Drum kits are large instruments with many parts. It’s important to learn what each part of the drum kit is called so that learning to play becomes easier.
It’s also good to know your kit’s layout so that you understand how everything works together; with multiple years of experience playing drum, I'm confident I'm the perfect person to teach you. 🙂
We’ll be looking through a complete breakdown of the anatomy of a drum set. I’ll show you the basics, as well as a few extra parts not shown in the above image.
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The snare drum is one of the main pieces of a drum kit. It’s needed in every single setup, and it’s played the most next to the bass drum.
The snare drum is the drum placed closest to you in a drum kit setup. It needs to be easily accessible as drummers play it to create what is known as a backbeat. That’s the repeating pulse that a drum beat creates.
Snare drums are identified by their bottom sides having snare wires attached. These snare wires are controlled by the snare throw-off, which is the lever on the side of the snare drum. The wires are what give the snare drum its distinct sound.
They can be turned off so that the snare produces a warm sound, but they’re mostly left on so that the snare produces a tight, cracking sound that has a bit of ring to it.
Snare drums come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them have a diameter of 14”. Most snare drum depths range from 5” to 8”.
The bass drum is the next most important drum in a drum kit setup. It’s the largest drum that is placed on the floor. It’s the only drum that gets placed on its side.
Bass drums are played with a bass drum pedal, and they have the deepest tones out of all the drums.
Most bass drums are either 20” or 22”, but some drum kits have larger 24-inch bass drums, while others have smaller 16 or 18-inch ones.
The larger the bass drum is, the deeper the tone it will produce. Smaller bass drums still produce deep tones, but they’re mostly used by jazz drummers or gigging drummers that don’t have much space on the stage they’re playing on.
While the snare drum provides the backbeat of grooves, the bass drum provides the rhythmic depth and beefiness to them.
All bass drums have wooden hoops on either side of their shell, which is a notable difference from the metal hoops that you’ll find on snare drums and tom shells.
The rack toms are the drums that are placed above the bass drum. These range in size, but a standard 5-piece drum setup will have a 10 and 12-inch rack tom.
These toms produce warm, sustaining tones. Depending on how you tune them, they can either sound high or low. The smaller toms are higher-pitched, while the larger rack toms are lower-pitched.
Many drummers only use a single rack tom in their drum kit setup. Some drummers use several rack toms. You’ll mostly find drummers who play metal using several rack toms around their kit.
The first rack tom is commonly called the high tom, while the second is referred to as the mid tom. However, people also refer to them by number, so rack tom one and rack tom two.
Rack toms can either be mounted to the bass drum or to cymbal stands. When they’re mounted to the bass drum, a drum kit will have rods that connect to the bass drum. The rack toms will be attached to those rods, and you’ll be able to adjust their heights and angles.
When they’re mounted to cymbal stands, they’ll have clamps that they attach to. Those clamps wrap around the cymbal stands.
It’s most common for cheaper kits to have toms mounted to the bass drum, while pro kits have rack toms mounted to cymbal stands. That’s not always the case, though.
The floor tom is the largest tom of the kit, and it stands on its own on the floor in most setups. It’s elevated with three floor tom legs that are attached to the sides of the shell.
Most floor toms are 16”, and they produce very deep tones that are similar to the bass drum. It’s most common for a drum kit to have a single floor tom, but some setups have two or more that are 14” or 18”.
The sound of floor tom makes it great for playing in drum fills where a drummer wants a very deep and impactful sound. It also sounds amazing when you use the floor tom to play a building pattern that increases in intensity and leads to a new song section.
The legs of the floor tom are what are used to raise its height and change its angle.
The hi-hats are the cymbals that are positioned just next to the snare drum. Like the snare and bass drum, the hi-hats are the most important out of all the cymbals.
You could play a whole gig with only your hi-hats, bass drum, and snare. You’d struggle to play drum parts without one of those.
The hi-hats are very unique cymbals in that they come in pairs. You get a top and bottom hat, and they clamp down together to make a sound. They’re held together with a hi-hat stand, which is a special stand designed to control them.
You play them by holding them together and hitting their shoulder or surface. The looser your foot is on the hi-hat pedal, the washier their sound will become.
Most hi-hats are 14”, but they range from 12” to 16”. Many modern drummers opt to use 15 or 16-inch hi-hats.
All cymbal setups need to have at least one pair of hi-hats. You may find a drum setup with more, and those extra hi-hats will be connected via a remote hi-hat stand.
Crash cymbals are the explosive cymbals that drummers often play at the end of drum fills. Their use far extends just that, but that’s the easiest way of identifying them.
