What is a Drum Kit?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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A drum kit is the collective name for all of the drums, cymbals, bells and other percussion instruments used by a drummer during a performance. The actual components of a drum kit vary depending on the type of music performed and the drummer's personal preferences. Also known as a drum set, a typical drum kit contains a bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat cymbals, crash cymbals and tom-toms. Additional equipment may include bongos, mounted or unmounted tambourines, cowbells and specialized percussion instruments played by a second drummer or percussionist.

Perhaps the most prominent element of a standard drum kit is the snare drum. This drum is generally placed closest to the drummer's dominant hand and provides a driving 'backbeat' snap on the second and fourth beats of most rock and jazz songs. Stage technicians often wire a pick-up microphone close to the snare drum to give it even more presence during a performance. A series of springy wires called snares vibrate the bottom of the drum and enhance the sound even more.


The most noticeable drum in a standard drum kit is the bass drum, sometimes referred to as a kick drum. Early bass drums were indeed played by a drummer's swift kick, but now the drummer will employ a foot pedal to strike the back of the bass drum with a padded mallet. The bass drum may have a custom face advertising the name of the musical group since it is placed so prominently in the front of the drum kit. A bass drum provides a strong first beat, called the downbeat, and a driving syncopated rhythm in conjunction with the electric bass guitar.

There are at least three different styles of cymbals found in a standard drum kit. A drummer may use his weaker hand and foot to operate a hi-hat cymbal. A hi-hat consists of two cymbals held together or apart by a foot-operated stand. The drummer uses a stick to tap out a series of fast beats on the closed cymbals, but occasionally he or she will release the pedal for a shimmering sound. A hi-hat can also be used in coordination with the bass drum for a basic rhythm pattern without using drumsticks. This can be a useful feature during drum solos or intricate songs.

Another cymbal found in a drum kit is the ride cymbal. Much like the hi-hat, the ride cymbal is used for rhythms. By striking the ride cymbal in different places, the drummer can create a bell sound or a shimmering metallic crescendo. It is not unusual for a drummer to establish a rhythmic pattern on the snare or hi-hat first then transfer that pattern to the ride cymbal for variety. Some cymbals are designed to be both ride and crash cymbals, but many drummers prefer to keep the two functions separate.

The third cymbal found in a standard drum kit is the crash cymbal. The drummer may have two or three crash cymbals arranged around the top of the drum kit, each of which is tuned to a specific note. During a performance, the drummer may want to create a dramatic crashing sound at the end of a music line or at the end of the song itself. Crash cymbals are held loosely in place on individual stands. When the drummer hits a crash cymbal, the sound is short and sharp. Sometimes a drummer, particularly one in a rock band, will use the crash cymbals almost constantly to create a wall of intense sound and energy.

The final element of a basic drum kit is a set of tom-toms. The largest tom-tom, known as a floor tom, sits on its own stand on the floor. It is generally positioned to one side of the snare drum. Smaller tom-toms are attached to the bass drum or cymbals with a series of braces. Tom-toms are also tuned to different pitches. The floor tom may augment the bass drum pattern or be used as a larger snare for effect. If the drummer is performing a solo or providing a variation called a fill, he may strike all of the tom-toms in a rolling pattern. In the Sufaris' instrumental rock classic Wipe Out, the drummer uses all of the different tom-toms during each solo break.


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Post 3

@ Chicada- There are some worthy alternatives to the 808 drum kit that can produce very similar sounds. Finding a clean TR-808 now will run you around $2000, double what they cost new. If you want something new and a little less expensive, but just as worthy, you can check out the Acidlabs Miami or the D16 Nepheton software pack. They are not exact, but they are worthy enough if you can't find or afford a thirty year old 808. It also makes more sense to bring these alternatives for live shows since the 808s are already 30 years old, and may not hold up to the abuse and punishment of traveling.

Post 2

@ GiraffeEars- The Roland TR-808 is one of the most popular electric drum kits of the early '80s. The kit was one of the last great analog drum kits to come out of that decade, being released just around the time the first digital sampling drum kit was released. The popularity of the kit survives today because of the very deep kick drum style bass that the kit can produce.

The machine was seen as inferior to other digital sampling kits during that era because it does not produce a realistic drum sound, but a few big name artists endorsed it. It was most notably used in Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing as well as most early Beastie Boys tracks. Now

you can hear the 808 or similar kits in tracks by musicians like T.I. Kanye West, Kesha, and plenty of others. Over the last three decades, the machine has held its popularity, so finding an original TR-808 can cost more than they did new. The TR-808 produces a unique sound that is hard to copy in digital music.
Post 1

What is an 808 drum? I always hear it referenced in popular music on the radio. Is an 808 drum an electronic drum kit, or is it an actual drum set? I am just curious, but I would love to know.

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