Trying to find the right kit can be pretty confusing. Fortunately, finding a drum set for your kid or yourself doesn’t have to be hard.
Here are some pointers to help you find the best beginner drum sets. Once you've chosen a drum set, bring your budding musician to School of Rock, and we'll have them love learning and playing music.
Choosing an acoustic drum set versus electronic drum set
There are two types of drum sets, regular (acoustic) drums versus electronic drums. Acoustic drums have metal cymbals, and use wood and metal drums that are designed to project sound. The electric kits have rubber pads that when hit send sounds to either an amplifier or to headphones.
There are advantages to each type. Traditional drums have a better “feel” and are less complicated to set up, but electronic drums offer the ability to reduce or eliminate the volume of the drums. For students living in apartments or anywhere where sound levels are a concern, electronic drums are a great solution.
Parts of a drum set & what to look for
A drum set is made up of many elements, the main categories are drums, cymbals and hardware. The drum set is a fairly modern instrument as it was developed in the early 1900’s with the invention of the first foot pedal. This allowed a drummer to play more than one drum and produce a fuller sound. Prior to this, drummers stood or marched as they played single elements of the drum kit.
Drum hardware includes:
- Drum & cymbal stands/racks. Cymbals and some types of drums have their own stands. These are adjustable and allow the drummer to position the parts of the kits exactly where they want them. “Rack” systems integrate the functions of several stands, these can be useful for elaborate kits with multiple drums and cymbals.
- Cymbals. There are three main types of cymbals: crash, ride and hi hats. The crash cymbals are used to accent songs while the ride cymbal tends to be a large, thick cymbal that produces a bell like tone. The hi hats are a pair of smaller thin cymbals that are activated by a foot pedal that makes them strike each other. The hi hats are also played with the sticks.
- Drumsticks & brushes. Drumsticks are a very important part of the drummers sound. They come in different sizes and are made from different types of wood. The size of the stick and the type of tip (which can be wooden or plastic) produce different tones. Brushes are sticks that have fan like metal or plastic brushes on the end. These produce a much softer, quieter sound.
- Bass drum pedals. Bass drum pedals are used to play the bass or “kick” drum. There are two types of bass drum pedals: single and double. It is recommended that beginners start with a single pedal.
- Drum thrones. The throne is the name of the drummer’s seat. The throne should be adjustable and comfortable.
- Snare drums. The snare drum is the loudest and most prominent drum. The bottom resonate head has system of “snares” or thin wires that gives the drum its sharp sound.
- Drum heads. All drums have heads. The top head (the one that is struck) is called a batter head and the other bottom head is called the resonant head. The heads are tuned with a system of “lugs” that circle the drum.
TYPES OF DRUM SETS
4 piece drum set versus 5 piece drum set
Most drum sets are packaged as either 4 or 5 piece kits. This refers to the number of drums, not the number of total parts of your drum set including hardware and cymbals.
- 4 piece kit: This beginner drum set typically includes a bass drum, snare, floor tom and 1 mounted/rack toms.
- 5 piece kit: This drum set includes a bass drum, snare, floor tom and 2 mounted/rack toms.
Either configuration will work for a beginner, it may be easier to navigate a 4 piece kit when starting out. Interestingly, most high end “pro” kits are 4 piece sets versus 5 piece drum sets.
Adding more toms to a drum set
If you are familiar with drummers such as Neil Peart or Terry Bozzio, you may have seen really large drum sets with lots of drums and cymbals. For the beginner, a 4 or 5 piece kit is the best place to start. Larger kits take up a lot of space and are much more expensive. As you progress musically, you can always add more drums to the existing kit.
CHOOSING THE BEST WOOD FOR YOUR DRUMS
The sound of your drums is influenced by many factors such as the type of wood used, the diameter of the drum and the depth of the drum. Here’s a list to help you choose the best wood style for your drum set:
Birch is a harwood that produces a loud drum with a very balanced sound. Birch drums are often used for recording.
Bubinga is a more exotic wood that has a punchy, mid range sound.
Mahogany produces a warm, darker sound.
Maple drums are well rounded and have a good mix of warm and bright tones.
Many entry level drums are made of other wood styles such as poplar which is less expensive, but still produces a decent sound.
How to buy your first drum set
The right place to start drum shopping depends on the person you're shopping for.
- Consider the age of the drum player. If you’re searching for drum sets for your teenager, you may want to consider buying an intermediate all-inclusive kit.
If you're buying a kit for your young (single-digits) child that might or might not take an interest in it, you could be able to get away with buying the least expensive all-inclusive kit. If your kid gets into it though, you'll probably be shopping again within a year.
- Upgrade if you want better quality. The options open up considerably if you decide to spend a little more up front, and you can find a kit that will last a long time, sound good and get your kid through at least high school. Important note about drums: Drums need regular adjustments to sound good and be fun to play. Luckily, this kind of regular maintenance is easy to do once you know how.
- Decide if you want to buy parts together or separate. When shopping for a drum set for you teenager or child, you also have the option of buying all parts of the drum set separately. This is the approach that will take the most time on your part, but you can end up with better quality and potentially save some money, too.
Best drum brands for beginners
Most all the major drum companies produce great beginner kits. It is generally recommended that you stick to the best known drum brands: Ludwig, Tama, Pearl, Slingerland, Sonor, DW/PDP, Gretsch and Mapex are all trusted brands.
