Being a drummer takes a lot more than just learning how to keep a tempo. It requires passion, knowledge and lots of practice. It is also important to start your journey properly equipped. There are lots of drum sets on the market, and choosing the right one might not be an easy task. In this guide, we will explain which drums compose the traditional drum set, what to look for when purchasing your first drum set and how to get the maximum value for your money.
What is Included in a Drum Set?
First, let’s quickly define which instruments form a traditional drum set - the one used in most modern genres such as rock, blues and jazz. We will be referring to each of these elements in the future:
1. Bass drum
Also known as the kick pedal, the bass drum is the essential beat making tool. It is a big drum that is situated right next to the drummer’s feet and is played with a foot pedal.
2. Snare drum
It is that slim drum that is right above the bass drum. It produces a sharp, high-pitched sound, which is the second important part of any beat.
Drum sets usually have two cymbals: a crash cymbal that is used to accentuate some parts of the beat, and a ride cymbal, which is mostly used as filler and rhythm enhancer.
Toms are easily-recognizable for their deep sound and are commonly used in rock and metal. There are three types of toms and they are named after their tonality – high, low and middle toms. The three are situated above the bass drum and form a semi-circle around the drummer.
What to Look For in a Drum Set?
Each drummer has probably their own personal opinion on what is a “good” drum set. Brand, signature sound and configuration are one of the many aspects an experienced drummer will talk about. In this article though, we will put personal tastes aside and talk about something more objective: durability and sound quality.
Some people purchase expensive drum sets just because “only expensive stuff sounds good”. While price often reflects quality, it does not always work this way.
What kind of sound should you look for?
First of all, let’s debunk a little myth. If you are new to the topic, you might look for drums that sound like the ones in your favorite songs. Truth is - drums are heavily processed during the studio recording and mixing process. First, the sound is compressed and equalized, then it is processed again when mixing, and finally, it undergoes further modifications when the whole song is mastered.
Therefore, real life drums sound way different from how we hear them in the recordings.
Having that cleared, let’s try to describe the sound of a good drum set. While it is hard to actually describe a sound, there are some things that you could pay attention to. First of all, here are the signs of a low quality drum set you might want to avoid:
- A "muddy" sound. Some low-end drum sets produce loud, yet somehow saturated sound. That’s something that cannot be fixed. Instead, when listening to a good drum set, you should be able to hear a clear and well-defined sound. That means that every component of the set should be perfectly audible, even when two or more drums or cymbals are ringing at the same time.
- Secondly, the presence of any kind of hiss or any other kind of noise means that the drum set is probably not worth it. A budget drum set might lack in depth of sound, or it might not have any kind of fancy signature sound, but its beats should be perfectly audible, clear and tight.
A good example is the Millenium MX Jr. Junior Drumset. The MX is a budget drum set that is considered one of the best starters for a reason -- Its sound is minimalistic and simple, yet at the same time it has hands down the most clear and audible sound in the price category. It is meant for children under the age of 10.
The ideal drum set has crisp and crystal clear sound. Its kick drums are tight and loud, while its snare produces a short and edgy punch. Let’s move on to the next important aspect in our list:
Drums and cymbals are meant to be beaten, so it is a good idea to look for a sturdy and robust drum set. Most toms and kick drums come with plastic membranes, which does not affects their sound or durability. In fact, most high tier drums come in plastic as well. The only thing you should check is that the plastic is not pierced or damaged. Some delivery companies might not know how to handle drums properly.
Cymbals are thin metallic discs and they might break over time. Live performances are the place where cymbals tend to break the most. The reason is obvious – we tend to go hard on our drums under the influence of adrenaline. Live performances are obviously not the place where the drummer should stay calm, so that’s totally fine.
While it is good to have relatively thick and sturdy cymbals at your disposal, you can still use the cheapest ones for practice. Just make sure to not punch them too hard.
If you’re looking for a starter drum set that comes with decent cymbals, then you might want to check out the Millenium Millenium MX222BX Standard Set BK. This one is meant to be used by adults, and it is good enough to be used both for practice and on stage. It also comes with the needed accessories and double braced hardware.
Now, there is still more to it. Every part of the drum set is mounted separately. It is important to know the quality of these mountings before you buy the drum set. Double braced hardware tends to last way longer than single braced one.
While a drum set is basically a snare, a kick drum, a couple of cymbals and three toms, you need way more in order to be able to play it. We are talking about sticks, mountings, cases and a stool (called drum throne).
Buying those accessories individually might be a daunting task; therefore it might be a good idea to purchase an all-in-one kit. For instance, the Millenium MX120 Starter Drumset is a good starter drum set that has everything included. You can start using it right of the box.
Finally, there are some drum sets that come with only one tom. While this does not make them unplayable, the absence of the other two toms greatly limits your learning potential. Therefore, you might want to get a drum set with at least two toms.
In this guide, we have covered what we believe are the most important things you should look for in a drum set. Of course, there are professional sets that cost thousands of dollars, but they might be too much to be just a starter. Hopefully, you are now able to purchase a decent drum kit without breaking the bank.