The Beginners Guide to Buying Drums & Percussion
Drum set componentsWhile most drum sets may look essentially similar to the untrained eye, there are significant differences among them in terms of their overall quality as well as the number of individual drums, cymbals and other percussion instruments they include. The average 11-year-old may likely have a “bigger-is-better” attitude and gravitate toward the big kits. But what are all those pieces, and which ones do you really need?
Kick, snare, hi-hat: the big threeThese are three three basic components in any drum set. They provide the backbone of most drum rhythms, and are often the first to get upgraded as a musician progresses.
- Bass Drum - The bass drum, also called a kick drum, is the biggest drum in the set. It is the one that stands on its side in the center of the drum set and is played with a foot pedal. It produces the deepest notes, usually the basic downbeats.
- Snare Drum - The snare is the main drum in a set. It is mounted on a stand and positioned between the drummer’s knees, and produces a loud, sharp sound.
- Hi-Hat - The hi-hat is a set of two cymbals positioned next to the snare drum. It’s played by clashing the cymbals together with a foot pedal and by hitting them with drumsticks.
TomsToms, sometimes referred to as tom toms, are the other drums that make up the kit. They typically produce a hollow sound at various pitches depending on the size of the drum. Most drum sets have one or more suspended toms mounted on the top of the bass drum and sometimes called hanging toms. They also include a larger, deeper-sounding floor tom that’s mounted on its own stand placed on the floor.
- High Tom - This is the smallest tom and is mounted over the bass drum, nearest the snare.
- Mid Tom - The mid tom, if there is one, is also mounted over the bass drum, beside the high tom.
- Floor Tom - The largest tom, it’s usually mounted on a stand positioned by the drummer’s leg.
CymbalsIn addition to the hi-hats mentioned above, there are two common cymbals found in most starter drum kits.
- Crash Cymbals - Crash cymbals come in a variety of sizes, and are usually mounted above the toms. They are usually the loudest cymbals in a kit.
- Ride Cymbals - The ride cymbal is larger than the crash cymbal, and is generally suspended above or near the floor tom. It creates a more gentle sound “wash.”
ThroneMany starter-level drum kits include a throne, but be sure to double-check. Conventional chairs and office stools are too tall for a drum set, so if the kit you’re looking at doesn’t include a throne, you’ll want to pick up one. You’ll find a large assortment of drum thrones to suit any budget at Musician’s Friend.
Best junior drum sets for beginnersIf your future drum prodigy seems at all serious about wanting drums, it’s best to avoid buying the toy-store variety. Toy drums are just that—a toy that can’t produce the kind of tones and offer the kind of performance that will keep the new drummer engaged and practicing.
A step-up drum set for older playersIf your new drummer is a teen, a full-sized starter set is a good place to begin. Drum diameters are similar to more advanced and expensive drum kits and overall quality is higher than that of junior sets.
What about electronic drum kits?As you start shopping, you will likely come across electronic drum kits.They are convenient for small rehearsal spaces because they can be played with headphones or at very quiet volumes. Electronic kits are sometimes useful in a studio setting because their sound is easier to control, and they can produce hundreds of drum, cymbal and percussion sounds. While many experienced drummers prefer the natural sound and playability of an acoustic drum kit, electronic drums have the advantage of offering quiet or silent practice—a blessing for family members and neighbors. They do however usually cost more than starter acoustic drum sets.
Sold separatelyThere are a lot of optional accessories for drum sets, but here are a few small pieces you may want to consider right away:
- Sticks - Some beginner drum kits come with sticks, but some don’t. Drum sticks are sized by number and letter combinations. The higher the number, the thinner the stick. Small, inexperienced hands generally do better with wider sticks. Learn more with our Drum Stick Buying Guide.
- Dampening Devices - Drums ring when they are struck, but too much ring is loud and annoying. Dampening a drum head slightly can produce a much better sound. Dampening gels or control rings are both good options. Additionally, a bass drum kick/impact pad will extend the life of the kick drum head.
- Practice Pads - These allow near-silent practice while providing playing dynamics that resemble playing a real drum. Even professional drummers use them to hone their skills and develop endurance at times playing the drum kit isn’t possible.
World and Concert Percussion instruments
- World Percussion refers to a variety of drums and other rhythm instruments that are typically played with hands, sticks, or other types of strikers.
- Concert Percussion is used in school bands and professional orchestras. It includes a wide variety of instruments that includes everything from big kettle drums to the tiny triangle. In most school music programs, concert percussion is provided by the school due to its significant cost.