Beginners Guide to Buying a Drum Kit

Contributed by Roland UK Team

drumBuying your first drum kit

There’s nothing as exciting as buying new gear. This is especially true when you’re first starting to play an instrument. But for aspiring drummers, it can feel like there’s a lot to learn before you even pick up a set of sticks. With so much choice, you can – and should – get a kit that’s just right for you. What’s more, starting off with the right gear will help you achieve your goals more quickly. To make life easier, we’ve made this three-minute guide to buying a drum kit. It’ll fill you in on the basics and help you choose a set-up that works for you.

The basic five-piece drum kit

Drum kits can vary. Anything from the most simplistic two-piece ‘kick and snare’ setup (cymbals and hi-hats are not traditionally counted as ‘pieces’) to the most expansive eight- or nine-piece setups. Mostly these extra pieces are tom-toms (also known as ‘toms’). The kick drum and snare drum are a staple of every drum kit. Most drummers, however, will start out with a five-piece drum kit. This gives you plenty to practise and play with and it won’t confuse you with too many bells and whistles either. Here’s what’s involved:

Drums

  • Kick drum (also called bass drum)
  • Snare drum
  • Two rack toms
  • Floor tom
An acoustic five-piece drum kit does not usually come with any cymbals. You’ll have to accessorise with some extras. For a basic set-up you might add:

Cymbals

  • One hi-hat
  • One ride cymbal
  • One or more crash cymbals
The size and shape of a cymbal, as well as the type of metal used, give the cymbal its signature sound. There’s a huge variety of cymbals available – all with their own unique tone and feel. So, a five piece kit with three cymbals is a solid first kit and gives you everything you’ll need to master the basics. This applies  across a variety of styles. Buying a drum kitRemember floor space and size A full-sized drum kit can take up a lot of space, and when you’re setting up be prepared for things to spread out a bit. You’ll be surprised how far a kick/bass drum can travel in one practice session. You also might want to mention to your partner or family that you’re buying a drum kit. It’s best to stand close to the front door for this part, preferably wearing a crash helmet. If you’re short on space, electronic kits can help. They have a smaller footprint than acoustic kits so they can easily squeeze into the corner of your room or your home studio. What’s more, they’re easy to assemble and dismantle so you can put them away and get your room back when you’re not rehearsing. They’re also easier to take out and about for band practice or gigs.

Discovering ‘your’ sound

Getting the right sound is the most exciting part of buying and setting up your new drum kit. The physical size of your drums (shell diameter and shell depth) will affect the sound.  The material that they’re made from will also make a difference. Interestingly, different types of drums are better suited to different types of music. For example, acoustic drums are made of different woods:
  • Maple – Slightly boosted lows with smooth mid and high frequencies. Known for resonant or ‘open’ tones which are also bright yet warm
  • Birch – Boosted high frequencies, and a strong low-end punch. Known for great attack and darker tones
  • Mahogany – Extremely rich low-end frequencies, with beautifully smooth mids: ideal for styles requiring ultimate ‘bottom’ and punch, with plenty of attack
With such a wide variety of sounds and pieces available, acoustic drummers will often build up a collection of extras for their basic kit.They will swap individual components in and out as required. As they learn more and broaden their horizons, they can add to their kit with new toms, cymbals and sticks. If you start off with an electronic drum kit, you’ll be able to:
  • Play hundreds of drum sounds, covering maple kits, birch kits, metal kits and even more. The modules on electronic kits come loaded with a variety of drum kits and sounds so you can change musical genres at the touch of button
  • Use an in-built metronome (or ‘click’) to help with your timing
  • Play along with songs or plug in your own MP3 player
  • Adapt your kit whenever you want: an electronic kit is flexible and can grow with you as you develop, so you can customise your kit without shelling out on new gear
Recommended Article: Should I Learn on an Electronic or Acoustic Drum Kit?

Choose a kit that can grow with you

Like any instrument, a drum kit is an investment. It’s worth investing in quality, so be prepared to buy the best drumkit you can afford. Buy a kit that feels great to play and best suits your needs. Also, think about a drum kit that’s flexible enough to grow with you as you become a more experienced drummer. Electronic drum kits offer a wealth of drum kits straight out of the box. You won’t have to spend money on extras as you start experimenting with new sounds.

Practice makes perfect

If you’re going to be the next John Bonham, Lars Ulrich or Dave Grohl, you’ll have to practise like the clappers. Unfortunately, if you live with housemates or your family, they probably won’t be blown away by listening to four hours of double stroke rolls every night. If you’re playing an acoustic kit, you could consider soundproofing your room or garage. You can also try playing with brush sticks or just giving out ear plugs to anyone within a 200 metre radius… Alternatively, practising on an electronic kit is way quieter. Because you can plug in headphones, you can rock out like you’re on stage and the rest of the house won’t even notice. Many electronic kits also boast helpful practice functions like a mix input for playing along to your favourite tracks. There’s also a built-in metronome to help your timing or even an onboard rhythm coach, which analyses your playing and shows where you need to work harder.

Try before you buy

It’s classic advice. Before you invest in a new drum kit, make sure you play it. Any retailer worth their salt will encourage you to sit down behind a kit and experiment before committing. You’ll be spending a lot of time behind your new kit, so make sure you’re comfortable, and that the kit sounds right and most importantly, feels right. And ultimately, practising and playing are what it’s all about. If you can find a drum kit that sounds great, feels great, is fun to play and makes you want to practise, you’ll become a better drummer in no time. Just ask Dave Grohl.

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