Drum kit

The drum kit
Drum KitBass drumChina cymbalSnare drumSnare drumFloor tomFloor tomSplash cymbalRide cymbalTomsHi-hatCrash cymbalDrum hardwareDrum hardware
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A drum kit — also called a drum set, trap set (a term using a contraction of the word, “contraption”), or simply drums — is a collection of drums and other percussion instruments, typically cymbals, which are set up on stands to be played by a single player,[1] with drumsticks held in both hands, and the feet operating pedals that control the hi-hat cymbal and the beater for the bass drum. A drum kit consists of a mix of drums (categorized classically as membranophones, Hornbostel-Sachs high-level classification 2) and idiophones – most significantly cymbals, but can also include the woodblock and cowbell (classified as Hornbostel-Sachs high-level classification 1).[2] In the 2000s, some kits also include electronic instruments (Hornbostel-Sachs classification 53). Also, both hybrid (mixing acoustic instruments and electronic drums) and entirely electronic kits are used.

A standard modern kit (for a right-handed player), as used in popular music and taught in music schools,[3][4][5] contains:

  • A snare drum, mounted on a stand, placed between the player's knees and played with drum sticks (which may include rutes or brushes)
  • A bass drum, played by a pedal operated by the right foot, which moves a felt-covered beater
  • One or more toms, played with sticks or brushes (usually three toms: rack tom 1 and 2, and floor tom)
  • A hi-hat (two cymbals mounted on a stand), played with the sticks, opened and closed with left foot pedal (it can also produce sound with the foot alone)
  • One or more cymbals, mounted on stands, played with the sticks

All of these are classified as non-pitched percussion, allowing for the music to be scored using percussion notation, for which a loose semi-standardized form exists for both the drum kit and electronic drums. The drum kit is usually played while seated on a stool known as a throne. While many instruments like the guitar or piano are capable of performing melodies and chords, most drum kits are unable to achieve this as they produce sounds of indeterminate pitch.[6] The drum kit is a part of the standard rhythm section, used in many types of popular and traditional music styles, ranging from rock and pop to blues and jazz. Other standard instruments used in the rhythm section include the piano, electric guitar, electric bass, and keyboards.

Many drummers extend their kits from this basic configuration, adding more drums, more cymbals, and many other instruments including pitched percussion. In some styles of music, particular extensions are normal. For example, rock and heavy metal drummers make use of double bass drums, which can be achieved with either a second bass drum or a remote double foot pedal.[7] Some progressive drummers may include orchestral percussion such as gongs and tubular bells in their rig. Some performers, such as some rockabilly drummers, play small kits that omit elements from the basic setup. Some drum kit players may have other roles in the band, such as providing backup vocals, or less commonly, lead vocals.

South African jazz drummer Louis Moholo playing a four-piece kit. One of the conventions of drum kit playing is that the number of "pieces" in a kit only counts the drums, not the cymbals or other percussion instruments.
Japanese heavy metal drummer Yoshiki's drum riser at Madison Square Garden


Early development

Prior to the development of the drum set, drums and cymbals used in military and orchestral music settings were played separately by different percussionists; if the score called for bass drum, triangle and cymbals, three percussionists would be hired to play these three instruments. In the 1840s, percussionists began to experiment with foot pedals as a way to enable them to play more than one instrument, but these devices would not be mass-produced for another 75 years. By the 1860s, percussionists started combining multiple drums into a set. The bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and other percussion instruments were all struck with hand-held drum sticks. Drummers in musical theater shows and stage shows, where the budget for pit orchestras was often limited, contributed to the creation of the drum set by developing techniques and devices that would enable them to cover the roles of multiple percussionists.

Double-drumming was developed to enable one person to play the bass and snare with sticks, while the cymbals could be played by tapping the foot on a "low-boy". With this approach, the bass drum was usually played on beats one and three (in 4/4 time). While the music was first designed to accompany marching soldiers, this simple and straightforward drumming approach eventually led to the birth of ragtime music when the simplistic marching beats became more syncopated. This resulted in a greater 'swing' and dance feel. The drum set was initially referred to as a "trap set", and from the late 1800s to the 1930s, drummers were referred to as "trap drummers". By the 1870s, drummers were using an "overhang pedal". Most drummers in the 1870s preferred to do double drumming without any pedal to play multiple drums, rather than use an overhang pedal. Companies patented their pedal systems such as Dee Dee Chandler of New Orleans 1904–05.[8] Liberating the hands for the first time, this evolution saw the bass drum played with the foot of a standing percussionist (thus the term "kick drum"). The bass drum became the central piece around which every other percussion instrument would later revolve.

