How to Set Up a Drum Set – Step by Step Guide

Studying how to set up a drum set can be intimidating for a new drummer. But there’s really nothing to it as this is all about arranging the pieces that will make playing easy and enjoyable for you. Here’s how you do it.

The Drum Pieces

Before starting, gather the pieces. These are the most common components in a standard drum kit.

Drum Pieces

  • Bass drum (kick drum with pedal)
  • Snare drum
  • Ride cymbal
  • Crash cymbal
  • Hi hat cymbal (and pedal)
  • Stool or throne (this is where the drummer sits)
  • Drum key (used to loosen or tighten drum kit bolts)

Depending on what type of drum kit you buy, it may have more or less pieces than the ones listed above.

You can expand a drum kit by adding:

Cymbal

  • China cymbals
  • Splash cymbals
  • Sizzle cymbals
  • Chau gongs
  • Cymbal stacks
  • Cable or x hats
  • Mini timbales
  • Additional rack or hanging toms
  • Double bass drums

Step 1. Position the bass drum in the middle

Move the bass drum in the center of where you want the kit to be. Set it vertically so the logo or head faces front.

Step 2. Add the bass drum legs

Hold the steel legs connected to the bass drum. Slide them in the openings on the drum’’s sides. Turn the knobs to tighten the brackets.

Step 3. Add the kick drum pedal

The kick drum is often fastened on the bass drum’s bottom edge bracket. Slide the foot pedal edge under the bass drum’s center. Turn a screw to secure it into position and you’ll hear a clamping sound indicating it’s locked in.

Step 4. Position the throne

To get the right drum set positioning for the throne, place it at the back of the bass drum. Adjust the height until you’re comfortable with it.

new bigger bass drum

Photo by christina rutz/ CC BY

Step 5. Put the snare drum in position

The snare drum often sits on an adjustable stand with 3 arms that keep it in position. To set up the stand, unfold the legs so the stand remains stable.

The snare is usually set at a horizontal angle, but you can change that depending on what you’re comfortable with.

Step 6. Adjust the snare height

Loose the snare drum stand’s nut and adjust its height. The ideal height is when you can play the snare without making contact with your legs, i.e. a bit higher than your knees.

Step 7. Place the toms on the bass

Look for the metal bracket on the bass drum and mount the toms there. The process is similar to how you set up the drum legs and bass drum. Some bass drums have two holes for the toms’ poles, while others only have one. If it’s the latter you have to mount both toms on one pole.

The placement is up to you. Just make certain the tom is near enough and at appropriate angle so you can reach it without difficulty.

Step 8. Attach the floor toms’ legs and position them

Floor toms usually have long, steel legs with rubberized feet. Loose the screws on the floor toms and insert the legs. Fasten the nuts so the raised drum is well balanced. Strike the toms a few times to make sure it’s not going to flip.

Step 9. Adjust the floor tom height

Set the height of the floor tom so it is level with the snare. Make adjustments to the legs so you’ll be able to strike the tom without too much effort. There are many kinds of drum setup ideas, but this is one that’s almost always the same.

Step 10. Install the bottom hi hat cymbal

Unfold the 3 legs of the hi hat cymbal stand and spread the legs. Slip the hi hat bottom cymbal on the stand so the cup side is facing up. This may require you to thread the hi hat’s upper part through the hole in cymbal’s center.

Step 11. Add the top hi hat cymbal

Remove the hi hat clutch’s bottom nut and position the top hi hat cymbal between the two felt pads within the hi hat clutch.

Fasten the nut on the bottom and set the hi hat clutch on the stand. Press the pedal and hit the cymbal at the same time. There has to be a clicking sound when you press the pedal and a hiss if the pedal isn’t pressed.

Typically a hi hat cymbal is positioned along the left of the snare drum so you can hit it with your stick. You use your left foot to press on the pedal.

Step 12. Install the ride cymbal

There’s a curved base on most ride cymbal stands, an upper part set at an angle and three legs. Unfold the legs, remove the nut on the stand and sandwich the cymbal between the felts.

Screw the nuts on again, but don’t make it too tight as the cymbal must be able to wing if struck with force. Secure the knob by tightening it and adjust the cymbal’s height until you’re comfortable with it.

Usually the ride cymbal is placed on the right side on the set, behind and above the bass and floor tom. The cymbal hangs a bit over the floor tom but not so much you can’t hit the drum..

Step 13. Install the crash cymbal

A crash cymbal stand usually could straight or have an adjustable arm similar to a ride cymbal’s. No matter the design, you set up the stand and install the cymbal the same way as you did the others. Remember not to tighten the nut too much as the cymbal must be able to swing when you strike it.

Crash cymbals are often placed on the drum set’s left side, at the back of the hi hat and the bass drum. Any extra cymbals you may want to add are placed between the back and sides of the kick drum.

