You’ve signed up for your first drum lessons, eager to start grooving like Buddy Rich. Now you’re ready to buy your first drum(s). But is a conga, bongo, marching snare drum or acoustic drum set really all you need to start playing paradiddles and drum fills?
It all depends on the type of music you want to play. Some hand drums are portable and really only need the musical instrument and your hands, while others need sticks, stands, pedals…
Here is a small overview of the sort of accessories you might need to be able to learn to play the drums.
Feel like the King of Drumming? Fair enough, if you are playing Big Band, jazz or rock. Working with several drums at once, you need them set up just right. And, of course, somewhere to sit.
In spite of its name, a drum throne is a stool - without an armrest, of course, and usually without a backrest to allow you full freedom of movement. You can adjust the height so you sit comfortably and can reach your pedals properly.
They come with seats of various shapes. A drum stool is something you really shouldn’t order online - go into a music shop and try out the various models in person. You will be spending a lot of time sitting on it, playing, practising, adjusting your drums… You need to be comfortable.
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Stands for Drums and Cymbals
Some drums are so large that they can’t be held in the hand but still need to be off the floor to be played comfortably, or else smaller drums such as snare drums, tom-toms or bongos might need to be brought up to a comfortable height so you can play a drumroll or a flam without hurting your back. That’s where drum stands come in.
High drum stands
Drum stands can be for single drums (such as a snare stand) or several drums (stands for tom-toms or octobans). These are floor stands with three feet and an adjustable height. A drum stand cradles the drums or attaches to fittings on the body of the drums. Double-braced mounts are more expensive and heavier but generally considered more durable.
Tomtom mounts can also be attached to bass drum stands so they hang above it, saving space.
These stands and mounts involve a variety of hoops, lugs, rosettes, rods and brackets, many of which can be purchased separately if you find any missing.
Some of the big Asian drums have high stands holding the drum horizontally; others are on low floor stands. Drum manufacturers generally offer the stands, too.
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Floor stands and pedals
Most large drums have floor stands of some sort, often with wheels for better mobility.
Floor stands for modern drum sets are for bass drums and floor toms.
A floor tom can be set onto a low cradle or mounted on a low stand, depending on what you feel most comfortable with. The cradle will hold it vertical, stands will allow it to be tilted slightly.
Bass drum stands come in two variations:
- Concert stands are hanging stands that lift the bass drums off the ground and allow them to be tilted at any angle. They are wide and take up a lot of space, being conceived for use in an orchestra.
- Bass drums for drum kits usually come with feet and a kick pedal. If the feet become damaged or you prefer another type of bass drum pedal, both are removable. Bass pedals come in slightly different shapes, with different features and feedback.
You can also buy separate kick drum stands, including some designed for snare drums or similar smaller drums if you want an extra, foot-operated option in your kit.
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Cymbal stands come in simple and boom variations. Booms have a swinging arm so you can adjust not only the height but how close you need the cymbal to be to you and the other elements. Booms are practical if you have a lot of stands and can’t actually place each one exactly where you need the cymbal to be.
Hi-hats have their own stand; otherwise, most hanging cymbals such as crash cymbals or ride cymbals use the same type of cymbal stand. There are stackers allowing you to attach a second cymbal to an existing stand; make sure the stand can take it and won’t overbalance.
Drum racks are more practical than individual stands, especially if you are on the move a lot. It’s basically one stand that lets you attach several drums and cymbals to it. Rather than setting each drum up individually, you just slot your rack together and attach the drums to that.
Basic drum racks will have attachments for a certain number of drums and cymbals; extras will still need their own stands.
However, some drum racks out there are modular, and let you build up and expand at will -a ride cymbal here, a crash cymbal there, an extra snare drum over there, a cowbell over that way. These are, of course, generally more expensive.
Drum rugs are generally made of rubber or some other high-friction material. They are there to prevent your stands or rack from sliding when you play. Even if you play with more feeling than power, the vibrations of the drums can cause a stand to wander.
You might have noticed, if you're taking drum lessons near me, that every music store's drum kit is set up on such a rug!
Drum Carriers for Marching Bands
Anyone playing drums while standing or marching will need some sort of drum carrier. Traditionally, this was a strap slung across one shoulder (the oldest evidence for a drums strap is from Ancient Egypt!), and you still find this arrangement for historical or ethnic drums.
