DDV Music - Music Information and Education

Drum Kit

The Drum Kit

1 Bass drum | 2 Floor tom | 3 Snare |

4 Toms | 5 Hi-hat | 6 Crash cymbal and Ride cymbal

Other components

China cymbal | Cowbell | Sizzle cymbal |
Splash cymbal | Swish cymbal|
Tambourine | Wood block |

A drum kit (or drum set or trap set - the latter an old-fashioned term) is mostly a collection of drums, cymbals and sometimes other percussion instruments arranged for convenient playing by a drummer, usually for jazz, rock, or other types of contemporary music.


A drum kit from the player's perspective, showing a crash cymbal,  hi-hat, high tom-tom, ride cymbal, snare drum, floor tom-tom and bass drum.
A drum kit from the player's perspective, showing a crash cymbal, hi-hat, high tom-tom, ride cymbal, snare drum, floor tom-tom and bass drum.

Early drum kits were known as trap kits (short for contraption) and are one of the most contemporary members of the membranophone family. They are usually consisted of a bass drum, a snare drum on a stand, a small cymbal and other small percussion instruments mounted on the bass drum or a small table, all played with drum sticks or brushes except for the bass drum. The bass drum was sometimes kicked to produce a sound, and is occasionally still called a kick drum, though bass drums are now nearly always pedal-operated, and sometimes even played with two pedals to allow for greater speed. Trap set survives in the term trap case still given to a case used to transport stands, pedals, sticks, and miscellaneous percussion instruments.

The hi-hat started out life in Dixieland drumming and was called a "snowshoe cymbal beater", and was operated in a similar way as it is today. At the same time another drum company was developing a similar product called a "low boy", at a lower position compared with a modern hihat. This then developed into the hihat as we know it today, with the introduction of many different branded products from companies (such as Drum Workshop and Pacific Drums and Percussion).

Modern kits

The exact collection of components to a drum kit varies greatly according to musical style, personal preference, financial, and transportation resources of the drummer. At a minimum a kit usually contains a bass drum sitting on the floor and played with a pedal, a snare drum on a stand, two or three tom-toms, some of which are mounted on top of the bass drum (or sometimes positioned on a snare stand) and the largest typically free-standing alongside it (on the floor - hence the word "floor tom"), a hi-hat (sometimes known as a 'sock' cymbal) comprising two small cymbals played by means of pedal with almost always the left foot, a ride cymbal and a crash cymbal arrangement. The most basic modern kits comprise of five pieces more commonly known as five piece kits.

Kit additions and variations

Some drummers may add a second bass drum (played by the left foot), double bass pedals (played with both feet), additional toms, more cymbals, tambourines, woodblocks, cowbells, electronic pads that trigger sampled sounds, or any of a whole galaxy of accessory instruments. Some drummers, such as Billy Cobham, Dave Lombardo, Virgil Donati, Neil Peart, Terry Bozzio, Keith Moon and Mike Portnoy have gone to extreme lengths and built massive kits including features such as ranges of tuned tom-toms, allowing them to contribute melodically as well as rhythmically. These huge kits reached their zenith in the arena rock of the 1980s, and the trend since then has been towards a smaller John Bonham's five-piece set. Most of the massive kits were custom made by companies like Drum Workshop and Premier.

Electronic drums

The first electronic drums were used in the early 1970's (and recorded by Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) with the development of the synthesiser, it was inevitable that the drums would eventually be incoporated into the electronic sound. During the early 1980's drummers such as Bill Bruford of King Crimson incorporated large electronic setups within their acoustic setups and in Bruford's case almost completely diminished the need for acoustic drums. These drums were primarily made by the now defunct Simmons company and later by Tama of Japan. Although many criticised the use of electronic drums; there is a wider level of acceptance now and indeed some drummers such as Akira Jimbo and Tony Verderosa incorporate electronics into their sets in an interesting and innovative way.

Yamaha, Roland and many others have created electronic drum sets which use pads or triggers (mounted on acoustic drums) to play sampled or synthesized sounds. The trend in electronics since the late 1980s has been away from overtly electronic sounds and more towards an intensified acoustic sound.

Not only has the sound of electronic drums changed considerably towards a more naturalistic approach, indeed the 'feel' of electronic pads has also changed. With companies like Roland and Pintech offering their popular 'Mesh' or 'V-drum' pads; designed to emulate the 'feel' of a real drum head. Yamaha offers rubber pads also designed to mimic the feel of 'real' drums. Originally, the feel of electronic pads was very hard and unforgiving and as a result many drummers suffered from wrist pains and other related injuries.

Rick Allen, drummer of hard rock band Def Leppard, had a custom electronic drum kit made after a 1984 accident in which he lost his left arm. A later kit was made, one that played back the sound of the pre-recordad components of his acoustic drum kit whenever he struck each respesctive pad.

Drum set notation

Notation of drum kit music once commonly employed the bass clef, but a neutral staff of two parallel vertical lines is usually preferred now. Many different conventions exist for the notation of different elements of the kit on the stave, and it is usual to label each instrument and technique mark the first time it is introduced, or to add an explanatory footnote, on any score to clarify this. Below is common convention. Most variations follow a similar style.


Bass drum: low A. Snare: E. Floor tom: C. Middle tom: high F. High tom: high G.


Hi-hat with foot: low F with X. Hi-hat with stick, mallet, brush, or hand: high G with X. Ride cymbal: high A with X. Bell of ride: circle high-A X. Crash cymbal: high B with unfilled-in diamond. China cymbal and splash cymbal: high B with filled-in diamond.


Mounted triangle: leger-line high C with X. Maraca: high-B +. Mounted tambourine: high-B X through notehead.


Rolls: three diagonal lines across stem (or above whole note). Open hi-hat: o above high-G X. Closed hi-hat: + above high-G X. Rim click: X in E snare space. Stick shot: diagonal slash through note head. Brush sweep: horizontal line (replacing note head) in E snare space with slur to show brush is not lifted.

Rim click 
striking the rim of the snare drum with the edge of the stick (also known as side stick or cross stick)
Stick shot 
hitting one stick, held with its tip against snare head, with the other stick
Brush sweep 
sweeping the snare head with a brush in continuous circular motions (also known as "stirring soup")
hitting one drum (usually a snare) with both sticks slightly staggered to give a "longer" sound
Rim shot 
hitting the snare head (with the stick's tip) and the rim (with the stick's edge) at the same time with the same stick for a powerful hit

Dynamic accents

Light: -- (tenuto). Medium: >. Heavy: ^ (marcato).


  1. slightly softer than surrounding notes: u (breve)
  2. significantly softer than surrounding notes: ( ) (note head in parentheses)
  3. much softer than surrounding notes: [ ] (note head in brackets)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Document License
It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Drum kit