In a drum kit setup, the most common placement for a crash is just above the hi-hats, next to the first rack tom. Most drum kit setups have more than one crash, though.
The second placement can be anywhere around the kit that feels comfortable to play. Some drummers place their second crash next to the mid tom, while others place it next to the floor tom.
You’ll also find drummers using three or more crashes as well. It’s more common to see several cymbals around a drum set than it is to see several rack and floor toms.
Crash cymbals range from 16” to 20”. The golden size is 18”, as many drummers find 16-inch crash cymbals to be too small and bright in their tone.
Some crashes have holes in them. These are known as trash crashes. They produce more explosive sounds than standard crash cymbals.
The ride cymbal is the largest cymbal in a drum kit setup. These cymbals range from 20” to 24”, with the most common sizes being 20” and 22”.
Ride cymbals have much larger surface areas than other cymbals, and they’re mostly played by hitting the stick on their surface. They also have large bells that drummers utilize for certain grooves.
Some ride cymbals can be crashed on, and they give a larger and more resonant crash sound than smaller crash cymbals.
A ride cymbal will be placed either to the side of the floor tom or the middle tom. If a drum kit only has a single rack tom, drummers will position the ride in the same place that the mid tom would have been.
Every drum kit setup has at least one ride cymbal. Some drummers use more than one, like jazz drummers who prefer using ride cymbals over crash cymbals.
Splash cymbals are the smallest cymbals that you can get. They’re essentially mini crash cymbals, and they produce very bright tones with short sustain.
Splash cymbals range from 6” to 12”, and they’re the least common type of cymbal used in drum kit setups. Many drummers don’t like how they sound, rather opting to use larger cymbals.
However, splash cymbals are very effective for playing short stabs in musical parts, so you’ll see them being used most by pop, gospel, and metal drummers.
Since splash cymbals are so small, it’s easy to position several of them in a drum kit setup. They don’t need their own dedicated stands. They can be mounted on external cymbal arms that connect to other cymbal stands that are already placed around the kit.
You can also get splash cymbals with holes in them, and they’re known as trash splashes.
China cymbals are the most aggressive-sounding cymbals in a drum kit setup. They look like cymbals that have been flipped inside-out, and they have the widest size range out of all the cymbal types.
You can get china cymbals that are from 6” to 24”. Not every drum kit setup will have a china cymbal. Since they’re so aggressive in their tone, they’re mostly used for rock, punk, and metal music. Chinas are especially popular for playing metal breakdown grooves with.
A china cymbal will typically be placed on the side of your dominant hand. For most drummers, that’s to the right of the floor tom, and the opposite side if you’re left-handed.
The reason for this is that drummers play china cymbals incredibly hard, so it’s better to do it with your dominant hand.
Out of all the cymbal types, china cymbals are arguably the least popular inclusion in drum setups due to their limited versatility.
Cymbal stacks are groups of cymbals that have been placed on top of each other and tightened to a cymbal mount. These cymbals produce a similar sound to hi-hats, but their sustain is a bit longer. Their tone is also a bit more aggressive.
You can buy cymbal stacks from cymbal companies, but most drummers end up making their own by stacking cymbals that have cracked or ones that they’re not using individually.
You can use any cymbal type to make a stack, so you’ll see stacks with rides, chinas, crashes, and splashes being used. This means that cymbal stacks can be any size as well. Smaller cymbal stacks have very sharp tones, while larger ones have more sustain.
Many drummers opt to use a large cymbal stack instead of a china cymbal as the tones you get from it will be less harsh.
When it comes to placement, cymbal stacks can be placed anywhere around the drum kit. It’s all up to the preference of the drummer of where they want to put it.
Bass Drum Pedal
The bass drum pedal is used to play the bass drum. It connects to the bottom of the front bass drum hoop, and it’s designed with a pedal, beater, and spring mechanism to make it work.
As you press the pedal down with your foot, the beater moves forward to make contact with the bass drumhead.
Bass drum pedals can have various types of beaters on them, with the most popular materials being rubber, wood, felt, and plastic.
Some drummers use double bass drum pedals, which have two beaters and two pedals. The second pedal, known as the slave pedal, gets positioned next to the hi-hat pedal.
All bass drum pedals fit any bass drum, but some small bass drums require a riser to allow the beater to hit the center of the drumhead.
The hi-hat stand is a special stand for the hi-hat cymbals that includes a pedal, rod, and hydraulic system that allow the pedal to control the rod.
High-quality hi-hat stands have a pedal with a metal base plate underneath them, while lower-quality ones simply have a pedal and two pins to keep it in place.
