How to Set Up a Drum Set in 7 Easy Steps

One of the main frustrations for beginners is how to set up a drum set.

Here’s the thing: if drums aren’t set up correctly your kit won’t play as well, and you may even run the risk of injuring yourself in the long run.

So here’s an easy step-by-step guide to setting up the parts of a typical five-piece drum set the right way.

Step 1: Set Your Throne Height

The first and arguably the most important step is adjusting your drum stool or ‘throne’ to the correct height.

Believe it or not, getting the right height for your throne is crucial, as it helps to distribute your body weight evenly to get maximum playability from your kit – correct seating position reduces the risk of drum related injuries.

  • If your seat is too low, you’ll be hunched over the kit, and the angle between your shins and ankles becomes tighter. Resulting in your legs starting to ache after a few minutes playing. Worse still, over the course of a few months, you’ll risk a long-term injury.
  • If your seat is too high, you’ll lose the ability to make contact with the pedals properly and your playing will sound sloppy. Having your seat too high also puts extra pressure on your core stomach muscles, which can feel uncomfortable as they strain to balance your body on the stool.

So what you need to do is position the drum stool so that your thighs nearly parallel to the floor, with your knees just below the tops of your legs and your feet flat on the ground. With time and practice, your ankle and leg joints will likely become more flexible so you can keep adjusting your settings as you develop as a musician.

 

Stool height at the throne

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Step 2: Position Your Snare

Next, focus on setting up the snare, the most versatile instrument in the drum kit as it can create completely different tones depending on where you strike, how hard you hit and how it’s been tuned.

Above all, the most important aspect to consider is the angle and height of the snare. You want it set to a height that allows you to hit along both the rim and the center of the skin while it sits between your legs.

This ensures you can get maximum diversity of tone coming through in your sound. Most of the time the perfect height is somewhere around your navel, but it can be adjusted if you find it too low or high to hit comfortably.

height of snare drum

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A Word About Snare Angle

When it comes to the snare’s angle, there is no perfect choice, it simply depends on your style of playing.

For example, some, like Nico McBrain of Iron Maiden prefers his set flat, whereas others prefer them tilted towards them.

Tilting the snare towards you can help if your setting up the kit for a child, or if you’re a petite adult, as it reduces the gap between the snare and hi-tom, so you won’t have to stretch as far.

Others argue that having the snare positioned flat helps the musician to keep the wrists in a neutral position and prevents muscle strain. So it can be a better option for keeping a good technique.

Step 3: Anchor the Bass Drum

This is the largest instrument in your kit and produces the lowest, booming note of all the units.

Because of its size, it usually lies on the floor, supported by two legs. You can usually adjust the legs with the wing-nut mechanism so that they provide enough support to stop it moving when it is hit.

It should be positioned very slightly to the right of your stool if you are right-handed and to the left, if you are left-handed. Eventually, its placement should mirror the hi-hat.

Jimmy-Degrasso-Druming-2

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It’s also important to consider the distance between bass drum and throne, as that will dictate playability.

For example, if you place it very close to your legs, you end up creating a tighter angle within the joints of your knees and ankles, so you’ll feel your legs aching after a short time playing.

On the other hand, if you place it too far away from your feet, you’re not going to be able to maneuver the pedal effectively and you’ll sacrifice some technique.

check angle of knees

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Step 4: Attach the Bass Pedal

Next, attach the bass drum pedal to the batter side of the drum. Most manufacturers include a hoop protector which is a small piece of plastic that protects the hoop. It’s important that the hoop is guarded, as the pedal’s clamp mechanism can be pretty tough and will easily damage it if it’s not in place.

drum hoop protector

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Clip your bass pedal to the center of the protector like you see below:

Bass-Drum-Pedal

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Setting Up Correct Tension

You’ll also need to set up the pedal with the correct tension, so simply adjust the tightness of the spring responsible for launching the beater. The spring is usually found to the right side of the pedal (depending on the type).

The best way approach is to try the pedal out before adjusting the tension. For example, if you have to apply a lot of pressure when pressing your foot down, or if the pedal is a little over-responsive, then you’ll need to loosen the spring to make it slacker.

If it feels very soft when you press down or slightly unresponsive, you should gradually tighten the spring to get the control back. Overall, a bass pedal’s set up is entirely dependent on personal preference, so have a play about with the tension until your feet feel most comfortable.

Step 5: Set Up the Hi-Hats

The hi-hats are made up of two identical cymbals, which are placed side by side and mounted on a stand.

The two cymbals can either be clashed together using a foot pedal (which is connected to the base of the stand) or played by hitting the cymbals with sticks.

person playing hi-hat

Image Source / CC BY 2.0

In terms of spacing, if you’re right-handed, then you should place the hi-hat to the left of your snare, whereas you should position it to the right if you’re left-handed.

Remember, that the hi-hats should be far enough away from your body so that your arm’s maneuverability is not compromised, and that it should be close enough that you don’t need to stretch and strain to reach it.

The height you set the hi-hats to is probably the most important choice here:

  • Your dominant hand usually plays the hi-hats, while the weaker one hits the snare, therefore you’re going to be crossing your sticks over one another fairly often.
  • Therefore, if your hi-hat is very short, your right hand will end up blocking your left one when you try to hit the snare.
  • On the other hand, if the hi-hat is standing too tall you end up sacrificing your playability, as you struggle to reach the center of the cymbals. In turn, your tone becomes less refined as you hit the outer edge of the cymbals with your sticks.