William F. Ludwig, Sr., and his brother, Theobald Ludwig, founded the Ludwig & Ludwig Co. in 1909 and patented the first commercially successful bass drum pedal system, paving the way for the modern drum kit.[9] It was the golden age of drum building for many famous drum companies, with Ludwig introducing... "The ornately engraved" Black Beauty Brass Snare drum; Slingerland premiered its Radio King solid-maple shell; Leedy invented the floating drum head & self-aligning lug;& Gretsch originated the three-way tension system of the Gladstone snare drum".[10] Wire brushes for use with drums and cymbals were introduced in 1912. The need for brushes arose due to the problem of the drum sound overshadowing the other instruments on stage. Drummers began using metal fly swatters to reduce the volume on stage next to the other acoustic instruments. Drummers could still play the rudimentary snare figures and grooves with brushes that they would normally play with drumsticks.

20th century

Dance band drummer Stan Farmer in 1935 at Mark Foy's Empress Ballroom in Sydney, New South Wales, using a kit with bass drum pedal and a "low sock"
Drummer in a Memphis "juke joint" orchestra playing a kit with four non-tunable toms. Marion Post Wolcott, October 1939

By World War I, drum kits were often marching band-style military bass drums with many percussion items suspended on and around them. Drum kits became a central part of jazz music, especially Dixieland. The modern drum kit was developed in the Vaudeville era during the 1920s in New Orleans.[11] In 1917, a New Orleans band called "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band " recorded jazz tunes that became hits all over the country. These were the first official jazz recordings. Drummers such as Baby Dodds, "Zutty" Singleton and Ray Bauduc had taken the idea of marching rhythms, combining the bass drum and snare drum and "traps", a term used to refer to the percussion instruments associated with immigrant groups, which included miniature cymbals, tom toms, cowbells and woodblocks. They started incorporating these elements with ragtime, which had been popular for a couple of decades, creating an approach which evolved into a jazz drumming style.

Budget constraints and space considerations in musical theatre pit orchestras led bandleaders to pressure fewer percussionists to cover more percussion parts. Metal consoles were developed to hold Chinese tom-toms, with swing-out stands for snare drums and cymbals. On top of the console was a "contraption" tray (shortened to "trap"), used to hold items like whistles, klaxons, and cowbells, so these drums/kits were dubbed "trap kits". Hi-hat stands became available around 1926.[9]

In 1918 Baby Dodds (Warren "Baby" Dodds, circa 1898–1959), playing on riverboats with Louis Armstrong on the Mississippi, was modifying the military marching set-up and experimenting with playing the drum rims instead of woodblocks, hitting cymbals with sticks (1919), which was not yet common, and adding a side cymbal above the bass drum, what became known as the ride cymbal. Drum maker William Ludwig developed the "sock" or early low-mounted high-hat after observing Dodd's drumming. Ludwig noticed that Dodd tapped his left foot all the time. Dodds had Ludwig raise the newly produced low hats 9 inches higher to make it easier to play, thus creating the modern hi-hat cymbal.[12] Dodds was one of the first drummers to also play the broken-triplet beat that became the standard pulse and roll of modern ride cymbal playing. Dodds also popularized the use of Chinese cymbals.[13]

In 1919, US Congress passed a prohibition law outlawing the manufacturing and transporting of drinking alcohol. When drinking became illegal, it became popular in underground nightclubs. The type of music that was played at these underground establishments that were selling alcohol was jazz. It was not seen as upstanding to listen to or perform jazz music, because it was an African American style and at that time the United States was segregated and racism was an overtly prevalent issue. Because jazz music was seen as great dance music, big band jazz became popular in nightclubs. In the 1920s, freelance drummers emerged. They were hired to play shows, concerts, theaters, clubs and back dancers and artists of various genres. Just as modern drummers have many different roles, so did the drummers of the 1920s. One important role for drummers in the 1920s is what is referred to in modern times as a foley artist. During silent films, an orchestra was hired to accompany the silent film and the drummer was responsible for providing all the sound effects. Drummers played instruments to imitate gun shots, planes flying overhead, a train coming into a train station, and galloping horses etc.

Sheet music from the 1920s provides evidence that the drummer's sets were starting to evolve in size and sound to support the various acts mentioned above. However, the first "talkies" or films with audio, were released circa 1927 and by 1930 most films were released with a soundtrack and the silent film era was over. The downside of the technological breakthrough was that thousands of drummers who served as sound effect specialists were put out of work overnight. A similar panic was felt by drummers in the 1980s, when electronic drum machines were first released.

Big Band drumming

Gene Krupa was the first jazz drummer to lead his own big band (1946)
Louis Bellson with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the Palomar Supper Club. Vancouver, B.C., 19 April 1952

In 1929, when the stock market crash resulted in a global depression, one of the things that helped people cope with the trying years was swing jazz music. By the early to mid 1930's, big band swing was being embraced throughout the US, becoming the country's most popular form of music. The other contributing factor to the big band's success during the 1930s was the popularity of radio. The drum kit played a key role in the big band swing sound. Throughout the 1930s Chick Webb and Gene Krupa at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, increased the visual and musical driving force of the drummer and their equipment by simply being so popular and in demand- and they ensured that their drum kits became not only functionally developed but dazzling and well designed.[14] Jazz drummers were influential in developing the concept of the modern drum kit and extending playing techniques. Gene Krupa was the first drummer to head his own orchestra and thrust the drums into the spotlight with his drum solos.[citation needed] Others would soon follow his lead.

