Different Drums and their Sounds

In Drumming At Home – Getting Started, we look at a simple pattern (AKA a “beat” or “groove”) played with your hands to get the ball rolling. This is a great starting point, but before we journey any further it’s important to know the drums and sounds that constitute a standard kit.



The Kick drum, or Bass drum is almost always the biggest on the kit, and is located on the floor with the heads (bits that get hit) facing horizontally. We play this with a pedal, (usually) operated by our right foot which moves a “beater” to hit the head of the drum. This produces a low-pitched, percussive thump; we imitated this in the previous lesson by stomping our foot.


These are a set of drums that vary widely in size and pitch, but all have a distinctly resonant and “round” sound. On most kits you’ll find one or two mounted above the bass drum, with one more standing on its own legs adjacent to the Snare. These are typically organised from left to right, high to low, and referred to as the “high”, “mid”, or “floor” Tom.


The Snare drum is usually on a stand directly in front of the drummer between their knees. It typically makes a high pitched “crack” sound, however a lever found on the side of the drum changes this by easing the snare wires off the bottom head. This makes the drum sound like a high pitched Tom. In our previous lesson, this was represented by the hand playing on “2“.


Cymbals are the shiny UFO shaped things set on stands around the kit. They usually make a metallic “ping” or “crash” sound depending on how they are hit. Different cymbals are often grouped in two categories, reflecting the way that they are typically used:

Hi-hats and Ride

These are most frequently used to play repetitive patterns that are layered on top of whatever is being played on the drums. In the previous lesson, this was represented by the hand playing “1 and 2 and“.

Hi-hats are a set of two cymbals that sit together, and can be “opened” or “closed” by operating a foot pedal on the drummer’s left side. When hit whilst closed, they produce a short metallic click; when open, a longer & louder sound is made. Varying the distance between them with your foot so that they are touching slightly can cause them to make a “sizzling” sound.

The Ride cymbal is often the largest on the kit, making an extremely long sound when struck on the edge. If the “bell” of the cymbal is hit, a sharp, short “ping” sound is made. As previously mentioned these are usually used for repetitive patterns played by one hand, but can also be played as a “Crash” cymbal.

Crashes and other

Crashes will usually make up the rest of the cymbals on a kit. They are most often played to add volume and emphasis to parts of a song, either as a single note or played repetitively like a Hi-hat/Ride. Like all drums and cymbals these vary in size, shape, and sound.

There are a huge number of “Effects” cymbals out there, that are incredibly fun to play with but aren’t frequently used for most music. Some of these are: “Splash” cymbals; “Stacks” (a load of cymbals piled on top of each other!); “Riveted” cymbals… The list goes on! A particularly wacky one to show just how much variety there is out there would be a “Spiral” cymbal, pictured below.

While I have mentioned the “normal” uses for all of these different instruments, it should be noted that you can (and should) try playing them however you want. There are loads of examples of unconventional playing out there, and music is better as a result.