The Beginner Drum Set

A standard beginner drum set should have;

  • a bass drum with a bass drum pedal
  • a snare drum
  • one or two 'toms', (the drums usually mounted to the bass drum)
  • a floor 'tom' which will usually have its own legs to stand on
  • at least one cymbal on a stand, (there are few types for different uses)
  • a high hat stand with two cymbals that can be opened or closed with the foot
  • a drum throne to sit on.

Almost every beginner drum set will have this configuration. Although at an absolute minimum you'll need a snare drum with a snare drum stand, bass drum with a foot pedal, and high hats on a high hat stand. You can find a drum set with cymbals at an entry level price, while kits intended for more experienced drummers will not include cymbals. The following diagram will label the parts of the drum set.

beginner drum set positioning

The above diagram shows general set positioning for a right-handed drummer. Left-handed drummers will simply reverse the placement of everything from one side to the other. This arrangement is a good place to start.

Everything should be within easy reach of the drummer and at an angle that shouldn't feel awkward. (Though in the beginning everything may feel awkward). The worst mistake a beginning drummer could make is to force themselves to get used to a awkwardly positioned drum kit. Their learning and playing will suffer for it. They may even develop aches and pains that could otherwise be avoided.

Also try to avoid copying the setup and positioning of your favorite drummer. What works for him or her or her may not work for you.

The drumsticks should hit the drums in the center, at an angle near parallel to the drumhead when the arm is naturally positioned in front of the drum. Usually as they gain more experience, drummers develop their own preferences for how and where they position everything on the drum set.  Start with the snare drum height even with your navel, not so high that it's awkward, but not so low that your legs get in the way.

The high hat cymbals should be at a height that allows for you to cross your right hand over the left hand to play the high hats primarily with your right hand. (Again, reverse this if you're a lefty). The vast majority of drummers will do this.

The other cymbals should be at a height that is fairly easy to reach without overextending the arm. The ride cymbal, (usually the largest diameter cymbal), should be on the drummers right and at a comfortable height. You'll spend a lot of time playing the ride, and your arm will get tired real fast if you have to reach too far.

A word on seat height and foot work

The drum throne should be stable and at a height that allows the upper legs to slope down slightly from the waist. The pedals should be far enough away so that the lower leg is straight. Nothing will throw off your groove more than a wobbly throne. This is especially when playing "heel up" on the pedals.

Many drummers play with ball of the foot resting on the pedal board and the heel in the air. This allows for a greater range of motion, power, and speed. Others prefer to keep the heel on the floor and play to great affect that way. The new drummer should try both techniques to see what seems to work best for them. (I tend to play heel up on the bass drum pedal and heel down on the high hat pedal most of the time). 

Your options for your beginner drum set

Budget may be your first consideration, but you can get a decent beginner drum set for your money these days.

Size is very important. There are some good children's drum sets available. You can even find a nice kids drum set on Amazon. If you are a teen or are grown, an adult drum set for beginners is what you're looking for. You can even find some of those on Amazon. To explore Amazon's options, click here.

If noise is a concern, you may opt for an electric drum set for beginners as these can be played with headphones to keep your neighbors, (or you if you are a parent buying this for a child), sane and happy. 

If you do get an acoustic drum set, (non-electric), you can get a drum pad set that will quiet them down quite a bit. Cymbal silencers are available to reduce their volume. There are also some low volume cymbals that are designed to be very quiet, great for at home practice, but not for playing out with other musicians unless it's a quiet acoustic gig. A set of these combined with some rubber pads or Remo silent stroke drumheads will make for a very quiet drum set.

Where to get your new beginner drum set? You can buy a drum set online of course. There are some great beginner drum sets that can last a long time if taken care of properly.

There are some great new beginner drum set options for adults listed here

If you're going to buy your drum set and cymbals separately and can afford to splurge on one or the other. Spend more on cymbals. Generally you get what you pay for with cymbals. While you can do a lot to make an entry level beginner drum set sound good, there is nothing you can do to make an entry level cymbal sound like a high quality one.

If you're looking for used drum equipment, there are some things to look for when deciding to buy a craigslist or eBay drum set. Lemons aren't just for used cars. Some things to look for are;

  • Inspect the shell on the inside for cracks and/or separating plys in the wood. If the drumheads are coated and you can't see through them, ask to take one side off. The wrap some drums come with can hide cracks that can develop in older drums from abuse.  Be very hesitant if the hardware is very rusty. This is an indication that the drums were stored in a damp area for a long time, which can wreak havoc on a wooden drum shell. 
  • Make sure ALL of the hardware you need is present, especially if the drums aren't set up when you're inspecting them.  The missing item could be fairly cheap to replace, but it will eat at your drum budget. Check ALL of the wingnuts and T-bolt that will tighten your hardware down while set up. Overtightening them can cause the threads to strip out, rendering them useless. I recommending setting it up right there before you buy it, if it is not already set up and checking everything for sturdiness. It doesn't have to look cool yet, you're just checking for functionality.
  • Look at the drumheads carefully. If they are old, they could be near the breaking point, especially if the previous owner was a hard hitter. Also old drumheads sound "dead" and most drummers replace them occasionally. Buying a used set with old worn out drumheads can backfire as they are quite expensive to replace, usually around ten to forty dollars a head depending on the size.
  • When buying used cymbals, look around the hole in the center for cracks beginning to form. Check all around the cymbal for cracks that can form around the 'grooves' most cymbals have in the metal. A small crack will eventually grow.

There are other drum set accessories that you may find you need to go with your beginner drum set, or down the road.

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