But in the interests of comfort and ergonomy, various types of harnesses have been developed, for anything from big bass drums to marching snares to marching toms to quints. They hook over both shoulders and have fittings that are generally fastened directly onto the attachments on the drum body.
Drum Maintenance 101
Like any instruments, drums will need a bit of regular TLC. One simple trick is simply to wipe down the drum set after every use with a dry microfibre cloth. It’s advisable to give the drum heads a quick wipe before use as well, just in case some abrasive dust has settled.
You should keep your electronic drum kit clean as well, as too much dust can get into the system and affect the performance of an electronic drum set.
You can get special cymbal polish, though opinions differ on whether or not it is advisable. Some say too much polishing changes the sound, others that letting grime accumulate does so, too. Whatever side you ultimately adhere to, the polish is out there.
Though generally you only need to wipe down your drums, every so often it’s a good idea to give them an overhaul - and some drummers love to clean and polish their sets until they look like new before every show. There are various tricks to clean your drums. Consider keeping a small drum-cleaning kit at home to keep your percussion instruments looking their best. It’s a good time to check your drums for any needed maintenance.
Snares, heads and tension keys
Some parts of the drum will wear down with time. You will need to replace the snares on your snare drums every six months to a year; the same is true for drum heads. To check if it’s time to fit a new drum skin on your drum, loosen it slightly and see if the part you are hitting looks pocked. If it does, it’s time to change the drum head.
Some drums need tension keys to adjust the pitch and loosen the skins for changing. These are generally provided when buying the drum, but if you lose it or find it more practical to have several keys, they can be bought separately, too.
Your ideal drum teacher will show you how to maintain and tune your kit.
How to store your drums?
Extreme climates - whether in terms of temperature or humidity - are generally bad for musical instruments. Try to keep your drums in a dry, temperate space; but even worse than less-than-ideal-conditions is the abrupt change from one climate to another. If you live somewhere very cold or very humid, store them someplace they won’t crack or get mouldy, but won’t experience too much of a shock when you take them out of storage.
This video offers tips on storing a drum kit when you don’t have the space to keep it set up.
Percussion Sticks for Your Drum Set
Unless you are playing hand drums, you are going to be hitting your drums with something. Different types of sticks or rods give a different sound:
- Hard taps with little reverberation: traditional drumsticks, wooden rods with small knobs at the ends. There are ethnic variations such as the Japanese bachi, which are straight without knobs.
- Deep, resonating tones: padded mallets, often used in orchestras
- Rutes or multi-rods are bundles of thin wooden rods, usually birch. Rutes for band drumming come in bundles of nineteen (Hot Rods or Cool Rods with thinner canes) or seven (Lightning Rods or the thicker Thunder Rods).
- Brushes are bristles of metal or plastic set into a handle in a fan shape. Some are retractable to protect the bristles in transport. They swish nicely on a drum head.
- Tippers are double-ended sticks used for hand drums such as the bodhran.
Some drums such as the African talking drums use curved mallets with a flat disk at the end. The mallet can be struck against the drum head or rubbed against it.
Most of these are made of wood. You need something sturdy with a good varnish on it (or polished as smooth as possible) to avoid splinters. When buying anything with several parts (brushes, padded mallets), go for higher quality. Cheap variations will fall apart at inopportune moments - bristles falling out, padding loosening… However, even high-quality wares will experience wear and will have to be replaced on a regular basis.
Practice Assistants for Playing the Drums
Finally, here are a few accessories you might consider investing in to help you practise playing the drums:
- A music stand is useful when learning songs or if you play very long orchestral pieces. You can put your sheet music on it until you know the song by heart.
- A metronome is essential when learning how to play the drums. A metronome has a long metal hand on which a weight is attached. This lets it swing like a pendulum, marking time. It ticks the time, so you know just when to hit for your eighth notes or sixteenth notes. Your drum teacher will certainly have one and it’s practical to have one at home to practise your drum beats. There are metronome apps to download if you don’t want to bother with a physical specimen.
- A drum pad is a means of practising your drumming without actually doing it on a drum. It’s a pad that makes a noise when it’s struck - lightweight, small and not very loud. Drum pads useful for on the road or if your neighbours are less than understanding about late-night practise jams, but the practice pad does have its limitations. It’s good for practising rhythm and ironing out sloppy stick use, but if you want to work on subtleties of sound or rim work you will need the real thing.
But of course, the main thing you will need to learn to play the drum is passion!
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