a tub rack mounting system or on arms that come up from your bass drum. A 5-piece kit will normally have two rack toms over the bass drum, one smaller and one larger. But some set-ups have 3, 4, or even additional racks of many different diameters (think Niel Peart of Rush).
These are bigger toms that have their own legs so they can sit next to you on the floor. The setup is typically done so that, if you’re right-handed, the diameters go from smallest to largest left-to-right across your rack and then down to the biggest drum on the floor.
Floor toms are meant to be deep and loud. And usually have large diameters of at least 16 inches but possibly as big as 22 inches.
The biggest drum in a drum kit sits vertically on the floor. It has a deep bassy voice, hence the name “bass drum.” But you also strike it with a mallet on a foot pedal, so that’s why it’s often called the “kick drum” or just “kick” for short.
We’re talking diameters of normally 22-28 inches here. That makes them loud, booming, and powerful.
The combination of the snare and bass drum is the most important, fundamental part of nearly all modern beats. This gives you the classic boom-chick-boom-chick backbeat we hear in music from rock to pop to hip-hop and more.
How to Buy Quality Drums
Drums are all made from shells, hoops, and skins. Cheaper skins will be light and thin and will dent easily. More expensive skins will stand up to abuse and sound good for a whole lot longer.
If you buy an inexpensive starter kit, consider swapping out the cheapo factory standard heads for quality ones like powder-coated Remos. This will go a long way to making them last and sound a whole lot better.
Hoops or rims…
These are normally made of metal, although they can be wooden on professional kits. Look into the material the hoops are made from before buying a kit. Steel is tough and durable, unnamed “alloy metal” not so much.
Finally, your shells, or the bodies of the drums. They can be metal or plywood of all sorts. As a rule, harder, denser woods give warmer, more robust sounds.
However, lighter woods, like birch and poplar, can give you a lot of attack and are also durable and affordable. The biggest price difference in drums is generally the hardness of the wood used to make them.
How to Take Care of Your Drums
There’s not a lot to say about taking care of drums. Keep them clean. Don’t drop them. Change your skins when they start to get dented or simply don’t sound good anymore. And though it may be tempting, don’t play them in the rain.
Now that we’ve got the main bulk of the drum set out of the way, it’s time to talk cymbals. These curved discs of bronze are the parts of a drum set that add a beautiful contrast to the booming of your drums.
They sizzle, ping, cry, and even scream when you need to add texture and contour to your playing. Cymbals come in five main types.
By far the most used cymbals out there. But what are they? A hi-hat stand operates with a foot pedal. The pair of hi-hat cymbals sits on the stand horizontally so that one is upside-down and one is right-side up.
When you press down on the pedal, the hats come together and close. When you hit them, you get a pretty mild tapping sound, and this is normally used to tap out your time. In 4/4 time, for example, most drummers tap the hi-hat on all 4 beats while also alternating between the bass and snare.
You can also open the hi-hats by easing up on the foot pedal. When you strike and open the hats, you get a nice ringing sound from them that can be used for good effects. A few drummers also stomp the hi-hat pedal to crash the cymbals when their hands are busy doing something else.
If you’re not keeping time on the hi-hats, you’re probably going to do it on the ride instead. A standard drum kit might have one or two crashes, but normally only one ride.
This is typically a large, heavy cymbal that doesn’t ring out so much as it pings. Rock and metal drummers who hit hard will use extremely large, thick rides to prevent wash, so we’re talking 20-22 inches across.
You can also play a nice bouncing rhythm on the ride because it’s a clear cymbal with a lot of definition. This is especially used in jazz to produce a swinging rhythm typical of that style of music.
Drummers play on the shoulder of the ride. This is the broad, slightly curved area of the cymbal. It’s rare to strike the rim, but you can. Near the center of the ride, there’s a bit of a dome called the bell. Playing here will produce a louder, clearer sound like, well, a bell!
Crash cymbals are exactly what they sound like they are. These are mid-sized to large cymbals that are thin to medium weight. We’re talking diameters of 16 inches and up. They’re designed to be explosive, creating loud crashing sounds to add power and emphasis to your playing.
Crashes also have a lot of wash. Meaning they continue to ring out and provide a lot of background volume to your playing. While you can strike the bell of a crash, most drummers hit the shoulder for normal crashing and the rim for extra loud responsive crashes.
Just be aware that striking the rim will wear out your cymbals faster. This can also cause them to chip, dent, or split, which will seriously change the quality of their sound.
Although they used to be considered effects cymbals, splashes have become pretty much mainstream in most drum kits. Splash cymbals are just small, light crashes. While you may use a 16 or 18-inch crash, a splash is going to be something like 6-12 inches.
Because splashes are small and light, they respond quickly, make loud, high-pitched explosive sounds, and almost immediately stop ringing. This makes them great for adding little accents to your beats without adding in too much volume as you’d get with a crash.
