Demystifying the drum kit selection process
When it comes to setting up drums, whether you are unboxing your first kit, or victim to the 15 minute change-over as you take the stage of your local gigging spot, you need to have a firm grasp of the equipment you’re dealing with and the set-up to suit you.
The drum set evolved into the standard we see today in the 1920s, after various innovations from as early as 1909 when William F Ludwig Sr. developed the first bass drum pedal, allowing drummers to do the work of two of more percussion players. Since then, variations to the bass drum, snare drum, mounted tom and floor tom have become more evident.
Why the brief history lesson? Because the innovation of drummers and their set-ups over time often reflects their innovations as artists.
Drummers such as Ringo Starr, who boasted the classic four piece drum-set accompanied by two ride cymbals and a hi-hat, set a precedent for aspiring young drummers at the turn of the 60’s. It wasn’t long until drummers like Keith Moon and Ginger Baker were being engulfed by as many as five toms, two bass drums and an array of cymbals. What has followed are too many varying styles and set-ups to mention.
All about the angles
More important than your decision to add or subtract drums when performing – which can often depend on the style you’re playing – is the angle and positioning of both the drums and cymbals as well as your height on the stool and posture.
There are interesting examples of this in the set-ups of drummers like Keith Carlock and Daru Jones. Here are two examples of world-class players that play with drums angled away from them. This extends to the toms and cymbals and not just the snare drum synonymous with ‘trad’ gripped jazz players. Why do they choose to play this way? I’ve heard Daru Jones talk about his desire to “be unique and have a voice”, but it’s also important to note that physics and motion contribute massively to this choice and to the fluidity of the sound and style. The positioning of your drums directly affects your sound and warrants analysis.
To achieve good results when you strike a drum, two main things should happen. In order for a drum head and shell to work with you most efficiently, the stick should make contact with the centre of the head and instantly rebound; this is achieved by allowing the stick to bounce back upon contact, making sure downward force from your ‘throw down’ is equal and not greater than to the rebound that follows. Heavy hitters often try and play through the head, restricting the rebound of the stick and choking the skin preventing maximum resonance, this forces drummers to exert much more physical effort and can compromise a drum’s tone.
More relevant to this particular article, is the effect the angle of the drum has on your overall playing. It’s worth adhering to the notion that your drum stick should be as parallel to the drum head upon contact as possible. Rack mounted toms angled at 45 degrees with the player being sat ‘on top’ of the kit will prevent this just as much as said toms being angled drum head upward, with the drummer sat very low.
Take a look at drummers like Chris “Daddy” Dave, an innovator in his set-up as well as his drumming. His flat angled drums accommodate his formidable technique and playing style. Brian Fasier Moore achieves great speed and dexterity with shallow toms angled flat. His quick toms are very much integral to his sound, but his kit sizes also enable him to sit ‘on top’ of the drum set comfortably without having to compromise his seated position. Another interesting example is session great Ndugu Chancler, whose cymbals are set high and at 90 degree angles.
Although all of these player’s drum kits and playing styles vary greatly, there is synergy in their approach in achieving fluid tone and technique and efficient movement around the drums.
Based on the above it is worth noting that if you find yourself of a smaller stature, but the proud owner of a rock kick with a 24” bass drum and 13” mounted tom, like the late great John Bonham, this will limit the height and angle you can comfortably achieve. It will be up to you to decide how much you wish to imitate the greats that inspire you or innovate to accommodate your own style.
Manufacturers are creating products enabling us to accommodate any idea or innovation we have in achieving a comfortable set-up. A revolutionary example is remote pedals and hi-hat stands, enabling drummers to have complete freedom in the positions of foot controlled instruments and no longer adhering to the traditional cross-handed playing position.
As drummers, the pursuit of technique will greatly help us achieve the speed, power, control and endurance we need on this very physical instrument. Your set-up should not be overlooked and can often be the hurdle that is stopping you from taking that next step. Experiment, research and listen to your body!