Drum Kit Anatomy 101 – All Parts of a Drum Set

So, you’ve decided to start learning the drums. You want to play grooves and make people dance. Well, you should probably know what everything is called before you start. That will make it easier to understand and learn.

Drums are a big instrument with many parts. Here is a comprehensive guide that will explain every detail of a drum kit’s anatomy. 

Drum Shells 

Drum Shells
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The very first thing people notice about a standard kit is the drums themselves. These circular structures are called drum shells. They’re the drum parts that make all the noise. Every drum shell is made from specific types of wood that give it certain tonal qualities. 

These types of wood include birch, poplar, maple, bubinga, and mahogany. Birch wood has an aggressively bright tone with great projection. Poplar is an inexpensive wood that produces a balanced sound. Many budget drum kits are made from poplar. 

Maple is one of the most popular woods used in higher-end drum sets. It produces a warm tone with a wide tuning range. Bubinga and mahogany aren’t commonly used and they both produce rich tones. 

Some drum shells are made from metals such as steel or brass. This is more common in snare drums and not the rest of the kit’s shells. 

Famous drum brands would be DW, Sonor, Tama, Yamaha, Mapex, and Gretsch. There are plenty more where those came from. However, those are the companies that you’ll hear of the most when it comes to buying drum shells.

Snare Drum

Snare Drum
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When it comes to drum parts, the snare drum is arguably the most important piece of gear in a standard kit setup. It’s the drum that everything is centered around. It provides the backbeat and gets played the most next to your bass drum. Without a snare drum, you don’t have a standard kit. 

It’s called a snare drum because it has several snare wires on the bottom side, causing the drum to rattle when you hit it. These snare drum wires are controlled with a lever called a snare throw-off. This lever turns the snare drum on and off. 

Snare drums can be played in several ways to produce different snare sounds. This includes rimshots, cross-sticks, and buzz rolls. 

Toms 

Toms
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Toms are the drums that surround the snare. They produce varying tones depending on their size. Their specific names depend on how big they are and where they’re placed in your setup. 

The toms mounted to the bass drum are called rack toms. Standard sizes for these would be 8″ to 13″. In a five piece set, the first rack tom would be called a high tom and the second would be called a middle tom. 

Toms that are supported by metal legs are called floor toms. These drums range from 13″ to 18″. They produce deep and thuddy sounds while the rack toms produce higher-pitched sounds. 

A standard five piece set would have the smallest tom sounding the highest and the biggest tom sounding the lowest. 

Bass Drum 

Bass Drum
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The bass drum is the second most important piece of gear in a standard kit next to the snare drum. It is often referred to as either a kick or a bass. Bass drums range from 16″ to 24″ and have a bass drum pedal attached to the bottom. This bass drum pedal allows you to kick the bass drum to create deep and thuddy rhythms. 

You can play several drum beats with just your snare and bass drum. Just think of ‘We Will Rock You’ by Queen. 

Jazz drummers tend to use smaller bass drums with more resonance. Rock drummers use bigger bass drums with deep and impactful thuds.

Drum Heads

Drum Heads
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Drum heads are the things that cover the surfaces of the drum shells. They determine how the drum feels and sounds. The two main types of heads are single-ply and double-ply. 

Single-ply heads are thin and produce a very open tone from the drums. They’re often used by jazz drummers to get a singing resonance from the kit. A drum beat played with single-ply heads will ring for a good while.

Double-ply heads are thicker and produce a controlled tone. They’re used by drummers who hit hard and who don’t want their drums to ring too much. 

Many entry-level kits sound better with double-ply heads. This is because they don’t have great tonal quality and produce many unpleasant overtones. The thicker heads help to fight that.

Higher-end drum kits usually sound great with single-ply heads. However, some drummers still like the thicker double-ply ones. 

Hardware of Shells 

Hardware of Shells
https://oriollo.com/drumblog/most-interesting-drum-lugs

Every drum shell is held together by lugs and tension rods. The tension rods connect the lugs to the shell. The lugs control how tight the drum heads are. You turn the lugs with a drum key to make them tight or loose. The tighter the head, the higher the drum sounds. This is called tuning the drums. Every drum has a sweet spot for tuning that makes it sound the best.

Cymbals 

Cymbals
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Now, moving onto the cymbals. These are the shiny metal things that are placed above the drums. There is a wide range of cymbal types, each with its own unique look and sound. 

Drums produce a beefy and thick sound whereas cymbals produce a sound that rings to fill space. Some cymbals are used for accenting hits while others are used to drive grooves. 

Some famous cymbal brands are Zildjian, Meinl, Sabian, and Paiste. 

Every cymbal has a different tonal quality. Some are bright and high-pitched while others are dark and low-pitched. Bright cymbals cut through mixes of instruments with a harsh sound. Dark cymbals tend to blend within a mix with a warm sound. 

Some cymbals are dry, meaning they don’t have much resonance. Others are sweet, meaning they have a smooth resonating tone.

Hi Hat Cymbals

Hi Hat Cymbals
https://bothners.co.za/product-category/drums-percussion/cymbals/hi-hat-cymbals/

The hi hat cymbals are your main groove-makers. They’re the cymbals that you play most because you use them to play beats. They’re positioned to the left of the snare. 

A basic hi hat has two cymbals that close together. You close them with the use of a foot pedal that’s attached to the hi hat stand. Most grooves utilize a closed hi hat. Grooves that need to sound big and aggressive are often played with an open hi hat. Experienced drummers will be able to close and open the hi hats frequently within drum beats.

