You may have heard the term trap set before and wondered what one was. So what is a trap set exactly? And what do drums have to do with a trap set? We’ll explore below.
What Is A Trap Set?
A trap set is another name for a drum set. They might also be called drum kits, but they all describe the same thing: the collection of drums, differing in size and pitch; cymbals with various timbres; and other percussion accessories.
That’s a Weird Name
Many drummers born in the 21st century may never have heard the term “trap set” because it’s an older bit of drummer slang. A short history lesson seems in order.
As immigrants came to the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought their musical traditions with them. Since drums were the first musical instrument, every culture has some percussion instrument central to its musical traditions. All those instruments showed up in America, giving drummers many options.
As American music evolved, drummers wanted the option of playing more than one percussion instrument at once, so they started experimenting. “What if I could play this drum with my foot?” led to the bass drum pedal.
“Could we figure a way to play some cymbals with the other foot?” eventually led to the hi-hat. More and more drums and instruments kept getting added, and to keep them all in place and within reach, they built various contraptions for that purpose.
“Trap” is a shortened version of “contraption,” so when you play a trap set, you’re playing a contraption set.
Drummers these days buy specialized stands and racks for their drum sets, so there’s not much of a DIY aesthetic to trap sets anymore. As such, the term is fairly inaccurate. But it remains in use, though admittedly, it isn’t as common as some other terms.
What’s in a Trap Set?
The basic elements of a trap set include a bass drum, a hi-hat, and a snare drum. With less than three instruments, you’re starting to play fast and loose with the term “set,” so we’ll mark these three as the bare minimum.
With these three, a drummer can cover all the rhythmic elements he’s tasked with providing for the band.
- The bass drum provides the beat, most simply playing once on every beat of the pattern.
- The snare drum plays on the backbeat, which is a beat in a measure of music that’s usually unaccented (usually beats two and four).
- The hi-hit plays on and between each beat, providing a driving and steady rhythm throughout the entire pattern.
Depending on the style of music, the drummer’s wants and abilities, and (unfortunately) budget concerns, trap sets can vary wildly in what instruments they contain and how many drums comprise them.
Other Trap Set Components
When referring to a set’s size, we usually count the number of drums (not cymbals). The basic set described above is a two-piece. The most common set is a five-piece: snare, bass, a floor tom, and two tom-toms mounted on the bass drum.
Again, variations abound.
- Jazz legend Elvin Jones played a four-piece (only one tom mounted on his bass drum).
- Drumming god Neil Peart used sets with anywhere from 11 to more than 30 drums.
- Many drummers employ a second bass drum in a configuration called double bass.
As for cymbals, a standard five-piece trap set usually has a hi-hat, a crash cymbal, and a ride cymbal. The ride gets used like the hi-hat for repetitive, driving rhythmic patterns, and the crash acts as an exclamation point. As such, it’s best used sparingly.
But there are many other cymbal types, each available in different sizes:
- Crash / ride
What Is A Trap Set? Final Thoughts
Drummers provide the backbone of any band’s rhythm section. While they all have the same task, they take different paths via drum sizes and other added instruments like the cowbell.
All the percussion instruments put together constitute a trap set, even though the concept has evolved far past just being a contraption.