Drummers have been the heart of bands for centuries. Drums themselves are the earliest musical instruments. Later on, in the 1700s, drum sets became a standard for orchestras.
Becoming a drummer takes time, effort, and most importantly, a bit of money. There are tons of options for new drummers out there. This sounds great, but new drummers might feel overwhelmed by choice.
Your first drum set should give you a nice balance between cost and quality. A hefty price tag can stop a drumming career before it even begins. Meanwhile, lousy drums can crush your confidence.
If you’re looking for how to choose your first drum set, you’ve come to the right place!
Like anything, drumming has some unique jargon to know before we go any further. This will help you make sense of everything when you go out to buy your kit.
Parts of a Drum Set
To start off, we’ll go over the names of the different parts of drum sets. This will add context when you’re at a music store.
In a standard drum kit, there are five drums. These are all the drums you’ll need to get started. The five drums are:
- The bass drum is the big center drum that sits on the floor.
- Rack toms are perched on top of the bass drum. In a five-piece set, you’ll have two of these in different sizes.
- The floor tom is a larger version of the rack toms that give a low boom. Floor toms are on legs and are usually on the right side of the kit.
- The snare drum is made of metal and has snares (hence the name) at the bottom. Snare drums are on the left opposite the floor tom.
Besides drums, you’ll also need cymbals. Cymbals will become a personal preference as a drummer becomes more experienced. To get started though, you’ll only need a couple.
- Hi-Hats are the two most important cymbals. They sit together on a stand next to the snare drum.
- Ride cymbals are for keeping rhythm with a bigger sound than hi-hats. In a standard kit, you’ll have one of these above the floor tom.
- Crash cymbals are for giving a sharp crash in a transition, solo, or fill. Out of all the cymbals, this will be the loudest.
- Crash/ride cymbals are hybrid cymbals that are common in beginner kits. These reasonably priced cymbals give beginners the best of both worlds while they gain confidence.
When you’re buying a drum set, you’ll hear hardware tossed around a lot. It’s a vague term that encompasses everything a drumset needs to function, save the drums themselves. This is a key term to know because it tells you what you are (or are not!) getting with your drums.
Some examples of hardware would be cymbal stands, kick pedals, and drum thrones. Pretty much if it’s not a drum or a cymbal, it falls into the hardware category.
When you’re looking for a beginner drum set, look for kits with the hardware included! Drum sets that don’t include hardware will likely be shell packs which are just the drums.
As you grow as a drummer, you may branch into being in a band, which is a great move! Drummers are always in short supply, so don’t be surprised if you’re in a few.
When you go off to gigs, you’ll be told to bring your breakables if there’s a kit at the venue. These will be the bits of a kit that are easily broken and/or involve personal preference. Breakables are your cymbals, snare, and kick.
Types of Drum Sets
There are two different types of drum sets to choose from. These two types are electric and acoustic. Each one has its pros and cons depending on your situation.
These drum sets are going to be your best friend in a confined living situation like an apartment. These kits are quiet and have a small footprint.
In addition to their compact size, these kits are low maintenance since they don’t need to be tuned. These kits also give you total control over the sound of your drums with the click of a button!
These are great kits for starting out, especially if you need to keep the volume down. That said, there are some downsides that we’ll go over quickly!
The biggest downside of electric drum sets is that they’re not great for playing live. While it can be done, acoustic kits give a better sound for live shows that really can’t be replicated.
Another con that will come later is that the preset tones can be a curse as you progress as a drummer. Tuning can be tough for a beginner. However, experienced drummers will want to experiment with tuning to find their sound.
Overall, electric drum kits are good for anyone who is just starting out. Since they’re cost-effective with easy maintenance, they’ll be a great way to learn. Just keep in mind you may grow out of them as you progress.
Acoustic sets are what you probably think of when faced with buying your first drum set. These kits are going to be large and in charge and are best suited for a detached house. You want to make sure that you’re not getting noise complaints with every practice!
Acoustic kits offer a real feel and complete control over the tone and tune of the drums. While the maintenance can be a headache for beginners, an acoustic kit can grow with you. Once you have the hardware, you can mix add and subtract easily.
If you see playing in a band in your future, definitely put some thought into investing in an acoustic set. Bands typically depend on their drummer having their own kit. Additionally, even if a venue has a house kit, it’s expected that a drummer brings their own breakables.
All that said, there are some cons to acoustic kits. Chief among the cons is that they’re loud. Even when you’ve got mutes, if you’re in close quarters, the sound will still travel.
Acoustic drums also take up a fair bit of space which makes them hard to move. All in all, acoustic kits aren’t great for apartments, especially if you move regularly.
Acoustic Drum Set Buying Tips
Buying an electric drum set is a pretty easy one and done. Acoustic drum sets, on the other hand, give you a bit more to worry about. For this reason, we’ll go over a couple of things to keep in mind in your search for your first drum set.