Step 14. Play your drums

Now that you’ve got your drum kit set, it’s time to tune the drums and play.

Where to Place Your Drum Kit

Knowing how to set up cymbals and the drums is only one part of the equation. First you need to find an appropriate place to set up your drum set. Some pointers:

  • The playing area needs to be large enough so the kit pieces aren’t bunched up together.
  • Do not place the pieces too close together as it will impede your movements. Space the pieces so there’s enough room for you to move naturally.
  • It is better to have more space than you think is necessary than be cramped up. This is especially true if you have any plans of adding more components to the kit.

How to Set up a Drum Set Video

Here’s a video showing how to set up a drum set.

What are the Different Types of Drum Set Configurations?

The steps given above on how to assemble a drum kit is for the full size set, but other kits are available with varying number of pieces.

The 3 Piece

A 3 piece drum kit consists of a 10 inch hanging tom, a 10 inch snare and a 16 inch bass drum.

A large 3 piece set may include a 14 inch snare, a bass drum, a 14 to 18 inch suspended cymbal, a 12 inch hanging tom and 12 to 14 inch hi hats. This set up was widely used during the 1960s. Today they’re still used for children’s kits and some acoustic bands.

4 Piece

A 4 piece set is the same as the 3 piece – snare, bass, tom, 2 cymbals – but comes with another tom. This addition may be a floor tom or another hanging tom that takes the place of of the cymbal.

A 4 piece set often adds another cymbal, so there are two stands for the crash and ride cymbals. Sometimes the ride cymbal is placed on the bass on the right of the drummer, with the crash cymbal on its own stand. Most 4 piece drum kits use a 2 inch ride and 16 inch crash cymbal.

A 4 piece drum set usually comes with a 14 inch or 16 inch floor tom, especially if it will be used for jazz, rock and roll or classic rock. The ride cymbal is frequently used in jazz drum sets, and when there’s no additional hanging tom the ride is set nearer to the drummer.

A fusion drum kit set up usually has two hanging toms. The additional tom is 8 inches deep and 10 inches in diameter or 13 inches in diameter and an inch deeper than the other tom. In other cases a drummer adds a 14 inch, 8 inch deep tom, same depth as the 12 inch.

Regardless of the diameter and depth, the toms are set on the bass, with the smallest adjacent to the hi hat. These setups are ideal for small locations like pubs.

5 Piece

Yamaha Stage Custom Birch 5pc Drum Shell Pack

A 5 piece kit is the “standard” setup for rock drummers. It usually consists of a bass, snare, cymbals and three toms. A fusion drum kit has a 14 inch hanging or floor tom to the right of the bass. Regardless of the set up the toms are 10, 12 and 14 inches respectively.

The 3 tom setup is ideal for rock, fusion and other musical styles because it gives you a low, high and mid register pitch tom, providing you greater flexibility for fills and solos.

Other 5 piece drum setups have a 12 or 13 inch hanging tom. The set up may include a 16 inch or 14 inch floor tom, or a 14 inch hanging tom on a stand. Since 2010, the most common setup has been a 16 inch floor tom paired with 10 and 12 inch hanging toms.

A 5 piece drum setup often uses a 22 inch diameter bass drum, but jazz drum set go with an 18 inch bass. For fusion the bass is 20 inches while a rock setup use a 24 or a 26 inch bass. Rock drum setups add a second crash cymbal, typically an 18 inch to pair with the 16 inch, the bigger one positioned to your right.

A large band may use a 20, 24 or even 26 inch crash cymbals. Some rock bands also use bigger hi hats – up to 15” – and a 22” ride.

If you go beyond the basic 5 piece drum kit you’ll find that most have at least one effects cymbal added. This extra cymbal requires a separate stand. Because of this, most high end drum sets don’t come with any hardware so you can pick and choose the ones you need.

At the other end are the entry basic 5 piece kits that have everything. You get 5A sticks, a throne, a 3 piece cymbal pack, 2 cymbal stands and the 2 drum, 3 tom combo.

Small Drum Setups

A 2 piece drum kit is called a lounge or cocktail. It doesn’t have any toms, or there is a pedal run beater on the floor tom’s bottom skin. This setup is common for jump blues, rockabilly and trad jazz. In some variations the hi hat stand is taken out, enabling you to play standing up.

Compact drum kits may have fewer parts, but the drums are the same size as those used in regular kits. In some cases the bass drum is even larger.

There are so-called boutique drum kits with smaller drums to accommodate play in small venues, make the set portable and easier for younger drummers. Smaller drum kits produce quieter sounds so it’s ideal for playing in compact locations.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to set up a drum set, it’s time to play and be creative. With an understanding of how the basic drum kit setup is like, you can add more pieces to get the sound you want.

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