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Beginner Drum Set

Table of Contents

Introduction: So, you’re ready for your first drum set?

That’s exciting! You’re about to start an amazing journey.

Whether you’re a pretty good drummer at this point or you’ve never touched a pair of drumsticks, buying your first set is an adventure. There’s a lot to know. If you go in blind, you’ll find out you’re missing essentials and can’t play your drums. Or, you’ll spend way more money than you need to.

To avoid all of that, spend a few minutes with me while I lay out the essentials of drum sets and how to buy a good beginner drum set.

Let’s Break Down Drum Kits

Before you even think about buying drums, there are some things to know. I’m going to walk you through brands and how to save money and all kinds of good advice. First, let’s talk about what’s actually in a drum kit.

There are drums, cymbals, and hardware, and while that sounds simple, you need to know a little bit more about each of these things before you spend money.

Drums

There are a lot of different drums you can fit into a kit, but by and large, they fit into three categories: bass, snare, and tom-tom. I’m going to hit the essentials for people who have never even looked at a drum set before. If you’re already familiar with this, then I still recommend you read the sections on cymbals and “all the rest” as you want to be sure of what is and isn’t included in a kit when you make a purchase.

As for drums, we’ll talk about the snare drum first. Arguably, the snare drum and bass drum are the most important drums in your kit. The snare has a unique sound compared to the rest of the set. It has a head on the top and bottom, it’s thinner than the other drums, and it has a little contraption beneath the bottom head.

It’s a collection of metal strands that look like twisty strings or chains. Those strands are the  “snares.” These snares rattle on the bottom of the drum, and they create the unique, “crispy” sound so unique to the snare drum.

If you listen to any rock or pop song, you’ll likely hear snare hits on beats 2 and 4 of the song. It has the brightest sound of any drum in the set.

Your standard snare drum is 14 inches in diameter. When you get into advanced drumming, there are reasons to look at different sizes, but for your first kit, stick with a 14-inch snare. Even if you’re shopping for a kid, the best place to start learning is with a 14-inch snare.

The next drum we want to talk about is the bass drum. This is the big drum at the heart of the set, and often, other drums and cymbals (and accessories) are physically attached to it. The drum is played with a foot pedal. You can actually play one bass drum with two pedals (double bass), but that’s a conversation for another time. One pedal is fine for getting started.

Bass drums vary in size. For your first set, a 22-inch bass drum is traditional and probably the best place to start.

Last up, we have the tom-toms (usually called “toms” for short). These are your tonal drums, and you hear them a lot in drum fills. If you hear drums with different pitches in the middle of the song, those are the toms.

For your drum set, toms come in two varieties. Either they rest on their own legs on the floor (called a floor tom), or they mount above the bass drum. The floor tom is the largest of your toms and produces the lowest pitch. The mounted toms (sometimes called “rack toms”) hit a wide range of different pitches. The majority of kits will only mount one or two toms, but it’s normal to see professional drummers have more in their setups.

Putting this all together, the number of drums in your kit (including snare, bass, and all of your toms) is measured in “pieces.” When you shop around, you’ll probably see more five-piece kits than anything else. A five-piece kit has a snare, a bass, a floor tom, and two mounted toms.

Four-piece kits remove one of the mounted toms.

For a first drum set, four or five-piece kits are the way to go, but I’ll get into that more a little later.

Cymbals

Before then, we need to talk about cymbals. These are the metal discs that–when struck–create sounds that are longer in duration. There are tons of different cymbals you might want for a drum set, but we’re going to keep things simple and focus on three types of cymbals: hi-hat, crash, and ride.

The hi-hat is the starting point for your cymbals. It’s actually two cymbals arranged on a single stand that you can control with a foot pedal. The hi-hat is extremely versatile in the sounds it can make, but what you need to know for shopping is that it needs both cymbals and the hardware (stand plus foot pedal). All styles of drum set playing lean heavily on the hi-hat, so it’s essential in your kit.

Next up is the ride cymbal. It produces longer, ringing sounds, and you often play driving rhythms on it.

The third cymbal is the crash cymbal. It’s there to make an impression. Often, when you get to a climactic point in a song, a single, strong hit on the crash cymbal punctuates the moment. In fact, it’s called a crash cymbal because the name evokes the sound it makes.

You need all three of these cymbals, even in a starter kit, but there’s a trick that can save a little money. You can get a crash/ride cymbal. This cymbal is the right size and constitution to serve both of those roles with a single instrument. It’s not as versatile as having both, but this is one of the best corners to cut if you’re on a limited budget with your first drum set.

To give you a little bit more detail on this, any good sounding ride can be used as a crash if you learn to strike it as a crash in the right way.

In other words, there are cymbals that are called “crash/ride” cymbals, but the right ride cymbal, even if it is not named as a “crash/ride” can do the trick.

With all of that said, we need to talk a little bit about purchasing cymbals. Usually, they’re not included with the drum set. Some sets are marketed for beginners and include cymbals, but unless that is clearly stated, you should assume that cymbals are not included.

The good news is that cymbal sets do exist, and you can get a good starter set that simplifies your shopping and saves you money. Whatever you choose, you need a hi-hat and a crash/ride (or a crash and a ride).

All the Rest

The drums and cymbals make up the instruments in your drum set (we’re not worried about cowbells and such today), but you’re not done. Your drum set needs hardware so you can assemble it and actually play, and most of the time, that’s not included.

So, what do you need on top of drums and cymbals? You need a throne, mounting hardware, stands, pedals, and a drum key. You also need sticks to play, but a lot of beginner kits will throw in a free pair of drumsticks — just double-check. If you happen to forget about drumsticks, they are one of the easiest things to go pick up at any music store. You also might want a rug so you’ll have a surface that allows you to play your drums without scratching the floor and without your drums sliding around.

