Setting up a drum set for the first time can be quite daunting. Drums aren’t like guitars or pianos, where you can just unbox them and start playing.
Every drum kit has multiple components to set up, and you can easily get lost if you don’t know what the purpose of each component is.
In this guide, I’m going to give you a highly elaborate step-by-step process on how to set a drum kit up. If you follow along with the guide, you should have a comfortable drum kit setup to play by the end of it.
I’ll also give a few tips regarding things after the setup, like muffling and tuning, etc.
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If you just bought a brand new drum set, it would have most likely come in a set of cardboard boxes. Unfortunately, setting up a kit from here is a lot tougher than if you were to set one up that had already been unboxed.
Different drum companies package their drums in various ways, but the general idea is the same. You’ll get one box with the bass drum shell, along with the other drums placed inside that shell.
You’ll need to put the heads on those shells, which likely came in another box. To do that, you need to use a drum key to tighten the tension rods that fasted the heads to each shell.
You should then lay all the components out on the floor so that you can see everything clearly. Think of it as if you’re about to build a Lego set.
Setting Up the Drums
Before placing any drums, you should lay a carpet or rug down on the floor. All drum kits should have a rug placed beneath them, as it stops the bass drum from shifting forward when you play it.
If your kit is about to be set up in a carpeted room, then you don’t need to worry about a rug. It’s only if you have a hard floor.
However, it’s a good idea to have a rug so that you can take it with you when you eventually move your kit to other places.
It’s also nice to have a rug positioned to give an overall idea of how much space your drum set will take up.
Once you have your rug positioned, you can set up your drum throne. This is the seat that you’ll be sitting on every time you play your kit.
It’s a good idea to set this up first so that you have something to sit on while setting everything else up.
Thrones have two parts, which are the base and the seat. If your seat isn’t on the throne yet, make sure to tighten it to the top. You can then open the legs of the base so that the throne sits sturdily on its own.
Make sure to make the feet fairly wide so that the throne feels sturdy.
The bass drum is the biggest drum in an entire drum kit, and it’s the only one that rests longways. So, it’s always the drum that you should set up first.
Every bass drum has a set of legs and spurs. These legs are on the back end of the shell, so you need to rotate them so that they’re pointing away from where you’re sitting.
The bass drum legs have spikes underneath the rubber feet. It’s a good idea to rotate the feet so that these spikes stick out a bit. They’ll stick into the rug and ensure that the bass drum doesn’t shift forward.
Just don’t push these spikes out if your kit isn’t on a rug or carpet.
Bass Drum Pedal
Your bass drum pedal should come with two parts – the pedal and the beater. Use a drum key to lock the beater to the pedal, and then place the pedal on the bass drum hoop.
There should be some sort of clamp at the end of the pedal that allows you to tighten the bass drum pedal in place.
Now, make sure that the beater lines up with the center of the drumhead when you press the pedal down. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to adjust the height so that it does.
Most beaters come with two playable sides. You can rotate the beater to both sides to get slightly different tones from the bass drum.
Snare Drum Stand
Once you have your bass drum and throne set up, you can move on to setting up the snare drum stand. You can identify the snare drum stand by seeing the three claw hooks at the top of it.
Pull the bottom legs out so that they allow the stand to rest on the floor. Like with the drum throne, make sure that the feet are pulled widely apart so that the stand is stable.
After that, raise the height of the stand so that it’s relatively close to how high your drum throne is. However, leave a bit of room for the snare drum that you’re about to place on it.
Open up the basket arms and raise them high enough for a snare drum to fit comfortably inside. If they’re too low, the snare will wobble around. If they’re too high, the snare won’t be able to fit.
Now, take your snare drum and place it on the stand. Make sure that the side with the snare wires is facing down.
You then need to adjust the angle of the snare drum so that it feels comfortable to play. Most drummers have different preferences, but I’d say that a completely flat angle is the best one to start with.
You’ll find the angle adjustment on the snare stand underneath the basket arms. Loosen the wingnut there, adjust the angle, and then tighten the wingnut once you have your desired position.
