I have taught drum lessons in Washington, DC for several years now, and frequently parents contact me before lessons begin to discuss the purchase of a new drum set. Typically, this is the first drum set the family has ever purchased, and they are understandably bewildered by the decisions involved. The idea of getting a drum set for a beginner percussionist can be daunting, but focusing on the simple parts can demystify the process.
Parts of a Drum Set
Before making any decisions about purchases, it behooves you to know the different parts of a drum set. These can be divided into three different groups: Drums, cymbals, and hardware.
Drums are cylindrical instruments with membranes stretched over the top and bottom of the cylinder which vibrate when struck. They are the oldest instruments in existence, and there is an immeasurable variety to the different types of drums that have existed over the millenia. Fortunately, we only need to know about three different types of drums: the snare, bass (sometimes called the kick), and toms.
Cymbals are metal disks which vibrate when struck. While there is some variety to the different types of cymbals, the ones most commonly included in a drumset are the high hat, which actually consists of two cymbals that are “clapped” together by the use of a foot pedal, the crash cymbal, and sometimes a ride cymbal. Don’t worry too much about the differences between all of these drums and cymbals right now, it’s just helpful to be familiar with the terms.
Finally, the hardware consists of the parts of the drum set that connect the various drums and cymbals together; the various stands, braces, and foot pedals. It’s less exciting, but still very important.
Acoustic or Electric Drum Set?
Now that you know the basic parts of a drum set, drum teachers in Washington, DC can discuss the most common concerns of people looking to purchase a drum set: cost and noise. Both of these can be mitigated in a few ways. The most common way to handle the noise issue is to purchase a set of electric drums, a set where all of the drums and cymbals are replaced with rubber pads which send an electrical signal when struck, rather than vibrating physically. As a result, the volume can be adjusted just by turning a knob! The advantage they offer comes at a cost: Electric drums are much less responsive to the subtle variations that are part of playing the drums dynamically. However, this is not of enormous concern to a beginning percussionist. Bear in mind that an upgrade to an acoustic kit will probably be necessary as the young player advances.
Where To Start
If you do decide to start with an acoustic set, there are still options for volume control. Drum mutes are inexpensive, and while they won’t reduce the noise to the level of an electric set, they definitely make the prospect of having a drum student practicing in the house less galling.
Many of the acoustic drum kits available are “shell packs,” which means they consist only of drums, not the cymbals and hardware. This means that the hardware and cymbals will have to be purchased separately, which will be more expensive, but these shell packs do tend to be of higher quality.
The least expensive acoustic option is to buy a full set. They may not be the best quality, but they are a happy medium between the dynamically limited electric sets and the more expensive shell packs plus hardware and cymbals.
How Many Pieces
Whether you’re buying a shell pack or a full set, the next decision is how many pieces to include in the set. Since this is a guide for beginners, I’m assuming that you aren’t looking to buy a seven piece set with a bunch of toms. The best bet for a beginner set is a four piece: Bass, snare, and two toms.
To wrap up, you can think of the process of purchasing a first drum set for a beginner as following three decisions. First, acoustic or electric drums? Second, how many pieces? And third, this only applies to acoustic sets, shell pack or full kit? There are pros and cons to each of these decisions, which I’ve detailed above, but the most important thing about any drum set is how much you play it. It’s not worth saving money on an inexpensive drum kit that feels like a toy if it ends up collecting dust in the corner, so above all else, pick the drum set that’s going to get played.
Of course, drum teachers in Washington, DC could help with your decision and get you started with drum lessons, too! Our teachers will come right to your home for every lesson, plus we offer virtual music lessons, too. Our online music lessons are taught by local music teachers who plan their lessons to suit your child. Contact us today to learn more.
By Andrew Pendergrast