Let’s break some of this down.

Your throne is one of the most important parts of your drum set, and of everything in a starter kit, it’s where I would advise you to skimp the least. You sit on the throne to play, so you want something that can adjust to your height. Thrones aren’t recliners, but they shouldn’t cause you any pain. It’s worth going to music stores to try out some thrones. If you can’t sit on your throne, you can’t play, and that’s a big deal. So, the throne probably should be the first thing you splurge on as a drummer.

That said, if you can only afford a basic throne, it will still work.

Let’s talk about hardware to support your tom or toms. You might mount the toms right on the bass drum. In that case, there is a tom mount that goes right into a mounting hole on the top of most bass drums. And that tom arm will usually support one or two toms.

Some kits will include a few mounts. A lot of kits don’t. Read the fine print.

Stands are another issue. Your snare drum, hi-hat, and cymbals all need stands. This can get intricate because some kits will include stands and others won’t, but here’s the average. Hi-hat stands usually are not included. Snare drum stands are fifty-fifty for inclusion. Floor toms usually come with little legs that attach to hardware on the side of the drum, so no stands are needed there.

Still, inclusion is never set in stone, so make sure you know what you’re getting when you make a purchase. Otherwise, the nickel-and-dime costs will eat up your cash as you go to the store again and again to finish off your kit.

Kit Sizes

That really covers what you need in a drum set, but we still have plenty left to talk about.

I want to take a moment to go over kit sizes. There are two things to consider: the piece size and the physical size of the equipment.

I already took you through piece sizes. Your starter kits are usually four or five pieces. If money is no object, feel free to get a bigger kit. If money is a concern, look for a good deal in the four/five range.

More importantly, drum sets are made for people of different sizes. More specifically, there are adult and kid drum sets. If you’re an adult, obviously, you don’t want a kid set. The instruments are smaller, and it will be hard to play.

If you’re shopping for a kid, then you have a choice to make. Most likely, they’ll eventually outgrow the set. That’s why a lot of people start kids on full-size sets. They’ll learn just the same, and their kit can grow up with them.

But, if your child is very young–like ages three to five–they might not be able to reach the pedals when seated at an “adult” drum kit.  In that case, a kid kit is a good call.

What Drum Brands Are Best?

We’re covering a lot of ground, but you still don’t know which drum set you should actually buy. You know what needs to be in the set, and you know that you probably don’t want a kid set, but that leaves a lot of important questions.

Which drum set is the best for beginners? How much should a drum set cost? Which brands should you go with?

I think it’s time we talked about brands.

There are a lot of drum brands out there.

What I’ve found is that the major time-tested brands consistently make good quality drums that you can rely on.

I’m not saying brands outside of the few that I’m going to name are no good.

But, I am going to tell you about what I know is good; you’ll be able to rely on that.

The good news is that drums aren’t supercars. You don’t need a Ferrari to play at a local bar. All of these top brands make entry-level kits that still sound very good, are made to last, and are great for new drummers. The brands that I have worked with and can happily recommend are Ludwig, Yamaha, DW, and Gretch. You can still find quality sets outside of these brands, but I can vouch for these personally. Let’s look at an example.

The Yamaha Stage Custom Birch drums are made for the entry level. It costs a lot less than high-end Yamaha equipment, yet these drums still sound great. In fact, I have one of these kits and I play them professionally in both recording sessions and live.

Usually, when you buy a “shell pack”—which is the way the Stage Custom Birch kits are usually sold—you’ll get just the drums and the tom mount. It probably won’t include cymbal stands, a bass drum pedal, a snare stand, cymbals or a throne.  I bought mine for $699 and I’ve seen them on sale for less.

With that said, if you shop around, you can find some starter kits that include more for that same basic price range.

How to Actually Purchase Drums

We’re almost there. The last thing you need to know is where to buy the drums. The good news is that you don’t have to stick to a handful of authorized sellers or anything like that. Most music stores are reliable. Tons of online stores are great too. It’s a matter of finding the drum kit you want for the price that you’re comfortable with.

So, here are a few tips to help you get better drums for less money.

Online vs In-Person

Buying drums is like anything else. You can buy them online, or you can buy them in person. Online purchases are usually going to cost less than a purchase at a brick-and-mortar music store, but keep something in mind. Most people working at music stores are big ol’ music nerds, not sales specialists.

You can talk to them about what you want and what you need, and they’re usually pretty helpful. Also, you can sit on the throne and hear the drums and cymbals before you commit.

Am I saying that you should only purchase drums in person?

Absolutely not.

What I am saying is that you should make time to go to a music store and feel out some kits before you make a decision. After that, if you find a better deal online, go for it.

New vs Used

The last thing we need to discuss is used and new drum sets. If you get a new kit from any of the brands I mentioned, you’re getting good drums. For sure.

If you buy used, then there are a lot of other possibilities. You can definitely save a lot of money buying used, and it’s a great idea for a lot of new drummers, but there is a catch. Your used drums might need some work. That’s great in that it will force you to learn how to take care of your drums, but if that sounds daunting for a first set, then keep it in mind.

The most important thing about used drums is that you should buy them in person so you can check for obvious signs of damage. In some cases, if you’re buying a certified used kit from a highly trusted seller, ordering online can work. Generally, I would only buy used drums after I looked at them, much like buying a used car.

It’s also possible that you won’t know what to look for when you go to look at a used drum set. So, the new vs used question comes down to your comfort level.

Personally, I prefer to buy new unless there is some specific classic drum I’m looking for that I can only buy used.

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