Essential Drum Set Positioning Tips
Whether you’re setting up your first drum set or just tweaking your existing kit, finding the ideal layout will help you play better and have more fun.
Your movements around the drum set should be efficient, which means natural motions and little wasted effort. With an emphasis on playing faster, most modern drum kits feature flatter drum angles, closer drums and lower cymbals. Once you find your ideal setup, you won’t just to be able to play faster; you’ll also be able to play more accurately with less fatigue.
The typical rock set up, which we’ll focus on here, is built around the snare, bass drum and hi-hat. Other components are then placed around the set with the snare at the center. We’ll provide some useful tips to get you started, but each drummer’s setup is very personal. Move things around and find what works best for you. Finding the right setup can take time, so be patient. It’s also helpful to check out other musician’s drum sets for ideas. However, just because someone else is using a 15-piece drum kit, don’t think you need to as well. Don’t add too many pieces to your set too quickly. Learning the basics is hugely important, if you want to progress.
Steps to Setup Your Drum Set
1. Make some Space
Start with an area large enough to fit your drum set without any obstructions from above or below. Check the floor for cables or anything else that may get in your way. A drum pad or piece of carpet can be a helpful option to create a safe surface on which to place your bass drum and any stands.
2. Bass Drum
I like to place my bass drum first, especially when space is an issue. While sitting on your drum throne, your right leg should create a straight line from your hip to your knee that runs parallel with your bass pedal and drum. Your bass drum should be slightly off to the side of your body’s center line, not directly in front of you. Once your pedal is secured to the bass drum, adjust the far side of the bass drum using the drum’s legs so the bottom of the drum is parallel to the floor. Next, adjust the height of your throne so that your legs are slightly above parallel at the hip when your feet are on the pedals. Check that your drum beater is near center on the bass drum. I prefer the sound of my bass drum with the beater slightly off center. Try different spots and see how they affect the attack and tone.
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3. Snare Drum
Next up is the snare drum, which will be placed to the left of the bass drum, for a right-handed drummer. If you play lefty, you’d do the opposite and set up the snare to the right side. Now that you’ve previously set your throne to a good height, adjust the height of your snare so the top rim is around the level of your belt or belly button. Check that the snare doesn’t impede your leg when you use the bass pedal. Try setting the tilt on the snare to different angles and see what feels most comfortable. The snare’s tilt setting should match the stick angle of your particular playing style. Find a setting that allows you to hit the snare smoothly without worrying about unexpectedly striking the rim or bumping your legs while playing.
4. Hi-Hat Cymbals
Now that you’ve placed the bass and snare, next up is the hi-hat. These three components of your kit get a lot of action, so they’re right there in the middle for easy access. Place the hi-hat to the left of your snare. Orient the pedal so that you create a “V” going from your hi-hat pedal to the center of your body then to your bass drum pedal. A comfortable natural position will allow your legs to move freely and quickly. Make sure you can operate the hi-hat pedal without interfering with the snare drum. Once you’ve found the ideal floor position, the final step is finding the ideal height. As most drummers will play a crossover on the hi-hat, with their right hand above the left, you need to make sure you have enough clearance for your hands to move freely. Placing the hi-hat cymbals at least 6” above the snare is a good starting point.
5. Rack Toms
Most bass drums have hardware that allows you to directly mount your rack toms. This is the easiest option, but if that isn’t available, you’ll need to use extra stands. Sets usually have one to three toms with the smallest tom at the left. The first tom is placed behind and above the snare and I prefer my toms pretty low. Find a natural spot for the first tom that has an easy transition from your snare. Once that is set, place the other toms so that their center point and height are similar to the first so you can play them in succession with a smooth motion as you rotate your drum throne. Most drummers orient their toms so that the head is at a much flatter angle than what you may have seen in many classic 80’s rock videos. The angle of the toms should match the angle of your hands and sticks in their natural playing position.
6. Floor Tom
The last drum we’ll set up is the floor tom which will be placed to the right of your bass drum. The floor tom is typically set at a height slightly lower than the snare with the drumhead angled slightly towards you. As with other components, the key is a natural flow to the floor tom from other pieces on the set.
7. Crash Cymbals
Crash cymbals get a lot of play in rock songs, so the primary crash is usually placed within close reach to the left side of the set behind and above the hi-hat. Many drummers will also have a second larger crash cymbal on the far right side of their set above the floor tom. With crash cymbals, keep them below eye level so that you can strike the cymbal properly. If you place them too high, you risk striking the edge of the cymbal which can lead to broken sticks, or worse, cracked cymbals. You can also adjust the angle of the cymbal stand to ensure an ideal stroke, but make sure to keep them within easy reach.
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8. Ride Cymbal
Most sets are finished off with a ride cymbal placed above the floor tom and last rack tom. Crash cymbals provide accents in a song, whereas ride cymbals are used more often for steady or rhythmic patterns. Make sure you can easily reach the ride cymbal without overextending your right arm. With cymbals, there are more options for placement, so experiment and see what works best. Allow space around your cymbals so they don’t bump into other pieces of your set. Also, don’t tighten the wing nut securing the top of your cymbals too tightly. Cymbals should be free to move around unimpeded.
Should You be a Minimalist?
If you’re setting up your drum set at home or in a studio space and don’t have to move it very often, having many pieces in your set can be great. At the least, a bigger set definitely looks cool. However, if you frequently take your kit on the road, it can be wise to remove a few pieces and only travel with the bare essentials. This will allow you to set up more quickly and you won’t have to lug so many things around with you. Start by paying attention to what pieces you actually use when you’re playing. Maybe you can get by with three cymbals instead of four. One extra cymbal and stand can take up a lot of extra space and time. Another option is removing extra stands by mounting components to your existing hardware. Maybe, you need more cowbell. A side rack can be mounted to your hi-hat stand as a solution. Bass drums with mounts are great for when you don’t want to use extra stands, but be careful not to overload your bass drum with extra weight as this could damage the drum’s shell.
Christoph Bartelt, drummer for Kadavar, one of my favorite bands, is a great example that you don’t need a huge drum set to put on an amazing show.
If you’re interested in buying your first drum set or looking for an upgrade, please check out our selection.
If you’d like more information on setting up your drum kit, you can also check out our How-To Videos or Lessons sections for additional helpful resources. Any questions, please email us at Sales@OnStageMusicSupply.com .