Drums are one of the best instruments in the world. The trouble is that they’re quite intimidating for first-time buyers. They have so many components that need to be set up that you might feel lost in the process.
Here is a clear guide on how to set up a drum kit.
The first thing you need to do when setting up a kit is to take stock of all that you have. It’ll be helpful to lay everything out on the floor, allowing you to get a full overview of all the parts. I used to do this with LEGO and it tends to come in handy with drums as well. We’ll break the drums down into 3 sections: drums, cymbal stands, and cymbals.
Every drum kit is different. Some drums are bigger than others and some kits come with more drums than others. However, most standard kits have 5 drums. This includes a snare drum, two rack toms, a floor tom, and a kick drum. The kick drum is the biggest drum and the first rack tom is the smallest.
Once you have identified the kick drum, lay it out on the floor with the resonant head facing away from you. The resonant head is the side that has the brand of the drums written on it. Make sure that there is plenty of space surrounding the kick drum because we’re going to be adding more drums, hardware, and cymbals. Get the kick drum pedal and connect it to the base of the kick drum. Now we have a base layer to work from for the drum setup.
The next thing to do is to place your snare drum. Before getting your snare drum, you’re going to need to position the snare stand. The snare stand is that thing that looks like a claw. Extend the legs and place the stand in front of the kick drum and a bit to the left. Open the basket arms and then position the snare drum in them. Make sure the snare is secured tightly. This is important because the snare drum is going to be hit the most when you’re playing.
Now for the floor tom. The floor tom stands on thin legs which you’ll need to attach to it. There are 3 of them and they control how high or low your floor tom sits in the setup. Connect the legs and then place the floor tom to the right of the kick drum pedal.
The last thing to do is mount the rack toms. Every drum kit has a unique way of mounting rack toms. The usual way on lower-priced kits is to attach them to the kick drum.
Higher-priced kits have virgin kick drums, meaning they don’t have any mounting hardware for rack toms. Their rack toms will have mounts that attach to cymbal stands. If your rack toms connect to the kick drum, then attach the toms to the mounts and connect them to the kick drum.
Once you have all the drums set up, you can play around with the height and angle adjustment options. It’s important to set up in an ergonomic way, stopping you from getting injured. The snare and floor tom should be angled flat while the rack toms should be angled slightly towards you. If you angle them too much, you won’t be able to hit the center of the drums with enough force.
The next thing to do is assemble and place your cymbal stands. You get 2 types of basic cymbal stands which are straight and boom arm stands. Boom arms stands have an extra arm that allows you to adjust the angle of the cymbal. Most cymbal stands have at least 3 adjustment settings to work with.
A basic drum kit will have a stand for the hi-hats, crash, and ride cymbals. We’ll get to the hi-hat stand in a bit. For now, take your crash and ride stands, extend the legs, and raise the metal rods so that the stands are about the height of your chest. Place the crash stand to the left of your high tom and the ride stand to the right of the floor tom. This is the basic cymbal placement that most drummers use. The stands will need more adjusting once you’ve placed the cymbals, but we’ll get there.
The hi-hat stand is the unique looking stand in the setup. It has a pedal between the legs and a thin rod that you have to screw in at the top. It also has a component called a hi-hat clutch that you need to tighten onto the rod. The pedal of the hi-hat will have thin hooks that you need to hook into the side structure.
This will keep the pedal from swiveling around. Once you have assembled the hi-hat and raised the middle pole to the height of your hips, place it to the left of your snare drum. It should be quite close, but not so close that it will obstruct you from hitting the snare.
You’re now ready to whip out the cymbals and place them on the stands.
A basic drum kit setup will have 3 types of cymbals: hi-hats, a crash, and a ride cymbal. The hi-hats are the 2 cymbals that are the same size with one labeled “top” and the other labeled “bottom”. The crash cymbal is the middle-sized cymbal and the ride is the largest cymbal.
To set up hi-hats, you need to use the hi-hat clutch that came with the hi-hat stand. Loosen the clutch from the stand and then unscrew the bottom wing nut. Remove the wing nut as well as the felt washer that is above it. Put the clutch through the middle of the top hi-hat cymbal and then reattach the felt washer and screw the wing nut back on.
Take the bottom hi-hat cymbal and rest it on top of the large felt washer. Now, rest the top hi-hat on top of the bottom hi-hat. The clutch will allow you to adjust the height of the hi-hat. Press the pedal down, tighten the clutch, then release the pedal. Your hi-hats should be good to go.
Moving on to the crash cymbal, you’re going to place it on the cymbal stand that is left of the high tom. Remove the screw from the top of the stand as well as the felt washer beneath it. Place the crash cymbal and then put the washer and screw back in place. The screw should be tightened enough so that it doesn’t come loose. If you tighten it too much, it will deaden the sound of the cymbal.
While sitting at the drums, your crash cymbal should be the height of your shoulder. If it is placed higher than your head, you will damage your rotator cuff by constantly lifting your arms above your head and applying force. The angle of the cymbal should be tilted slightly towards you. You can achieve this by adjusting the screw that is just under the cymbal.
The ride cymbal gets placed on the cymbal stand to the right of the floor tom. Place it the same way you did for the crash cymbal. However, make sure it’s lower than shoulder height and angled more toward you than the crash cymbal is. You’re going to be playing the surface of the ride a lot, so you need to access it easily.
Once your cymbals are set up, make sure that they’re not covering any of the surface area of the drums. Also, make sure that you can easily reach them without stretching your arms. There’s a fine balance that you’ll figure out the more you play.
Now that your drum kit is set up, you can start playing! You may notice that it doesn’t sound too great. This is because it hasn’t been tuned. Drum kits will come with a drum key that you can use to change their sound by tightening or loosening the drumheads.
To get a drum in tune, you need to make sure that the lugs around the head all have a similar tension. Use the drum key to tighten them. The tighter they go, the higher the drum will sound. Rack toms should sound high while floor toms and kick drums should sound deep. Snare drums can be low or high, depending on what you like.
Most new drum kits will come with stock drumheads that don’t sound great. So, you’ll need to replace them if you want to get the best sound out of your drums.
Setting up a drum kit is a vital part of being a drummer. Some gigging drummers do it at least once a day when they bring their own drum kits to gigs.
Just note that although there is a standard way to set up a drum kit, many drummers start to develop unique preferences in how they position drums and cymbals, so you might as well someday.