The next step is to set up the floor tom. This is the large drum that goes next to the snare drum. You can identify it as the drum that is almost as big as the bass drum.
Floor toms always have a set of three legs, and you use those to raise the floor tom off of the ground.
Once you have the legs attached, you can place the floor tom next to the snare. You’ll need to choose how high it sits off the ground. The most comfortable setup would be to have the floor tom and snare drum being in line with each other.
Rack Tom Arms
The other two toms in a drum kit setup are called the rack toms. In some setups, the rack toms are mounted to the bass drum.
That mount will look like this:
In other setups, the toms are mounted to the cymbal stands, with those mounts looking like this:
It’s likely that you have a kit with the toms mounting to the bass drum. So, take the tom arms and attach them to the slot in the bass drum.
You do that by tightening the wingnut once they’re securely positioned. Don’t worry about the angles until you pick your rack toms up to place them.
Now, take your rack toms and connect them to each arm on the tom mount. Some tom arms have ball-and-socket mounts, while others have clickers with different positions.
Once your toms are mounted, you need to angle them so that they’re in a comfortable position to strike.
You can also raise the tom mount up to adjust the height of each rack tom.
You want to have the toms slightly tilted toward you, but not by too much. If you tilt them too much, you won’t get enough force from your stick strikes to get full tones. If you make them too flat, they’ll be hard to reach.
Setting Up Cymbals
Hi-hats have a special stand to mount them to, and you can identify it by seeing the only stand with a pedal. These stands come in three parts, which include the base, the body, and the rod. You also get something called a clutch that attaches to the rod, but we’ll get to that just now.
For now, just set the hi-hat stand up by stretching the legs out and attaching the body and rod. The legs should be far enough for the pedal to sit flat on the ground.
You can then attach the rod by screwing it into the small part on top of the stand.
Now, look for your hi-hat cymbals. These are the cymbals with the same diameter, and they’re usually labeled top and bottom.
Place the bottom hi-hat cymbal on the stand facing upwards. Then, you need to attach the top hi-hat cymbal to the clutch. You do this by loosening the bottom part of the clutch and sticking the clutch through the hole of the cymbal.
Once it’s there, tighten the bottom part onto it again. You can then run the clutch down on the rod so that the hi-hat cymbals are resting on each other.
You can use the clutch to change the height of the gap between the top and bottom hi-hat cymbals. You then need to press the pedal down to close them.
Crash Cymbal Stands
There are two different types of cymbal stands to use for crashes. These are called straight and boom stands. A straight stand goes straight up, while a boom stand has an arm that angles forward.
If you have a beginner drum kit, you probably have both, so I’d suggest using the straight stand for your crash cymbal.
The most common place for a crash cymbal is to the left of your high tom. So, open the legs of the stand and place it there. Then raise the stand high enough so that you can place your crash cymbal on it.
If you have more than one crash cymbal stand, the second spot to place a stand would be to the right of your floor tom.
Once you have your stand/s set up, you can place your crash cymbal/s. You do this by removing the top wingnut on the stand and then resting the crash cymbal on the felt.
Make sure that there is a plastic cymbal sleeve on the stand. If there isn’t, your cymbal will get damaged.
Once the crash is placed, tighten the wingnut so that the crash can’t fall off. The wingnut should be tight enough to be secure, but not tight enough for it to choke out the cymbal.
You can then angle your crash to make it comfortable to play. You’ll lengthen the cymbal’s lifespan if you angle it slightly toward you. If it rests flat, you’ll be hitting the edge straight on, and that will crack the cymbal eventually.
Do the same setup process for however many crash cymbals you have.
Ride Cymbal Stand
If you have a boom stand, it’s good to use it for your ride cymbal. Boom stands have more reach and angling capabilities, and that makes them better for positioning larger rides.
The most common place to put a ride is to the right of the rack tom. So, open the legs of the stand to place it securely on the ground. Make sure that the legs are very wide, as ride cymbals are quite heavy.
Raise the stand high enough so that you have room to place your ride, and then pull the boom arm out so that it sticks slightly over your drums.