At the top of a hi-hat stand is a hi-hat clutch. It’s the tool used to attach the top hi-hat cymbal to the rod while the bottom hat rests on top of a piece of felt on the stand.
Every drum kit setup requires a hi-hat stand, and the best hi-hat stands can have their pedal rotated to accommodate a slave bass drum pedal.
Some hi-hat stands only have two legs instead of three. These versions are intended for drummers who heavily utilize double bass drum pedals.
Straight Cymbal Stands
Straight cymbal stands are cymbal stands with a tripod base and two poles that are used to set the height of the cymbal resting on them. They have a mount at the top to put a cymbal on, and that mount allows you to adjust its angle back and forth.
Straight stands are the most inexpensive kind of cymbal stands, so you’ll often find them on beginner and mid-tier drum kits.
The best straight stands have double-braced legs and are very heavy, making them feel secure when you play the cymbals very hard. They’re just not as popular as boom cymbal stands due to their limited adjustability.
Boom Cymbal Stands
Boom cymbal stands are like straight stands, but they have an extra arm at the top that can be set at any angle. The cymbal mount rests on top of this boom arm, making boom stands the most adjustable kind of stand available.
All drummers prefer these, as they make it easier to position cymbals in the exact way that you want them.
Drum kits that have rack toms mounted to stands need to have boom cymbal stands. If rack toms mount to straight stands, you won’t be able to position the cymbals close enough to play them comfortably.
Boom stands are also a lot better than straight stands as you can collapse the boom arm to make them work as a straight stand anyway.
A drum throne is what you sit on when playing the drums. They’re designed to work in conjunction with a drum kit setup, making them a vital piece of equipment to have.
Drum thrones have tripod legs, and they can have their height adjusted. All drummers have different height preferences, which is why it’s so important that drum thrones can be set to different heights.
Some drum thrones have round cushioned seats, while others have bicycle-style seats. There are also various height adjustment mechanisms that you can find in different drum thrones.
Some of them have simple screws to keep them locked in place, while others have complex spindle mechanisms that allow you to twist the seat to change their height. Certain high-tier thrones have hydraulic height adjustment systems.
A cowbell is one of the most popular percussive additions to a drum set. It provides a very short and distinct sound that is packed with plenty of volume.
Cowbells require mounting hardware, and drummers typically place a cowbell on their bass drum, resting between the snare drum and floor tom. You’ll also see cowbells being placed on the outer side of the floor tom.
Cowbells are mostly used in Latin drumming, but many rock drummers use them as well.
Woodblocks are very similar to cowbells, but they provide a sharper sound with less sustain. They’re placed in the same positions as cowbells in drum kit setups.
Some drummers have woodblocks that are connected to bass drum pedals. These are placed just next to the hi-hat stand so that a drummer can play it with their left foot.
Electronic Drum Pad
An electronic drum pad is a device that has multiple strike pads on it to play electronic drum sounds with. These are very commonly used within drum kit setups.
They’re used for music that requires rhythmic sounds that can’t be played with acoustic drums. They’re also used by drummers to control tracks and metronomes in live gigging settings.
Drummers will either place them on the outer side of the hi-hats, between the floor tom and rack tom, or on the outer side of the floor tom.
Electronic Drum Sets
Electronic drum sets are set up in the same way as acoustic drum sets. However, you have rubber pads instead of metal shells and cymbals. The pads are also a lot smaller, making electronic drum kit setups feel a lot smaller in their entirety.
Most electronic drum sets are 5-piece kits, meaning you have a snare pad, two rack tom pads, and a floor tom pad. Then you have a kick drum pad, hi-hat pad, and two cymbal pads. Higher-priced e-kits have more than two cymbal pads.
When it comes to the hi-hat, beginner and mid-tier electronic drum kits have a hi-hat trigger pedal instead of a full hi-hat stand. Only professional electronic drum kits have a dedicated hi-hat stand to place the hi-hat pads on.
All electronic drum kits are powered by a drum module. The pads all have cables that connect to the module, and it acts as the brain of the kit.
Most of the time, the drum module is positioned to the left of the hi-hat pad. Having it there makes it easy to use in between playing the set.
Drum modules are usually quite small, with the most extensive drumming modules being the size of an iPad.
The sound of any electronic drum kit depends on the quality of the drum module that it has. The best-sounding electronic drum kits are far more expensive than the best-sounding acoustic drum kits.
Parts of A Drum Set, Final Thoughts
Once you know all the parts of a drum kit, you’ll understand what teachers and books are referring to when you learn new things. You’ll also be able to set a drum kit up a lot easier when you know how all the parts work together.
The best way to learn what all the drums are called is to test yourself constantly. You’ll know everything by memory in no time!