Drum kit


Audio: drum kit (0:06)

Drum kit
Figure: drum kit

Table: drum kit

drum kit plays a rhythm on a three-piece drum kit consisting of bass drum, snare drum and hihat. The drum kit figure shows the score. The drum kit table shows the frequency range of low, mid and high frequency percussion.

A drum kit or drumset is a collection of percussion instruments.

A drum kit is a practical application of percussion instrumentation. It involves choosing the instruments and assigning a rhythmic role to each instrument. The instruments in the drum kit determine the timbre of the rhythm.

A basic drum kit has three instruments: a bass drum, a snare drum and a hihat. These generate low, mid and high frequency sound respectively.

The bass drum or kick drum is typical of a low frequency percussion instrument. It has fundamentals in the 50-100Hz range and generates partials up to about 5kHz. It is one of the biggest drums of all. The bass drum in a drum kit is 20 or 22 inches in diameter, the orchestral bass drum is 40 inches in diameter. It is not the lowest frequency percussion instrument though, a floor tom and a D timpani produce even lower oomph.

The snare drum is the archetype mid frequency percussion instrument. A 14-inch snare drum has fundamentals in the 200-400Hz range and generates partials up to around 10kHz.

The hihat is a good example of a high frequency percussion instrument. A hihat with two 14-inch cymbals will produce fundamentals in the 400-800Hz range and partials well above 20kHz into the ultrasound region. It produces a rich variety of timbres. A pedal hihat is played with the foot; an open hihat is played with the hand with the two cymbals open; and a closed hihat is played with the hand while pressing the two cymbals together with the foot pedal.

The ranges shown in the drum kit table are the ranges within which the fundamental frequency is generated. Most percussion is unpitched and thus generates a range of fundamental frequencies in which no single frequency is dominant. The sounding range is wider than the standard range shown in the table. Low frequency percussion generates partials up to about 5kHz, mid frequency percussion to around 10kHz, and high frequency percussion generates partials well into the ultrasound region above 20kHz. Size and thickness are crude but effective indicators of percussion range. Big thick percussion, such as a bass drum, generate low frequency sound, small thin percussion, such as a cymbal, generate high frequency sound.

The individual instruments in a three-piece kit are usually assigned these roles:

  • The bass drum plays the on beats.
  • The snare drum plays the off beats.
  • The hihat keeps the tempo.

A three-piece drum kit can be extended by adding other percussion instruments that generate low, mid and high frequencies. A common addition is a set of tom drums, another is a set of cymbals. The current world record for a drum kit contains 813 instruments so there is plenty to go at.