Drums can be a daunting instrument if you’ve never played a set before. Other instruments like guitars and keyboards are fairly simple to plug in and get playing whereas drum kits have several components to set up.
All the components work in conjunction and each one is as important as the other. So, it’s vital that you set the drum kit up properly. If you need to know how to set up a drum set, look no further than this guide.
I’ve always told all my students that unboxing your set is both the most terrifying and wonderful part of the whole process. It’s terrifying because it can become pretty overwhelming to see all these metal parts that you don’t know what to do with. It’s wonderful because it’s the first step of setting up your drumming journey.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just make sure to separate the drums from the hardware. Once that is done, it’ll be a bit easier to see what goes where. I’d suggest you don’t worry too much about setting anything up at this stage. Just make sure that you have all the parts you need. There should be a checklist that comes with most boxes of drums.
If you’ve bought a brand new drum set, it’s most probably come to you in tightly sealed boxes. To fit the drums in these boxes, companies will strip the shells down to fit them comfortably in the packaging. The first step would be to unbox the kit and separate all the shells, cymbals, and hardware.
Drum heads and drum rims typically won’t be attached to the drum shells in the boxes. You’re going to need to put them together.
To do this, find all the heads and rims that fit with the relevant shells and use a drum key to attach the drum head to each shell. Once you’ve attached all the drum heads, you’ll need to tune them. However, we’ll get to that part later.
The next step is to unpack all the hardware and cymbals and place them in an organized fashion so that it will be easy to access them when you need to. Think of setting up a drum kit the same way you’d build LEGO.
There may be some small screws and knobs lying around. These will most probably be used to connect small hardware parts to the drum shells.
Not all drum kits come in sealed boxes. If you buy a kit at a music store, they may just pack the kit into your car in all its pieces that are already set up. This eliminates the unboxing process and makes setting up a lot easier for beginners.
Hardware refers to all the metal parts that hold the drums and cymbals together. This means anything that looks like a stand and anything that holds toms in place. The hardware would have come in small deconstructed pieces in the box. Find all those pieces and get ready to connect their parts together.
The main pieces of hardware you’ll have are a hi-hat stand, crash cymbal stand, ride cymbal stand, snare stand, and drum throne. Some kits will come with more cymbal stands, allowing you to mount more cymbals.
Cymbal stands are fairly straightforward to figure out. You need to open up the tripod legs and then raise each section of the stand. This will work the same for the crash and ride cymbal stands.
If they are straight stands, that’s all you need to do. If they are boom stands, there’ll be an extra arm that you need to connect to the top.
The hi-hat stand is the most confusing piece of hardware to work with. It’s the stand that has a pedal between the 3 legs. There will be a short and thin rod that you need to screw into the top of the hi-hat stand. This rod will be raised up and down with the use of the pedal.
Next, set up the snare drum stand. It’s the small stand with a claw-like clamp that holds the snare drum. To set it up, you just need to open up the legs and open up the claws. You can tweak it later when putting the snare drum on it.
My number one piece of advice would be to raise all the stands to shoulder height when you’re sitting on the drum throne. This may seem a bit high for your cymbals. However, I suggest you do this as it’s easier to lower the stands once they have cymbals on than it is to raise them.
So, shoulder height is a good position to start with when placing the stands around the drums. Just make sure to do this with only the cymbal stands. The snare stand will need to be the height of your knees.
Finally, the drum throne is the thing that you sit on when playing drums. It will be the small stand with thick legs. There should be a seat that you attach to the stand. Attach it and you’ll be ready to start playing. It may be better to set this up first so that you have somewhere to sit when setting up the rest of the kit.
Once you’ve got all the hardware ready, you can move onto the drums.
Moving onto the stars of the show, the drums themselves. Since you’ve already connected all the drum heads and rims, you just need to place them.
Before placing the cymbal stands around the drums, I always encourage my students to play around on the drums to make sure that they’re feeling comfortable. You should do this as it will allow you to feel if certain drums are too far away from each other. It’s always better to position the drums comfortably before you set the cymbals up.
You could even play a few beats. See what you can come up with without having the hi-hat or ride cymbal. It will be harder than you think.
The first place to start will always be the bass drum. This is the biggest drum in the set. Place it on the floor in front of the drum throne. Make sure you have a good amount of space between you and the bass drum.
