In the world of drums and drumming, there is no shortage of variety when it comes to percussive instruments. There is a staggering array of various types of drums and percussion instruments, each with their own distinctive sound and rich history. From drum sets in popular and contemporary music to more obscure percussion heard in cultural and indigenous music, drums are a critical component of any ensemble, laying the rhythmic foundation upon which the harmony and melody are built.
What Makes up a Standard Drums Set?
In most Western, contemporary music, including rock, folk, jazz, and pop styles, you’ll find acoustic drum sets dominate the types of drums used. Because these drum sets are acoustic, they do not require amplification and the size and set up often vary from musician to musician. Depending on the style of music, drummers will often tailor their kits to fit the sound and volume of the band. Drum kits will come with a combination of drums including bass drum, tom toms, and snare.
Beyond the drums themselves are the hardware and cymbals. Most drum kits will also have a hi-hat, ride, and crash cymbals, as well.
Understanding the Parts of a Modern Drums Set
Modern drum kits are composed of several pieces. Not every piece is required and drum kits will vary in size and scope. Beyond the standard pieces commonly found in most kits, there are countless optional drums, percussion, and accessories like tambourines, bells and chimes that can adorn the periphery of any set, either mounted or stand alone.
The bass drum, or kick drum, is a large deep sounding drum that sits on the floor and is played with a foot pedal that produces the impact to generate sound.
Tom toms are smaller than the kick drum and produce a higher pitch. Rack mounted toms sit mounted atop the bass drum, while a floor tom has legs attached to sit on the floor. Tom toms will vary in pitch depending on their size and depth, with the floor tom being the deepest sound.
The snare is generally held by its own snare stand and mount and produces a sharp high pitched sound produced from wires held by tension under the lower skin.
Cymbals are not considered drums, but rather idiophones. Cymbals like the hi-hat, ride, and crash, are commonly found as part of every drum set. The sound is created by vibrating the entire metal dish.
Types of Drums & Their Differences
Outlining all the various types of drums in existence today would be nearly impossible. Beyond production model drum sets and accessories, unique drum sets from around the world, hand made percussion instruments and improvised drums are quite common as well.
Rock Drum Kits
In most rock music, it’s important to have a drum kit capable of providing the sheer power and volume necessary. Most rock kits will have a bass drum, 3 tom toms, a snare drum, and a combination of cymbals that will likely include a hi-hat, ride, and crash cymbal.
The bass drum in a rock drum kit will usually be a bit bigger than that of other genres, measuring around 22 inches in diameter and 18 inches in depth. This will help produce the volume and power necessary to project through the other instruments. The tom toms will measure 12, 13, and 16 inches in diameter, and a snare drum commonly around 14 inches.
Fusion Drum Kits
Fusion drum sets tend to be extremely versatile and can include any number of styles, combining elements of rock, jazz, folk, and world music. The overall drum set tends to have the same number of pieces as a rock drum set, but each being slightly smaller in size.
In fusion drum kits, the tom toms typically measure 10, 12, and 14 inches, with a bass drum around 20 or 22 inches in diameter. The smaller size will not produce the same kind of volume or power as a typical rock set, but will benefit from greater sonic versatility to blend into most styles seamlessly.
Jazz Drum Kits
Jazz kits are not equipped to produce heavy power and loud volumes, but are typically extremely responsive due to the shallow depth of the drums. While the tom toms will likely measure the same size in diameter as that of fusion drum sets, the depth will be more shallow. The bass drums will measure around 14 inches in depth, compared to 18 inches in depth of bass drums found in fusion or rock sets. These shallow drums will produce natural, bright sounds compared to the deeper tones of rock and fusion drums.
Electronic Drums Kits
Electronic drum sets are a great alternative if noise reduction is critical. Electronic drum sets send and receive electronic signals through the drum head when struck by the drumstick. Electronic drum heads are sensitive to the force with which they are struck and respond dynamically much like an acoustic drum would behave. Electronic drums may have a variety of unique, experimental sounds not possible with acoustic sets.
Drums Used in Classical Music
In classical music, several types of drums are typically found that include the bass drum, tenor drum and side drum, all of varying sizes that produce a range of sounds from deep tones to higher pitched sounds, and struck with drum sticks or mallets. Side drums are just like snare drums with the snare disengaged.
Tympani sets, also called kettle drums, are massive drums that stand alone on the floor and are played with mallets. Orchestral percussionists will likely also play xylophones, marimbas, wind chimes, glockenspiels, and gongs as part of their wheelhouse of instruments.
Percussion Instruments and Drums From Around the World
Many different types of drums and percussion instruments are found in difficult cultures and continents around the world, and are used in everything from indigenous music to contemporary classics.
The Djembe is a tall goblet drum originally from West Africa. The djembe is skin covered, tuned by ropes and played by bare hands.
Also from West Africa, the Talking Drum is an hourglass shaped drum that can mimic the tone of human speech. The talking drum has two drum heads connected by leather tension ropes that the player will squeeze to change the pitch.
Originally from Cuba and found in Afro-Cuban music, Congas are tall, single-headed drums played by hand. Congas are classified into three types depending on their pitch- highest, middle, and lowest.
Bongos are small, open-bottom Afro-Cuban drums that often come in varying sizes. Bongos produce a higher pitched sound compared to their Afro-Cuban relatives, the Congas and Timbales.
Timbales were developed in Cuba as a counterpart to the tympani. Timbales are very shallow, metal-cased drums struck with wooden sticks that are much shallower and tuned much higher than tom toms of comparable size.
The Cajon is a box shaped wooden drum from Peru that is played by hand, brushes, mallets and sticks striking the front or back face of the instrument..
The Tabla is twin hand drums of different sizes originally from India and made of hollowed out wood, clay, or metal. The tabla can be found in everything from Hindustani classical music to Indian folk.
How Much Do Drums Sets Cost?
Drums and drum sets can range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The cost can be influenced by any number of factors that include the craftsmanship of the drum shells, drum heads, hardware, cymbals and included pieces, brand, and number of pieces.
A children’s drum set may cost between $200-$400 and include all the necessary hardware and cymbals for a complete set. The quality may not be very high, but the inclusion of all the pieces make it easy for a young person to learn to play the drums without spending too much.
An amateur drum set may cost between $500-$1000. These sets may or may not come with hardware and cymbals, and could require the purchase of additional hardware and drum heads to complete the set.
A professional drum kit may cost several thousand dollars depending on what is included. Most professional drummers will purchase a shell pack with specific hardware, and add additional hardware, drums, and cymbals to complete their set.