Arranging Your Drum Set

How you set up your drum set is personal and unique, and, musically speaking, can make everything that you do easier. The difference between players lies in the placement and spacing of the individual instruments of the set. Some players like the drums and cymbals closer together than others, so figuring out what works best for you and playing with a comfortable arrangement of your drum set is very important. The tips that I will be giving you in this article relate to how you already set up your drums, and will be ideas for you to test while you hit the drums.

First, you should set up your drums and cymbals and get them into an arrangement that is how you currently like to play. We will start by taking a look at the position of your seat. You should center your body on the snare drum and make sure that your feet are an equal distance apart when you place them on the pedals. If your feet are not an equal distance apart; then try moving the hi hat to a position that helps you sit that way. There is more information on seat placement in my “Balance” article from a few months ago, so check that out.

Next, we’ll look at the height of the snare drum. The snare should be at a level that is easy to play. You don’t want the snare drum too high or too low, so make sure that it is at a height that doesn’t make you feel that you have to change the angle of your arms to play it. You should keep your forearm flat from your elbow to your wrist when playing the snare. If the drum is too high; you’ll feel cramped, and if the drum is too low; you’ll end up hitting your legs a good bit. The way to judge the height of the snare is to adjust it to be about belt height: a few inches above or below your waist.

“Playing all the drums should have a nice flow and an easy feeling when you have the instruments arranged comfortably, no matter what speed you are playing.”

Now that we’ve taken care of your seat and snare drum, let’s look at the tom drums. The toms above the bass drum, or mounted toms, should be fairly close together in order to play them comfortably. Their angle, distance from you, and height are what we can change to get a more fluid playing position. The toms should be at an angle and distance that is easy to play, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to lean into or away from the drum set to play them. The mounted toms should also be at a height that relates to one another and allows for a smooth transition when playing from one to the other. You should only have to raise your forearms and extend your arms a little to hit each mounted tom. Try playing from the snare to the mounted toms, and back and forth a little, to test the angle, distance, and height of this relationship. If the position of these three drums feels good; then move on to the floor tom. The floor tom should be kept at a height that is similar to the snare drum. It doesn’t have to be the same exact height, but it shouldn’t be higher than the snare. The distance from the snare that you keep the floor tom is also something to take a look at and make sure it isn’t too far away. Some players only leave a space that is large enough for their leg to fit through to the bass pedal; while others like the space larger between the floor tom and snare so that it is more to the side of the bass drum. Where you place your’s is something to evaluate to make sure that it feels connected to the other drums of the set. Try playing around the drums in a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction to test out all the drums, and then make small adjustments to the angle, distance, or height that you might want. Playing all the drums should have a nice flow and an easy feeling when you have the instruments arranged comfortably, no matter what speed you are playing.

When you have gotten the drums into a comfortable playing arrangement, move on to the cymbals. Cymbal placement is even more player specific than the placement of the drums. There is really no right or wrong place to keep the cymbals on your set, except for the hi hat. The hi hat cymbal needs to relate to the bass drum pedal, your seat, and to the snare drum, as mentioned above. Since you have already placed the pedal/stand in a spot that relates to the rest of your set up, you should test the relationship between the hi hat and the snare drum. To do this, play a beat pattern and make sure that you can keep your hands, wrists, or arms over one another while playing the hi hat and the snare. If you can’t or don’t have your hands in this spot; then you should make some adjustments by moving the hi hat. Use your judgement to figure out which direction to move the hi hat stand: just make sure that where ever you move it is still a comfortable place for your feet. When you can comfortably play a beat between hi hat, snare and bass, then take a look at your other cymbals. Overall, you should have the cymbals close enough to the drums, both in height and distance from the set, so that you don’t have to extend your arms too much to play them. You should feel comfortable when you play all the cymbals on your set and not like you have to reach to hit individual instruments. Mostly, you should get the cymbals to positions over the drums that make sense and give you the ability to play them whenever the musical idea strikes you. The ride cymbal should be between the second mounted tom and the floor tom, or on the right side of the drum set, and at a height that is as low as possible. You should keep the ride low to be able to play on top of the cymbal comfortably and be able to access the bell of the cymbal easier. The crash cymbal or cymbals are important to place where they are easy to use, but there is no area that they need to be positioned as it relates to the rest of the set. Test out the placement of your cymbals by playing some beats or rhythms that include all of the cymbals you have, and make any adjustments you might want to get each to the best possible placement for you to use them musically.

I haven’t forgotten the bass drum but the main arrangement of your drum set is all about the drums and cymbals, and the bass drum is not really adjustable. However, there are some adjustments that you can make to your pedal to make playing the bass drum more comfortable. The main adjustment that you can make to the bass drum pedal is the tension on the spring. Your foot and the pedal should work together, and the tension on the pedal partially controls the way this can happen. The other part of controlling the pedal is how you play it, but we’ll concentrate on the tension. To find out what setting works best for you, play the pedal a little and pay close attention to the movement of your foot and the pedal. If your foot and the pedal don’t follow each other entirely or if you feel that the pedal pushes your foot after hitting the drum; then you may want to adjust the tension on the spring. If the pedal lags or doesn’t follow your foot; then tighten the tension. If the pedal feels like it’s pushing your foot; then loosen the tension. No matter which technique you use to play the bass drum, heel down or heel up, the tension of the pedal can make you more comfortable when playing the drum. Make sure to test the tension setting to get the best possible pedal movement for your foot.

I hope that the tips and hints have helped you get more comfortable with your drum set. It is important to keep in mind that your set up is always a fluid arrangement. You can always reposition any of the instruments of your drum set, and it is good to make sure the instrument still feel fluid as you add pieces. Finally, since you have taken the time to evaluate the arrangement of your drum set and position the instruments to get as comfortable as possible with them: go have some fun and hit ’em!

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  1. Naz-T
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    I have arranged my drums and cymbals in many ways trying to achieve comfort and function. The last time i moved things around was when i started recording. I had to move my big cymbals further away from my tom mics because i was getting alot of wash so my cymbals moved up. i also noticed a buzz when i hit my hi tom right above the snare so i have tried moving the mic, the drum and tuning the tom and snare far enough apart to cancel the buzz but it’s still there. What do you do about snare buzz?

    • Posted October 12, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

      Snare buzz or sympathetic overtones, in general, are always tricky to fully eliminate. When you are recording you can do a few things to muffle the resonant heads and take away some overtones but this is also affected by tuning. Make positively sure that you have all the tension rods at the same pitch before doing any muffling to the resonant heads. If you don’t have all the rods tuned the same; you will get longer overtones from the drum and this will affect the sympathetic overtone in other instruments. What I mean is that, sometimes the overtones of the drums are related pitches because of the drum’s size and no matter what exact pitch you tune them to: you can’t take away that relationship. The muffling tricks would be to put a small piece of masking or painters tape on the snares by the bottom edge (not in the middle), or also try taping an “X” on the resonant head of the mounted tom, or both. Also, there are varying degrees of this taping technique: play around with the amount of tape you use because you don’t want to eliminate the sound of the snares vibrating entirely. Hope this helps!

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