Hi hats range from 12″ to 16″. The standard size is 14″. However, some experienced players like to have hats that are bigger or smaller than that. 

Crash Cymbal 

Crash Cymbal
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Crash cymbals are loud and aggressive. They’re often used as tools for changes in songs. Drummers will play a crash cymbal to let everyone know that a new phrase has started in the music. This sometimes comes at the end of a drum fill. 

Crashes range from 14″ to 20″. The bigger the crash, the deeper the tone. Some styles like rock and metal often require drummers to play grooves with the crashes. This adds to the heaviness of the music. 

A standard kit would have 1 or 2 crashes. A large heavy metal kit would have 3 or more. 

When you want to add effects and accents to grooves, crashes are vital. 

Ride Cymbal 

Ride Cymbal
https://www.nxtleveltech.co.za/product/paiste-20-pst-3-ride-cymbal/

The ride cymbal is the biggest cymbal in a standard kit. It’s usually positioned to the right of a drummer, close to the floor tom or mid tom. Ride cymbals produce a warm resonating tone that is often utilized when playing grooves. When a drummer is playing a beat that he wants to sound open, he’ll move over to the ride cymbal. 

Ride cymbals range from 20″ to 24″ and there are 3 ways you can play them. The main way to play a ride is to hit the cymbal on the surface. This will give you the smooth resonating sound that they’re known for. The next common way to play a ride is to hit the bell. The bell is the bulging part in the center. The bell of a ride will produce a bright ping that is great for cutting through mixes. The final way to play a ride is to crash on it. This will give you a huge sound that fills out a room. Some rides are made to be crashed whereas some don’t have that option. 

A five piece set will typically only have one ride cymbal. 

China Cymbal 

China Cymbal
Drum Kit Anatomy 101 - All Parts of a Drum Set 18

The next few types of cymbals are known as effects cymbals. They’re uniquely shaped and you won’t find them on every common five piece set. The first one is called a china cymbal. 

A china is an oddly-shaped cymbal with a trashy sound. Its appearance will make people think it’s a crash that has been inverted. Chinas are mostly used in metal music. Their cracking sound is great for playing in metal breakdowns. 

Some jazz drummers like to use chinas, but you’ll find that they don’t hit them too often. 

Splash Cymbal

Splash Cymbal
https://bothners.co.za/product-category/drums-percussion/cymbals/splash-cymbals/

Splash cymbals are tiny cymbals. They produce a high-pitched cracking sound that is great for quick accents. Experienced players tend to have multiple splashes setup around the kit. This gives them a full range of tones from their cymbals to use. 

Stacked Cymbals 

Stacked Cymbals
https://www.moderndrummer.com/2015/01/need-know-effects-cymbals/

Cymbal stacks are a recent trend in the drumming world. Drummers will take multiple cymbals and stack them together on a single cymbal stand. They produce a quick trashy sound. The resonance depends on how many cymbals are stacked and how tightly they’re attached. 

Hardware 

Hardware refers to all the parts that hold the drums and cymbals together. Drum stands keep the shells secure. This is vital since they will stop anything from moving around when you’re playing. There’s nothing worse than a drum that keeps moving. 

Hardware components of a drum set would include drum stands, cymbal stands, a drum seat, and a bass drum pedal. 

Cymbal Stands 

Cymbal Stands
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Every cymbal needs a cymbal stand to be mounted to. Drummer’s gear bags typically contain several cymbal stands, seeing how most drum kits have multiple cymbals. Some cymbal arm stands can be attached to full stands.

The two types of stands are straight and boom stands. Straight stands sit upright and allow you to adjust the cymbal angle at the top. Boom stands have an extra arm that provides a lot more maneuverability. 

A vital cymbal stand in a drum set setup is the hi hat stand. It’s a straight stand with a pedal attached to it. The pedal allows you to control the hi hat cymbals.

Drum Stands 

Snare Stand
https://www.marshallmusic.co.za/product-category/drums-percussion/drum-hardware/drum-stands/

The main drum stand that every kit has is a snare drum stand. This holds the snare in place and allows you to adjust the angle that it’s placed at. 

Toms have arms that allow you to mount them to either the kick drum or to cymbal stands.

Drum Seat 

Drum Throne
https://musiccritic.com/equipment/drums/best-drum-thrones/

The drum seat provides a comfortable platform to play the drums from. Every drum seat will allow you to adjust its height. This is its most important function as every drummer will have a preference of how high or low they sit behind the kit. They’re commonly referred to as drum thrones. 

Drum Sticks 

Drum Sticks
https://musiccritic.com/equipment/drums/best-drum-sticks/

The last piece of gear in a drum setup would be the drum sticks. As a drummer, these are an extension of your arms. They allow you to play everything on the drums, whether it be beats or fills. 

Most sticks are made from wood and have either a wooden or nylon tip. Sticks come in a wide variety of lengths, weights, and sizes. 

Classic wooden sticks aren’t the only tools used to play the drums. Drums can be played with specialty sticks such as brushes or mallets.

Conclusion 

Well, there you have it. That’s everything you need to know about drum set anatomy. Hopefully, this guide has answered all your questions. If you’re a beginner drummer, make sure to thoroughly learn all the names of the drums. This will speed up the learning process when a teacher is telling which drums to play and where. Drumming a fantastic hobby. Remember to enjoy it!

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