In most cases, the best height for hi-hats to be set is around 6-8 inches above the top of your snare.

Hi-Hats Spacing

If we take a closer look at the hi-hats’ cymbals, there are two ways you can play them using the foot pedal, either ‘open’ or ‘closed’.

  • When the cymbals are played closed, both are pressed together for a shorter, sharper sound.
  • When played open, the top cymbal is raised so that it hits against the bottom one, creating a washy sound with plenty of sustain.

But before even setting up the cymbals, remember to make sure the legs of the stand are properly spread out and tightened into place so that you have a sturdy base in place.

Next, no matter which technique of hi-hat playing you use, you should make sure that the top cymbal is positioned the correct distance away from the lower one. Make sure you secure the top cymbal in place by tightening the clutch mechanism above the cymbal.

Be aware that if you set the cymbals too close together whilst using the open method, you’ll find a dramatic reduction in their volume. On the other hand, if the cymbals are set too wide apart from one another, they won’t make contact, so you’ll just get the sound of the top hi-hat alone being produced when you hit it.

In regards to the hi-hats pedal, there is usually a tension spring which works in a similar way to the bass pedal we mentioned earlier, meaning you can add tension to the pedal’s spring to make it more responsive, or reduce the tension to make the pedal softer and easier to press with your foot.

Step 6: Bring in the Toms

Toms consist of one high and one mid tom that produces a deeper thud than the snare and has a longer decay time.

The high tom is the smaller of the two and produces a higher pitch boom compared to the mid tom. Both toms are usually held in place using a tom arm which is secured using a drilled-in mounting frame to the bass drum. Note that some don’t have drilled-in mounting frames. If yours doesn’t, you can clamp your toms to surrounding cymbal stands, mount them using a snare stand or rack system, or try out something like Pearl’s Optimount.

tom arm

If you’ve got a drilled-in one, do as follows:

  1. Find the mounting bracket at the top of your bass drum (where the tom mounting arm goes) and slot it into the bracket. Secure it in place using the wingnut.
  2. Next place both toms on the mounting arm and secure in place using the wingnuts present on each tom. The smallest of the toms should be hovering above the snare, with the mid tom at its side.
  3. You can now alter the height of the toms by adjusting the tom arm and tom mounting bracket.
  4. Tilt the toms towards yourself at an angle that allows you to hit both the outer rim and center of the skin.

Floor Tom

As the name suggests, the floor tom sits on the ground and is the largest of all the toms in the kit. It’s typically supported by three legs, which are attached via brackets surrounding the drum.

floor tom

Image Source / CC-BY 2.0

Seems straightforward right? Actually quite a few musicians secure the legs the wrong way through the brackets. Try to avoid it, as it means you don’t get as much flexibility when altering the tom’s height.

So, while setting up your floor tom, remember the brackets are placed at the bottom and attach to the legs so that they feed away from the tom’s body, rather than across it, therefore the tom’s tilt and height becomes more adjustable and they are more comfortable to play.

Bear in mind, there’s no totally correct way to position a floor tom, as long as you can reach both the rim and center easily with your stick, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Step 7: Introduce the Ride and Crash Cymbals

Finally, in addition to the hi-hats, we use ride and crash cymbals for a typical five-piece set.

In most cases, the ride should be placed above the floor tom, or mid tom, whereas the crash should go above the hi-hats and hi-tom.

positioning of ride and crash cymbals

Image Source / CC-BY 2.0

Once again, there’s no absolute rule regarding where you place the cymbal stands, more importantly, they should work with your style of playing and not obstruct the other hand from reaching any components.

Just remember, the ride is used to keep the song’s rhythm, in a similar way to the hi-hats, and that the musician usually hits the top of the cymbal with the tip of the stick.

Therefore, you should drop the ride’s height so that it’s low enough for you to hit properly, or tilt it towards you so you can strike the top of the cymbal – whichever you prefer!

On the other hand, the crash is used to accentuate parts of a song, so you should hit the edge of it with the body of the stick. That’s why you should make sure the crash is set higher than the ride – and that it lies flat, so you can easily hit its edge.

Other Hardware Tips

There are a couple more things you should remember to check before you start playing.

Firstly, make sure to tighten all the wingnuts on the stands and the bass drum’s mounting frame. Even though it may take a little extra time, it means you won’t experience any of your equipment slipping down while you play (the last thing you want to happen during a gig, as it’ll likely affect your technique or prevent you from hitting the kit properly).

Secondly, check that the bases of all your stands are secure. In other words, the legs of each stand are well spread out. It helps to distribute the instrument’s weight evenly across the floor and reduces the risk of it falling over when you hit it.

Summary

Well, we hope that’s given you a decent grasp of what it takes to set up a drum set. It’s a lot to take in at first, and practice makes perfect so bear with it. Before you know it you’ll have perfected the art and sounding awesome with it.

Good luck!


 

Ged Richardson

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He's a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band 'Django Mango' and a lover of all things music. When he's not ripping up and down the fretboard, he's tinkering with his '79 Campervan.