3 vs 4 vs 5 Piece Drum Sets – What’s Right for You?

Author: Brett Clur | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

One of the great things about being a drummer is developing your own taste and style over time. This will reflect in what you play, where you play, and how you play. Today, we’re going to have a look at what you play.

The main choice that drummers have most of the time is whether to play on a small or large kit. Each drum kit setup has its own pros and cons and some setups work better for certain people. Let’s discuss which setup will be right for you.

3-Piece Drum Set

A standard 3-piece drum set would have a snare drum, floor tom, and bass drum. It’s the ultimate minimalist drum kit setup, giving you just 3 drums to play on and create music with. There are two kinds of people that you’ll generally find playing this setup.

The first would be beginner drummers who have fashioned a small kit from secondhand parts. Doing this is a great way to learn some basic beats without spending loads of money on a new drum set. After all, you just need a bass drum, snare drum, and a pair of hi-hats to play most drum beats.

Once a beginner has played with this setup for a while, they may opt to add some toms or buy a new drum set to start playing seriously.

The second type of drummer that you’ll see using a 3-piece setup will be a professional gigging drummer. A pro drummer can do a lot with just 3 drums and some of them even love the challenge of being creative with little to play on.

However, they mostly use this type of setup because it means they won’t need to carry many drums when going to play gigs.

3-piece setups work extremely well for musical styles like hip-hop, drum and bass, electro, rap, and trap. Each one of these styles is extremely groove focused, meaning you don’t need many other drums as you won’t be playing drum fills.

These small setups are a great way to buy a high-quality kit at an affordable price. Since you’ll only be buying a snare drum, bass drum, and floor tom, you won’t be spending as much as you would on a bigger kit.

4-Piece Drum Set

Moving onto a larger setup, a 4-piece kit will either have a second floor tom or a mounted rack tom. However, the most common 4-piece setups have a single rack tom and a single floor tom.

This is arguably one of the most popular drum kit setups when it comes to professional drummers. Many pro players feel like they can play everything they need to with just two toms.

It’s not an ideal setup for beginners as many beginner drum books and courses encourage the use of a middle tom. This will make it very confusing for them to learn when they can’t play one of the notes that is on the sheet music. If you’re not planning on reading any sheet music, it won’t matter as much.

Stylistically, this setup works for most genres of music. It’s primarily known as the main setup for rock music. The 4-piece setup is also the main choice for jazz drummers.

The difference is that a rock setup will have a large bass drum while a jazz setup will have a smaller one. It just won’t work too well for gospel or metal as more toms are required in those settings.

One benefit of having only one rack tom is the ability to place your ride cymbal a bit closer to your body. This may feel a lot more natural to some drummers. When the ride cymbal is placed in the space that would typically be filled by a middle tom, it feels like you don’t need to reach as far to play it.

Similar to the 3-piece setup, the 4-piece setup is easy to transport around, as long as you don’t have too many cymbals.

5-Piece Drum Set

The 5-piece setup is everyone’s standard idea of what a drum kit is. A snare drum, two rack toms, a floor tom, and a bass drum. It has everything you need with some variety in tones between the toms. This setup works well for all levels of players.

Most entry-level drum kits come in this setup, meaning beginners will feel right at home. As said earlier, many beginner drum books and online lessons encourage the use of a middle tom when learning to play. So, having the middle tom will help immensely in the learning process.

Intermediate and advanced players will also feel at home with this setup. The great thing about have a 5-piece drum kit is that you can easily remove some drums to have a smaller setup. Having those extra drums available will just make you a bit more versatile.

With that being said, it seems like a 5-piece set would be the best option of the 3. However, it doesn’t work well in every situation. Most jazz drummers don’t play on 5-piece sets and you can’t buy a 5-piece set with a small bass drum. So, buying a 4-piece set with a small bass drum would be the only option for a jazz drummer.

It can also get pricey if you want to buy a high-quality kit. Overall, a 5-piece set would work well in most situations. You’d just need to check your budget and cater to the environment that you’re playing in.

Conclusion

There are many different setup options for you to choose from. Just because you only have 3 drums, doesn’t mean you can’t have 5 cymbals placed around them. It would technically still be a 3-piece setup.

The best thing to do would be to try every setup and get good at playing on all of them. It will make you a versatile drummer who is ready to take on every situation.

About Brett Clur

Brett has been drumming for almost two decades. He also helps his students get better at drumming. He can be found on Instagram (@brettclurdrums), where you can regularly catch glimpses of his drumming.

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