If you’ve decided on electric drums, don’t worry! We’ve got a buying guide for those in this article as well!
For beginner drummers of any age, a complete kit is the least hassle. These days there are tons of great options for complete kits.
Complete kits are an affordable way to get hardware and breakables included. These drum sets will be ready to play from the get-go. Typically these kits will include four or five drums, hi-hats, a crash/ride, and all your hardware.
When you pick out a complete kit, you’ll need to determine what kind of genre you’ll be playing the most. A good way to think about this is to think about your drumming icons. If you’re a big Tre Cool fan, your kit will look a little different from a Jerry Granelli fan’s kit.
Jazz is characterized by soft, smooth vibes with steady drums. For this reason, jazz drum sets are usually four-piece sets with shallow drums. These smaller drums will give a smaller sound best suited for higher tunings.
Because pop comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, you’ll need a versatile kit. The best drum sets for pop will be a five-piece drum set with standard-sized drums.
If you’re shopping for your kid, you might want to consider a versatile five-piece kit. We all know kids change their minds a lot. This will give them the most room to grow into themselves as a drummer.
You’ll find that a kit geared towards rock will have two floor toms. Most notably, John Bonham from Led Zepplin used this setup. The dual floor toms give a strong boom best suited for rock and hard rock.
If you’re an experienced drummer looking to switch up your sound, try adding a shallow floor tom to the mix!
One of the biggest things that can change the sound of a drum set is the materials. The main thing for drummers who are starting out is to get a drum set to play that sounds good. Drummers who are looking to upgrade, on the other hand, will want to look into different materials.
The wood your shells are made with makes a huge difference in your sound overall. While this includes different types of wood, it also includes the thickness of the wood.
As a general rule, heavier ply drums will like a higher tuning. Lower ply drums will like a lower tuning. This preference will come with time and a firm grasp on your musicianship.
There are four main types of wood used in drum making. Each one differs slightly in tone.
- Poplar is used in entry-level drums. Poplar is a good cost-effective wood that serves its purpose of finding out if you like drumming. Most complete kits will be made from poplar.
- Maple drums are a great option to improve your overall sound. They’re a sensible upgrade from poplar drums for intermediate drummers.
- Birch drums give a punchy high sound. These drums are great for giving you that added bit of projection.
- Mahogany drums are going to give you bigger low tones. These will be pricier but will give you a warm full sound to your drums.
Just like how the wood alters the sound of other drums, the metals in a snare will do the same. Snare drums and cymbals are usually the first things for which a drummer gains a preference. As a beginner becomes more familiar with their drum kit, they may want to upgrade.
When you’re looking into snare upgrades, you’ll notice four main types of metal are used.
- Steel is the all-purpose metal within the drum world. Steel has a place in almost every genre. They give a bright sound that can be switched up with different heads.
- Aluminum snares are the most popular snare drums. They offer less sustain than other metals with a clear sound. These drums are perfect for any experience level.
- Brass and copper will be something more advanced drummers may want to look into. Brass will give a pronounced sound so your drumming makes a statement. Copper, on the other hand, is good for low tuning and a warm sound.
Buying a Used Drum Set
Depending on your budget, you may want to look for used drum sets. Finding quality used drum sets is easier than it sounds. People get rid of their drums for a lot of reasons and a lot of the time they’re in great shape.
If you are looking at a set of used drums, you’ll want to check a couple of things before any money changes hands. You want to make sure you’re getting good drums.
- Make sure drum shells are not cracked. Drum heads will likely need to be replaced, but you’ll want the shells in good condition.
- Check that the hardware isn’t worn down too much (ie, stripping on threading). A bit of wear and tear is okay, just remember you may need to replace them.
- Verify that the cymbals are intact. Just like a windshield, a cracked cymbal will crack more. Cymbals are an expensive investment, so you don’t want them breaking on you too early.
Buying Your First Drum Set New
Since we’ve gone over acoustic in-depth, we’ll give you a quick recap.
- look for complete sets where possible.
- start out with entry-level equipment like poplar shells and an aluminum snare.
- Pick out a kit that accommodates your desired genre.
- Make sure you get hardware with your drums!
Now, we also mentioned electric drums. If you’re in a confined living space, electric drum sets will be your go-to!
Electric drums start out around the 500-dollar range and have minimal setup. If you decide to go with electric drums, you’ll only have to invest in headphones or a small amplifier. Drum sets like the Alesis Nitro Mesh even come with drumsticks!
Start Drumming Today!
Buying your first drum set is as exciting as it is nerve-wracking. With this guide, you’ll know what to look for in your new kit. A good drum set will give you or your child the confidence to become the best drummer they can be!
If you need some help with your drumming, let us help! Book some lessons here!