How to Set Up a Drum Set (Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners)

It is important to set up your drum set correctly if you wish to play with good technique and fluidity, while also minimizing your risk of injury. Setting up a drum set might seem a bit difficult at first but it’s easy once you understand the essentials.

Once you learn the basics of setting up a drum set, you can tweak placements of drums and cymbals to your liking, in order to be as comfortable as possible when sitting behind your drum kit.

The following instructions are for right-handed players. If you’re a left-handed player, all you have to do is switch the positions.

1. Identify the Parts of Your Drum Set

Before beginning with the actual setup process, you need to understand the different parts of your drum set. A basic drum set typically includes:

  • Drums: Snare drum, bass drum, and toms
  • Cymbals: Crash, hi-hats, and ride
  • Hardware: Bass drum pedal, snare stand, hi-hat stand, cymbal stands
1. Bass drum, 2. Floor tom, 3. Snare drum, 4. Tom-tom, 5. Hi-hat, 6. Crash cymbal, 7. Ride cymbal, (Not found on most beginner kits: 8. Splash cymbal, 9. China cymbal)

As a side note, you can use a carpet or drum mat if you want to protect the flooring below. The main things that can damage the ground are the bass drum spurs, which can scrape the flooring.

2. Set the Drum Stool Height

Set the drum stool height so that your hip joint is about 2 inches above the top of your knee. In this position, your back is straight, but you also have some flexibility for pedal strokes.

Setting your stool height far too high or too low can make the drumming far less efficient. Over the long run, it may also make you more prone to injuries. Make sure you get off on the right foot and set your drum throne at the right height!

3. Set up the Snare Drum

Position the snare drum between your legs to be able to comfortably strike the center of the drum head and the rim. Keep adjusting the height until you feel comfortable hitting both the center and the edge of the drum.

Next, you need to adjust the drum’s angle. There are no strict rules here; some drummers like it flat, while others perform better when it’s tilted slightly towards or away from them.

Tip: your legs shouldn’t be touching the sides of the snare drum.

4. Set up the Bass Drum

You should position the bass drum near the center of your kit at a slight angle in line with your right foot.

Place the drum on the ground and attach the bass drum pedal. If you’re using a double pedal, make sure that both feet reach your pedals. You can adjust each pedal’s spring until it’s comfortable enough for your foot. If you need to adjust your drum throne for extra comfort, then feel free to do so.

When setting up the bass drum, make sure the bass drum spurs/legs are facing out and against the ground to provide resistance and not move forward. It’s also worth noting that some drum kits come with pre-installed spurs that you simply need to loosen a bit until they touch the ground. Just make sure that you tighten them again after reaching the required length.

5. Set up the Toms

Typically, your drum set should have two types of toms: floor and mounted (rack) toms. Often, there are two rack toms attached to the bass drum, with one free-standing floor tom with legs.

Put the floor tom at roughly the same height as your snare drum. As for the mounted toms, it’s preferable to set them up at a slight angle towards you. The distance between the two toms should be 2-4 inches. Additionally, make sure that you arrange the toms from smallest to largest in a left-to-right direction.

You can also adjust the floor tom a bit if it’s uncomfortable for you to play. The default is to set it flat, but you can always try a slight angle and see if it makes things smoother. 

6. Set up the Hi-hat

Place the hi-hat on your left (next to the snare drum) at an appropriate distance. To set up the hi-hat, adjust the height, not too low or too high.

When playing the drums, your hands will cross over so that your right-hand strikes the hi-hat while your left-hand plays the snare drum.

Setting up the hi-hat too high can cause excess stress on your shoulder joint as it forces you to keep your arm held unnaturally high throughout much of your drumming. It can also make it hard to strike the cymbals in the correct area. On the other hand, if the hi-hat is too low, the right and left-hand sticks will obstruct each other, and it can be awkward to play them.

The hi-hat’s height should allow you to strike the edge and top of the cymbals without making it harder to play the snare drum.

Additionally, you need to set the spacing between the two cymbals by adjusting the hi-hat clutch position so you can play them closed or open.

7. Ride and Crash Cymbals

Most drum kits have at least two extra cymbals other than the hi-hats, usually one ride and one crash. Set them up at a comfortable height, but without obstructing you from playing the toms and hi-hat.

Ride Cymbal setup

There are a few different placements for the ride cymbal. It’s often placed low above the tom cymbal, which will allow you to rest your arm while also being high enough so that it doesn’t touch the low tom. However, most drummers prefer to place their ride cymbal much higher, particularly those who want to play heavy strokes on the edge of the ride.

Crash cymbal setup

On the flip side, the crash cymbals are often the highest instruments on your drum set. They should be at least one stick away from the toms’ center. However, you still need to ensure that you can grab them without overstretching your arm.

There are several ways to position the crashes for maximum comfort. You can try keeping them flat or with a slight angle towards you.

These cymbals are usually supported by straight or boom stands. As its name implies, a straight stand goes straight up. A boom stand has an adjustable arm that allows better positioning of your cymbals.

Note: There are crash/ride cymbals that are a combination of the two.

8. Make Adjustments and Tighten Hardware

If you lack good-quality hardware, check out the best hardware packs on the market today.

You might need to make some adjustments to your stands. Try to widen the bases as much as space allows to make them as sturdy as possible.

Do not widen them too much that they take up more space than necessary if space is limited. It can be problematic if your drum set is large. It’ll also make it more challenging to use mic stands if you’re recording or on stage.

Finally, test out the kit a few times and readjust any heights or drum/cymbal positions that don’t feel comfortable.

9. Tune Your Drums

If you want your drum set to sound great, you have to tune it properly. A cheap drum set with well-tuned heads will often sound better than an expensive set that is poorly tuned. Follow our guide on how to tune drums.

10. How to sit with Proper Posture

It’s critical to keep your drum set posture correct. It will help you play better, produce better sound, and decrease the risk of harm.

  • Keep your back straight. If you slouch and lose the proper posture, your lower back will pay the price in the long run. It is vital to form this habit to avoid unnecessary injury. If you feel your posture fading, remind yourself to sit straight, and it will become a reflex.
  • Relax your arms. The more you tense up, the harder your playing will be. Keep your elbows tucked in and your arms close to your sides.
  • Adjust the height of the drums. If you feel you have a hard time reaching or playing a certain part of the drum, adjust it for more comfortable playing. Usually, the rack toms present difficulties, adjust the angles on them so that you can easily play fills.

In the event of an injury, learn how to overcome/prevent drumming-related injuries.

Summary

Now your drum kit is all set up and ready to go. Learning how to set up a drum set is your very first step into the world of drumming. If you’re looking to buy a drum set then check out our guides on the best drum sets for beginners and the best electronic drum sets.

There’s one final tip that you need to keep in mind, though: never overreach for anything in your drum kit. Extending your arms or legs to reach for a drum or a pedal will not only affect your performance but can also hurt your back and joints.

Drum set diagram image by Syed Wamiq Ahmed Hashmire-draw SVG FOX 52CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Mike O'Connor

Drumming has been my passion for over 18 years. I play quite a few different genres and I really enjoy experimenting with hybrid kits that blend acoustic and electronic drums. I love all things drumming!

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