What to look for when buying a drum set
If cost is your main concern and you're shopping for a young kid, you can find something inexpensive for her/him to bang around on. The least expensive option is an all inclusive bundle, but you'll want to verify what's included in the package.
A drum set needs shells (the actual drums), cymbal stands, cymbals, bass drum pedal and a throne to be fully functional.
What to look for when buying drums online
If you're shopping online, be sure to read the list of what's included. Some of these sets have more in the online photo than actually ships with the set.
The least expensive all in one sets come with a couple of warnings. The shells will be usable, but the cymbals and hardware will likely be a little flimsy, probably needing to be replaced in the near future if the kit gets regular use. But if what you're looking for is a mix of toy and instrument, maybe this is the right choice.
If you're able to go to the next level, you can put together a drum set that your child will be able to play for a long time, that will stand up to some abuse and sound pretty good.
Other good beginner drum set options
The second tier of all-inclusive kits can be pretty decent and will save you having to assemble a set from a la carte pieces. Just like the big guitar brands have affordable sub-brands, the big names in drums have entry level models that are usually quality.
Many of the mid-range kits that include shells and hardware don't include cymbals or a throne, so be sure to look at that before you make a final decision.
If cymbals are included, make sure there's a brand name on them – you don't want cymbals no one is willing to claim. If you end up deciding to buy cymbals separately, there are loads of options – more info below.
Take a look at the hardware and make sure it looks solid. If you're shopping online, you can zoom in on the images of the gear for a closer. Each of the three legs on the cymbal stands should be made of two pieces. If each leg is “one-ply”, so to speak, or the pieces that loosen and tighten look like standard hardware store wing nuts, you're probably going to have to replace that stand sooner than later.
Play the drums in real performances
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Buying a new versus used drum set
For beginners, should you buy new or used? While used drum sets can offer significant savings, first time buyers may be overwhelmed by the options and choices. New kits offer many advantages including warranties and you know that the kit has not been abused. New kits are probably a better option for the first time buyer, but If you have a drummer friend that is willing to help you with checking out the used kits, it may be worth the effort.
Buying a new beginner drum set
There are a lot of options for “shell packs” that will get you a set of drums without hardware or cymbals. You'll get a broader range of brand and aesthetic options this way, and most brands and models should be totally decent.
To find the best drum brands for your kid, it's always wise to read up on the reputation of the brand and find any reviews of the specific product you're looking at. There will likely be more than one option at each price point, so choose something with a good reputation that your kid will think is cool.
One of the big concepts at School of Rock is that if we help our students love playing their instruments, they get better that much faster. Having a set of drums that looks cool and excites your kid's interest can make it that much more fun to sit down and play.
You can also find bundled hardware and cymbal sets that tend to be less expensive than buying pieces separately. Pay close attention to the images and descriptions of the hardware if you're buying online and don't get anything “one-ply.”
Buy drum hardware upfront
If you're shopping in person, the salesperson will tell you that it will save you money in the long run to buy decent hardware up front, and they're right. For cymbals, make sure you're getting something name-brand. Zildjian, Paiste, and Meinl are some of the better-known names, but not the only good ones.
Buying a used beginner drum set
Drums, cymbals and hardware don't tend to lose quality with use unless they're mistreated, and you can find nice gear at a good price shopping for used gear. Most instrument stores will have used gear, and if you're in a shop with a good reputation you can feel pretty confident you're getting something in good condition.
How to Inspect USED drum equipment
You can also find good pieces from private sellers, just look closely at each piece. Here are some things to watch out for with used drum gear.
- Shells. Look closely at the shells for any cracks or missing hardware. Little screws and nuts can be replaced if the drum is sound, but if you're not getting a great deal it's probably not worth replacing little parts. It's likely that used drums will need new heads (the parts that you hit). It's not difficult to change the heads on a drum set, but it's another potential cost to take into account.
- Hardware. For hardware, make sure none of the pieces that tighten and loosen are stripped and none of the pieces that should be straight are bent. Cymbal stands should have two felt discs for the cymbal to sit between and a piece to hold that all in place on the stand. Usually that top fastener screws down on top of the upper piece of felt, though some newer designs you can just pinch to release.
- Cymbals. Looking at used cymbals, every crack, no matter how small, will grow over time. Any crack in a cymbal you're considering buying is a sign to pass. Sometimes little cracks can appear along the circular grooves of a cymbal and be easy to miss, so look closely for that.
If the hole at the center of the cymbal is not a perfect circle, it's a sign of stress on the cymbal probably due to not being fastened on the stand properly. Also look for little cracks around the center hole as a sign of damage that will quickly lead to the cymbal sounding bad and being unusable.
Found your perfect drum set? Get ready to play.
The last thing you want, once you've picked out the best beginner drum set for your kid, is to have it sit untouched for the rest of her/his childhood. At School of Rock, we focus on teaching students to enjoy playing their instrument first and build the broader concepts of music on top of that foundation, using performance as the motivation and the payoff.
When students know that they're going to walk out on stage in a real rock venue and play a legit concert, the practicing tends to take care of itself. We would love for your child to have all of the pieces in place the second they get their instrument – guitar lessons, bass lessons, a beginner or intermediate/advanced winter day camp, a concert to start rehearsing for.
At School of Rock, we take total beginners and within a few short months have them performing on stage, going on tour, building confidence, and making lifelong memories and friendships with kids that love the same things they do.