Get the pedal that came with the kit and attach it to the front of the bass drum. Drum pedals can get quite tricky to set up, but most basic ones are easy to just attach. If you want to change the tension of the pedal, there will be a spring that you can tighten somewhere near the base of it.
Place the snare drum stand that you set up earlier to the left of the bass drum pedal. It should stay close to your body but leave enough space for your legs to move comfortably.
Now, place the snare drum firmly in the claws of the stand. If you’re not sure which drum the snare is, it’s the shallow one that has snare wires on the bottom. With your bass drum and snare drum set up, you’re ready to place the rest of the kit around them.
The toms will mount to the bass drum with the use of tom arms. These are small pieces of hardware. Mount the smallest tom just above the snare drum and the middle-sized tom to the right of the smallest tom.
These are called your hi tom and middle tom. Find the thin metal legs and attach them to the floor tom. Place this tom to the right of the bass drum pedal.
Make sure that all the drums are placed close to each other. If they’re placed too far away, you’re going to use too much energy when playing. The closer they are, the easier it will be to play from drum to drum.
The final pieces of equipment to set up are the cymbals. A good way to plan their setup is to go around the drum kit. So, the first thing to do would be to set up the hi-hats. Get the hi-hat stand you set up earlier and place the bottom hat on the stand facing upwards.
Now, connect the included hi-hat clutch to the top hat. Once you’ve done that, put the top hat on the stand facing downwards. Press the pedal down and tighten the clutch so that there’s a small gap when you raise the pedal. Place the hi-hat to the right of the snare drum.
Get one of the cymbal stands and attach the crash cymbal to it. To attach it, you need to loosen the wing nut and take it off along with one of the cymbal felts.
Place the crash cymbal on the stand and make sure there’s another cymbal felt on the bottom of it. Once you’ve done this, place the first cymbal felt on top and then tighten the wing nut.
Repeat this process with the ride cymbal. Crash cymbals are typically placed to the left of the hi tom while ride cymbals are placed to the right of the floor tom. Place the cymbal stands there and make sure you can comfortably reach the cymbals when playing.
Remember how I said to place the cymbals at shoulder height? Now is the time to drop them to a height that is comfortable while not getting in the way of the drums. Some drummers like to position their cymbals incredibly high up. However, I wouldn’t advise doing that.
It’s a look that was popular during the 80s and 90s. Modern drummers have stopped doing it, and there’s a very good reason for it. The higher your cymbal stands are, the more tension you’re going to be putting on your shoulders.
I experienced this personally when a doctor told me I was straining my rotator cuffs from drumming. I knew immediately that it was because I was reaching too high to play the cymbals. So, the lower your cymbals are, the better it is ergonomically. Just don’t place them too low!
After you’re done setting up your kit, it’ll still require tuning before you can start playing. Most drum kits come with a drum tuning key, so you’ll need to make use of it to get the drums to sound better. You can also use a dedicated digital or analog drum tuner to make this process easier for you.
Each drum needs to be tuned slightly differently to achieve a variety of sounds. However, the basic idea is to turn all the lugs of the drum with the key until the drum head tightens. Tightening the heads will increase the pitch of their sound.
To get the entire drum kit in tune, you need to achieve similar tension levels across all the drums.
Tuning is a skill that takes years to develop. Another way to make the drums sound a bit better is to use muffling. This is when you put things on the drums to lower their sustain. A good place to start would be to just use some tape. It will make an immediate difference.
If this is your first drum kit, I strongly suggest that you resort to muffling first before attempting to tune the drums flawlessly. Tuning is something that I still struggle with even though I’ve been playing drums for years.
If the drum kit you have cost anywhere from $100 to $500, then muffling will always be the best option to go with before tuning. Drums in that price range generally don’t tune very well with the stock heads they come with.
Most drum kit setups are pretty standard. However, you’ll start to develop your own voice on the kit over time and in turn will start altering how your drums are set up.
Some drummers will have 10 rack toms while others won’t have any. It’s part of the journey of finding yourself as a musician.
It all starts with the setting up of your first drum kit. So, follow these instructions carefully and get to it. Playing drums is a great thing to do. Don’t let the fear of having to set a drum kit up stop you from doing it.