Honestly, this is more a mixed bag, catch-all category than a true type. I’ll tell you that when I first started out banging the skins, the only real effects cymbals you could get were Chinese cymbals with their explosive attack, low sustain, and delightfully trashy sound.
Since then, things have moved on. You can now buy professionally made stacks, bells, low-volume cymbals full of holes, chopper cymbals, and a whole lot more. Most of these cymbals provide short percussive bursts with little wash and are used to add accents to your playing.
Taking Care of Your Cymbals
Quality cymbals are expensive because they’re precision-made for clarity. If you drop, dent, scratch, or chip a cymbal, you’ll immediately notice a marked decrease in the quality of its sound. And while some drummers embrace the trashy sounds of broken cymbals, most want to toss them.
Treat them right…
You should always make sure you have liners, and felts on your cymbals stands. These protect the bronze cymbals from being scratched or worn by the harder steel of the stands. As I mentioned before, chopping blows on the rims of your cymbals can wear them out faster or cause a lot of damage.
Cymbals you’re not using should never be stood up on their rims. Instead, you should lay them upside-down on their bells where they are strongest.
A drummer’s seat is called a throne. And the way you sit on your throne is important. Playing a concert or practicing, you’re going to spend hours upon hours on that seat. So you’d better make sure it’s the right height and comfortable.
Most thrones have three legs and an adjustable height tube that you can lock in place. You’ll see drummers sitting in all sorts of postures.
However, to get a good purchase over your kick pedal, you should sit up straight. The angle of your knee should be 90 degrees or more to give you power and control over your pedals without causing fatigue.
A simple, basic drum throne…
This is going to have a thick, padded round top. Some more expensive ones have a more triangular-shaped seat, like a wide bicycle seat. They’re also contoured.
If you’re going to be playing for hours and hours, a comfortable throne is a very good thing to invest a bit of extra money into. Your butt will thank you!
Hardware means all the stands and attachments that support the different parts of drum kits. This includes stands, arms, pedals, and racks.
A drum stand for your snare, or perhaps a tom will normally have three legs and then three arms on top that clamp onto a drum.
Drum stands should allow you to change the height and angle of your drum to your liking. Heavier stands and those with double-braced legs will stand up to much more abuse than lighter, flimsier ones.
These also have tripod legs. They can be either straight, or boom stands. A straight stand lets you place a cymbal straight on top of it vertically. Although they usually have an elbow near the top to let you adjust your cymbal’s angle.
A boom stand has an extra elbow and a boom arm. That lets a cymbal stick out and get to where you need it. They’re great for when you want to pack a lot of cymbals into a tighter space.
Arms are short lengths of tubing that support parts of a drum set. The most typical arm you’ll see on a drum kit is one that comes out of a hole in the bass drum to support a tom. But, arms can also hold cymbals or other accessories.
We’ve already talked about the pedal-controlled hi-hat stand. But, the other pedals to mention are your bass pedals.
Most drummers play a single bass pedal with their dominant foot. This pedal includes a plate for your foot, a spring system, and a mallet called a ‘beater’ that strikes the bass drum head.
Beaters made of felt will give you more of a dull boom. While on the other hand, harder beaters made of leather or plastic can give you more definition.
Some drummers play two bass drums…
One with each foot. But in metal and other fast, heavy styles, drummers tend to use double bass pedals. This piece of hardware includes a master pedal and a slave pedal connected together. Each pedal plays a separate beater, allowing the drummer to play double time on the bass drum.
A good pedal will give you the right amount of springiness and responsiveness. Pricier pedals also let you set the angle of your footplate and beater to find your ideal striking position.
The final pieces of a drum set to mention are accessories. Things like cowbells, wind chimes, woodblocks, rattles, shakers, and other improvised parts can all be added to your drum kit.
Most of these are clamped onto racks or other stands you already have. If you want unique sounds, the only limit is your imagination.
Got a Desire to Do Some Drumming?
We can help with that. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Electronic Drum Sets, the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Bass Drum Pedals, the Best Snare Drums, the Best Drumsticks, and the Best Drum Practice Pads you can buy in 2023.
Also, have a look at our handy articles on Tips to Teach Yourself Drums, How to Hold Drumsticks, Odd Time Signatures, The Nashville Number System for Drummers Explained, and Derek Roddy’s Double Bass Technique for more helpful information about drumming.
All the Different Parts of a Drum Set
As you can see, drum sets have a whole lot of parts. A typical drum set has drums, cymbals, hardware, and a throne for drumming royalty.
This means that drums sets can get pretty expensive pretty fast, especially if you want quality components. You also have to take care of and protect your parts to make sure they last and sound great.
So, while a guitarist has it pretty easy, as a drummer, you have to invest more time and energy in taking down, moving, and setting up your kit. But with more things to hit, trust me, the more fun you’re going to have on your kit.
Until next time, may the beat go on.