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Any combination of drums and non-pitched percussion can feasibly be called a drumkit or drumset, but traditionally a basic kit includes a snare, a hi-hat, and a kick drum. Most kits also include a floor-tom, any number of tom-toms, and any number of cymbals. Also, a lot of kits include additional kicks, cowbell(s), possibly roto-toms, or anything else the drummer feels the need to set up for use. To understand how to play or write for a drumkit, you have to understand each individual piece. Additional names for the drumkit are drum set, trapset, or simply kit or set.

The Pieces


Almost all drumkits are played with drumsticks, which are simply a pair of sticks manufactured from wood with a head on the end of it that are used to strike the various components of the kit. Sometimes the head is a part of the wood, and sometimes it is a separate plastic or nylon tip fixed on the end which may produce a brighter sound. The tip, also called the bead, may come in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as acorn, barrel, oval, and completely round. A drumkit player may also use brushes instead of sticks. Brushes are typically constructed from either plastic or metal bristles which are fixed onto a handle from which the bristled fan out, sometime telescopically. If a proper drumstick is not available, a drummer may opt to use anything that he can strike the components of the kit with. It is generally a good idea to take into account what sort of damage an object could inflict on the kit before using it as an impromptu/makeshift drumstick.


The Hi-Hat is a pair of two cymbals placed on on top of one other such that the leading edges face each other. The top cymbal is attached to a rod that is further attached to a foot pedal. The pedal may be used to move the top cymbal up and down. This allows a hi-hat to produce many different possible sounds, as the cymbals can be struck independently, held tightly together, held loosely together, held slightly apart so that they still hit each other, or transitioning from one position to another. The hi-hat is most commonly used to keep a steady beat.

Kick Drum

The kick drum is a usually the center piece of the kit. It is a bass drum on the floor directly in front of the drummer, and is struck with a felt hammer which is operated with a foot pedal. It is possible to have two kick drums, one for each foot. A similar method is to have two pedals that operate two hammers right next to each other which strike one drum. Both of these methods are called a "double-kick". It is also possible, but rare, to see a quadruple kick. On a quad-kick each pedal controls two different sets of two hammers which are staggered so that they hit the drum at different times. This can allow for what is essentially a bass drum roll.


The snare is the primary drum outside of the kick drum. It is normally used in conjunction with the kick drum and the hi-hat or a cymbal to produce the main rhythm. The snare drum typically varies very little in depth and diameter from one drum to the next unlike tom-toms, and usually only one is used in a given kit. This drum has a unique sound produced by strands of metal or other material that are stretched across the bottom head. When the top head of the drum is struck with a mallet or stick, the bottom head will naturally ring in sympathetic vibration, setting the snares into vibration, serving to mask the pitch of the drum and add to the sound. Some snares can be adjusted into varying tensions, producing any variety of sounds from a long sizzle effect for each stroke, to a very short and crisp attack with hardly any decay. Snares can also be disengaged via a small lever. With most modern snare drums this lever can be manipulated in a matter of a beat or two, but it generally suggested that the composer leave at least a measure or more for the change to occur. The sound of the drum with the snares off is reminiscent of a tom-tom. To instruct a percussionist to play with the snares on or off, simply indicate in the music Snares On or Snares Off.

Crash and Splash Cymbals

Crashes and Splashes are cymbals which are designed to be very loud and pronounced. They most often are used sparingly for dramatic effect.

Ride Cymbals

Rides are cymbals are designed to be more mellow, and are commonly used to keep a steady beat. In general, striking a ride hard can also produce a similar effect as a crash or splash, but is usually not suggested as they are not designed to be treated as roughly as crashes and splashes.

Tom-Toms and Floor Toms

Toms are generally the most melodic part of the kit. A kit can have any number of toms, or none at all. When there are more than one, they are usually lined up around the bass drum and tuned in descending order. Toms are commonly used for "rolls" where the drummer will usually start at the highest tom and play a short drumroll on each one, progressing down to the lowest. Floor toms are the lowest pitched toms which rest on the floor, usually beside the kick drum and are stuck at the top.

Additional Notes

A kit can also include anything else the drummer deems fit. When writing for a drumkit the most important thing to remember is that the drummer can only strike as many components as he has arms and feet. A common mistake is to write a part with extensive double-kick and a transitioning hi-hat. When a drummer is using both feet for his double-kick, it is impossible for him to also use the foot pedal to operate his hi-hat. He must either take his foot off of one of his kick pedals to operate his hi-hat, or he must simply let the hi-hat stay in one spot. Another common mistake is to write a part with a fast roll on the toms that require both hands, while also hitting the hi-hat or cymbals.

As with any instrument, some drummers are faster than others. Some drummers can only play a single kick, while some drummers can't play complicated hi-hat tricks. It is important to know the skill level of the person you are writing for.

See Also

Percussion Staves in Finale for adding functional percussion and drumkit staves into Finale notation software.

Instruments and Voices
Woodwinds Flute (Piccolo/Alto/Bass)RecorderOboe (Cor Anglais/Oboe D'amore/Heckelphone)Clarinet (E♭/Bass/Contrabass)

Bassoon (Contrabassoon)SaxophoneBagpipes

Brass HornCornetTrumpetTromboneEuphoniumTubaSaxhorns
Keyboards PianoOrganHarmoniumHarpsichordClavichordCelestaAccordion
Percussion Tuned: TimpaniGlockenspielChimesVibraphoneXylophoneMarimbaCrotalesMusical sawHammered Dulcimer

Untuned: Snare drumBass drumTriangleCymbalsGongsTom-tomsShakersDrumset

Electronic ThereminOndes MartenotSynthesizerElectronic Wind Instrument
Stringed Bowed: ViolinViolaVioloncelloContrabass

Plucked: HarpGuitarMandolinBanjo

Voices Female: SopranoMezzo-soprano (often mistaken with Alto)Contralto (often mistaken with Alto)

Male: TrebleCountertenorTenorBaritoneBass-baritoneBass