During the first year of my drum-playing life, I lived with my mother in a three-story apartment building that was not particularly conducive to any sort of loud noises. This of course boded terribly for the functionality of an actual drum set, so as a substitute during those first twelve months, a combination of phone books, pillows, and a Remo practice pad served as my stand-in first drum set.
Please don’t in any way take that as an endorsement of such a make-shift approach to early equipment purchase decisions. What I will say, however, is that in the preliminary stages of learning how to play the drums, the process is so much more about developing fine motor control and coordination than it is about the actual sound produced by the instrument. It is about getting our bodies accustomed to a kind of motion they may not previously have been accustomed to. So in deciding on a beginner drum set, the most essential factors should really be its durability (this kit is bound to take a beating), its sizing (small enough to be comfortable for a younger student, but not so small that they quickly outgrow it, or become overly accustomed to too compact a setup) and its affordability.
The Ludwig Breakbeats by Questlove is a great example on all of those counts, and adds a flashy look and surprisingly quality sound to match. If I were doing it all again, that would be my first choice:
**As a warning, for many online purchases, you will also need to buy cymbal and snare stands. Anything that says “Shell Pack” will only include the drums themselves. I stand by Yamaha hardware pretty consistently, but anything will do.
More generally speaking, sets made by Ludwig, Yamaha, Tama, Pearl, Gretsch, or PDP are going to tend to give you the best level of quality/durability. Others, like CB or Sound Percussion tend to be a good deal flimsier, and may not be your most worthwhile option. Of course, you can also always swing by your local music store and ask about their beginner kits, though more often than not pricing will be more cost effective online (a lesson I learned unfortunately late in the process).
Of course, if none of these options seem viable for the time being, a practice pad (Vic Firth and Remo both make great options) are both an excellent way to dive into studying, at least for the most preliminary phase. They won’t be a perfect substitute forever, but they are certainly better than nothing!
Hope this was all helpful, and happy hunting!
Courtesy of Nate M. – Nate is an experienced drummer, bassist, guitarist, pianist and composer with over ten years of performance and recording experience, eight years of professional work in the field of music education, and a knack for memorizing the release dates of his favorite albums. A graduate from the Wesleyan University Music Department, Nate has extensively studied performance and composition in a variety of genres, most notably Jazz, Soul, Funk, Rock, Classical, Pop, Experimental, Musical Theatre, and Taiko Drumming.