Now you can place the ride cymbal on the stand in the same way that you placed the crash cymbal. However, the boom arm will allow you to get more angles.
The angle you choose depends on how you want to place the ride. If you want to crash on it by striking the edge, it shouldn’t face too far toward you.
If you only want to play the bow and bell, you can angle it more toward you to have easier access.
Some drummers like to position their ride cymbals really high, but it all comes down to personal preference. I’d suggest trying out a few different positions to see which one you like the most when you play your kit.
Tuning and Muffling
Tuning the Drums
Once your drums are set up, you’re going to need to tune them to get the best sounds. Tuning drums can be very difficult, as you need to use your ear to hear certain frequencies. Even drummers that have been playing for years struggle with this.
However, the basic idea behind tuning is quite simple. You just need to use a drum key to tighten all the tension rods on each shell so that they are just as tight as each other.
If you hit a drum and it sounds bad, it means that it’s out of tune. Getting all those tension rods even is how you put the drum back in tune.
Muffling the Drums
Muffling a drum refers to when you place something inside the shell or on top of the drumhead to lower the number of overtones that you hear.
This is a great way of getting better sounds when you struggle to tune the drums. By placing something on a drumhead, you stop the drum from resonating as much, and it always sounds more pleasant.
So, this is often part of the setup process. You can use something like a dampening ring to place on a drumhead. If you have a full set, place them on each drum in your setup.
Memorizing Your Drum Setup
If you’ve grown accustomed to the way your drums are set up, it can often be hard to play on a drum kit that is set up differently. So, it’s a good idea to memorize your setup so that you can recreate it when you move your kit to a different location.
Thankfully, there are a few built-in components on drum kits that help with that, but there are a few other things to help as well.
Memory locks are small hardware pieces on stands that you can tighten with a drum key. These locks are used to save the height at which you’ve set the stand up.
You raise the stand, and then attach the memory lock at the base of the arm. You then leave that memory lock in place when you pack your stands down. When setting them up again, the memory lock will ensure that you put the stand in the exact same position as before.
Marking the Drum Rug
Another way of ensuring that you get the same setup every time is to put markings on your drum rug. Drummers that do heavy touring frequently do this, as it makes it a lot easier to set their kits up.
You can use tape to put down on the outlines of all your stands. This will show you where to place the feet when you set your kit up again.
However, this only works with rugs that allow for sticky material. Some of them don’t stick too well.
Keeping Your Drum Set Safe When Not In Use
It’s also worth mentioning that your kit can get damaged when you pack it down again. There are two things that every drummer should own, and those are drum and cymbal bags.
Drum bags typically come in groups of five, with an individual bag for each drum in your setup. You then get a hardware bag that holds all the stands.
When you’re storing your drum kit, you can place drum bags on top of each other from largest to smallest.
You also get hard cases, which are a lot more durable. However, they’re far heavier and harder to carry. They’re also more expensive most of the time.
You only need to get one cymbal bag for a standard set of cymbals. A single bag is usually able to hold five or six cymbals.
These also come in soft case and hard case versions, but most drummers use soft cases for their cymbals. You only need to use a hard case if you’re traveling far by flight, as there’s less risk of your cymbals getting damaged.
Different Drum Kit Setups
The last thing to mention is that there are countless ways of setting a drum kit up. The one we’ve been looking at is how to set a standard drum set up, but you may have far more or far fewer parts in your own setup.
You may also own an electronic drum kit, which has an entirely different setup process. The positions of the drums are the same, but you need to then worry about cables and drum modules.
Electronic drums are also normally mounted to a single rack, making them slightly easier to position. However, they often look more daunting when you unbox them at the beginning.
How To Set Up A Drum Set, Final Thoughts
Setting up a drum kit becomes really easy once you do it a few times. The key is understanding exactly what everything does. It also helps to familiarize yourself with how to adjust all the different stands. This lets you get better angles faster.
You get various drum kit setup types, but most drum kits can be set up in the same way. The only things that change are how they’re angled and positioned.
I’d suggest setting your kit up a few times to practice. You’ll learn all the tricks very quickly after doing that.