As the music of the world was evolving, so was the drum set. Tom-tom drums, small crash cymbals, Chinese cymbals and hi-hat cymbals were added to the drum set. The hi-hats were the primary way for the drummers of the big band era to keep time. Before 1930, while playing the New Orleans jazz and Chicago styles, drummers would choke the cymbals on the "ands" of eighth note figures as an alternative to playing a buzz roll, the rim of the drums, or on the woodblocks to keep time. This muting method of keeping time by choking the crash and china cymbals proved to be awkward, so the drummers of that time came up with the idea of having a foot-operated cymbal. This resulted in the creation of the snowshoe cymbal, a foot-operated cymbal. It enabled drummers to play the eighth note figures between the right and left foot, improving the ergonomics and facility of drumset playing and helping drummers to keep a more steady rhythm.

Toward the end of the 1920s, variations of the hi-hats were introduced. One of the most popular hand held hi-hat cymbal variations used was called the "hand sock cymbals". The reason for the name "hi-hat" was because earlier versions of the hi-hat were referred to as a "low boy". The evolution that became the "hi-hats" allowed drummers to play the two cymbals with drum sticks while simultaneously controlling how open or closed the two cymbals were with their foot. The pedal could also be used to play the cymbals with the foot alone, while the right hand played other drums. By the 1930s, Ben Duncan and others popularized streamlined trap kits leading to a basic four piece drum set standard: bass, snare, tom-tom, and a larger floor tom. In time, legs were fitted to larger floor toms, and "consolettes" were devised to hold smaller tom-toms (ride toms) on the bass drum.

Bebop drumming

In the early 1940s, many jazz musicians, especially African American jazz musicians, started to stray from the popular big band dance music of the 1930s. Their experimentation and quest for deeper expression and freedom on the instrument led to the birth of a new style of music based from Harlem called bebop music. Whereas swing was a popular music designed for dancing, bebop was a "musician's music" designed for listening. During the bebop era, given that bands no longer had to accompany dancers, bandleaders could speed up the tempo. Bebop was also much more based on improvisation, in comparison to the heavily arranged big band scores. Bebop musicians would take an old standard and re-write the melody, add more complex chord changes, resulting in a new composition.

Swing drummers such as Max Roach and Kenny Clarke had already deviated from the large marching band-style bass drums, finding that they were too loud and boomy. Bebop drummers continued this trend, and they started trying out smaller bass drum sizes in the drum set. Bebop drummers' experimentations with new drum sizes and new sounds led to the innovative concept of applying the busy "four on the floor" bass drum rhythms to a new larger cymbal called the ride cymbal. By focusing on keeping time on the new ride cymbal instead of the bass drum, the "feel" went from bass drum and hi-hat heavy, to a lighter melodic feel that has been explained as "floating on top of the time". This allowed drummers to express themselves in a more melodic fashion by playing the rhythms used by the guitar, piano and sax players using the new smaller, more focused bass drums and snare. Louie Bellson also assisted in the innovative sizes and sounds of the 1940s drum set by pioneering the use of two bass drums, or the double bass drum kit.

Rock drumming

John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, New York City, 1973

With rock and roll coming into place, a watershed moment occurred between 1962 and 1964 when the Surfaris released "Wipe Out", as well as when Ringo Starr of The Beatles played his Ludwig kit on American television. As rock moved from the nightclubs and bars and into stadiums in the 1960s, there was a trend towards bigger drum kits. The trend towards larger drum kits took momentum in the 1970s with the emergence of progressive rock. By the 1980s, widely popular drummers like Billy Cobham, Carl Palmer, Nicko McBrain, Phil Collins, Stewart Copeland, Simon Phillips and Neil Peart were using large numbers of drums and cymbals. In the 1980s, some drummers began to use electronic drums.

In the 2010s, some drummers use a variety of auxiliary percussion instruments, found objects, and electronics as part of their "drum" kits. Popular electronics include: electronic sound modules; laptop computers used to activate loops, sequences and samples; metronomes and tempo meters; recording devices; and personal sound reinforcement equipment (e.g., a small PA system to amplify electronic drums and provide a monitor).


On early recording media (until 1925[15]) such as wax cylinders and discs carved with an engraving needle, sound balancing meant that musicians had to be literally moved in the room.[15] Drums were often put far from the horn (part of the mechanical transducer) to reduce sound distortion. Since this affected the rendition of cymbals at playback, sound engineers of the time remedied the situation by asking drummers to play the content of the cymbals onto woodblocks, temple blocks, and cowbells for their loudness and short decay.[citation needed]

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