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I am dipping my toes in the water of getting a "real" drum kit -- by drumming standards, it's still pretty crap since it's (basically) the Alesis DM6 entry level electronic drum kit. But one thing I didn't even consider when making the leap is that I don't know where to properly place the drum heads and cymbals.

I am ashamed to admit I learned everything I know about drumming from playing Rock Band, and this includes the default layout of the drums and cymbals. I know, I know, but ... I'm trying to figure this stuff out as I go!

This is the default Rock Band kit layout, with 4 pads and 3 cymbals in a particular arrangement perhaps more determined by mass manufacturing than anything else:

rock band drums with cymbals

Now if we look at this picture of a real, actual drum set …

drum set fully assembled

… the default Rock Band drum/cymbal layout is maybe in the ballpark. But it seems there are important differences when you have a fully positionable set of drums. Is this picture representative of a "standard" or "typical" drum kit layout? (Yes, I realize that layout is of course a personal preference at some level, and there will be variance.)

Based on what I've seen, these positionable electronic drums should not mimic the default Rock Band setup, but perhaps should be more like so?

electronic drum layout

That is:

  • Snare between your legs and significantly lower than the toms
  • Hi-hat to the left of the snare, so I am now playing snare "crossed over" with my left hand and hihat with my right (as a righty)
  • Two toms paired above, with a lower ("floor") tom to the far right
  • Crash and Ride cymbals to the right and significantly higher than the toms?

I'm not looking for a perfect layout, just seeking advice on what's typical or standard in drumming. I want to break any bad positioning habits I might have accidentally developed from learning on the original Rock Band kit as I progress to the brave new world of real-ish electronic drum kits.

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You didn't mention: are you right- or left-handed? Left handed people can invert all the positions or learn to play "regular" –  Agos Sep 9 '11 at 9:22
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I did actually mention it "as a righty" –  Jeff Atwood Sep 9 '11 at 9:30
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You should go here. I've learned a lot from these videos vicfirth.com/education/drumset/houghton_beginner_lessons.php –  camilin87 Sep 9 '11 at 12:29
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It's not "standard", but worth seeing :) youtube.com/watch?v=Hxe-SWxDEcw –  The Chaz 2.0 Sep 13 '11 at 5:21
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@thechaz I will see your video link and raise you youtube.com/watch?v=ItZyaOlrb7E –  Jeff Atwood Sep 13 '11 at 5:33

7 Answers 7

You're almost right. The typical layout is like in the last picture you posted, except for the crash. You'd typically put that on the left. On your picture, it would be above the hihat, and to the left of the tom. That's just on your picture. In reality (in 3D), it would be higher than your tom, sort of mirrored by your ride cymbal (but a little higher maybe, depending on how low you put your ride - I put mine fairly low).

This makes it easier to come back to your hihat when you hit your crash. The distance for your right hand to travel would be less.

Then, when you add more cymbals (not always that easy with digital drums), you sort of put them where you want: in the middle, to the right but higher than the ride, etc.

I have a Roland TD-9K, just like this one. My cymbals are a little lower than in the image, but that's personal preference.

enter image description here

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Your description at the end is pretty close to the default (assuming right handed) for a rock kit, which is the most commonly used setup. There are other standard kit setups such as Jazz Kits see @Eric K's answer for a description of a Jazz kit.

So for a "standard" rock kit you'd have:

  • Snare between your legs usually just above knee height on your left
  • Hi hat above the snare - as you say so you can play crossed over
  • Two middle toms higher in front of you - both at same height, usually around chest height when sitting
  • Floor tom to your right - probably about same height as snare drum
  • Ride to the right of your kit
  • Crash positioning is your preference but usually if you have one you have it on the left next to the hi-hat. This gives you easy access and makes the kit look a little balanced.
  • All the cymbals are usually at shoulder height or above when seated

Also you'll have the middle toms and snare angled slightly towards with the cymbals at a much more aggressive angle towards you.

The positioning & height of the toms allows for good runs up and down the kit and is somewhat in line with their relative positions on a musical score - or that's how I see them when I look at a score.

This is a good visual representation of the heights & positions:

enter image description here

Once drummers get more experienced you'll see more crash, splash etc. cymbals of various sizes and other bits and pieces popping up on their kits but the above is the usual starting point for a rock kit.

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interesting how the Rock Band cymbals put the crash by default on the "other side" with the ride (the right), but you're correct that many pictures of drumkits and drummers show crash on the same side as the hihat (the left). How common is it to put crash on the right, as a preference, in your experience? –  Jeff Atwood Sep 9 '11 at 10:28
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I can't say I've ever sat at a kit where it has just one crash and it's on the right. As you're usually keeping time with the high hat you want to be able to move back to the high hat from the crash as quickly/smoothly as possible. And being a righty most of the time you'll be hitting the crash with your right hand. –  DEfusion Sep 9 '11 at 10:51
    
I think if your just starting out you have too many drums. You want to focus on timing when you first start out and not get tempted to play around with the rest of the set. So you really should just have a snare, base drum, 1 top tom, 1 floor tom & 1 ride cymbal to your right. As you get comfortable with time then start adding more pieces. Maybe in this order. Crash, hi-hat, & then another tom. –  Donny V. Sep 9 '11 at 13:39
    
@Jeff I think the reason the crash was on the right in Rock Band is partially ergonomics (hihat and snare are already the left half of the kit, and fills wouldn't work well if the crash was on the blue pad) and partially history (Drummania, the well-established Japanese game which definitely inspired Rock Band, combined the ride and crash as one pad on the right. It worked surprisingly well). –  Warrior Bob Sep 9 '11 at 14:45
    
+1 The only thing I'd add is that the angle of the snare drum can vary significantly depending on how you hold the stick with your left hand: if you use matched grip, the snare should be more-or-less level, but if you use traditional grip, the snare should be angled more. Getting the angle correct for your grip will make rim shots much easier. –  Alex Basson Sep 11 '11 at 2:00

The "standard" kit setup pictured in @DEfusion's answer is optimized for a right-handed drummer playing primarily rock songs. The snare and hi-hat are the two most easily accessible pieces with the primary crash (closest to the hi-hat) also within easy reach for accents. The rest of the drums fill out from there in order of utilization.

If, however, you wanted to play something more ride-heavy (like jazz) you might prefer a slight modification to remove the middle tom and bring the ride cymbal in closer...something like this:

Jazz kit

Basically, the idea is to keep the pieces of the kit that you'll strike the most within easy reach and then build the rest of the kit out from there. An efficient drumset lets the music and creativity flow freely!

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apparently the "standard" generally means four cymbals instead of three? That is, there are two crash cymbals, one on the left, one on the right? –  Jeff Atwood Sep 10 '11 at 22:46
    
@Jeff: Most cymbal packs come with two crashes, a ride, and the hi-hats –  The Chaz 2.0 Sep 13 '11 at 3:49
    
I would agree with @The-Chaz that defining a standard kit probably depends on what you can buy in a package deal at a music store. I think the idea behind having two crash cymbals is that you have the leftmost crash for easy accents from riding on the hi-hat and the rightmost crash for accents coming off the ride cymbal or to cap off a tom fill. With this setup in mind, most rock drummers will put their medium crash (shorter decay) on the left and their loud crash (long decay, bigger volume) on the right. On the jazz kit pictured above, it looks like the bigger crash is on the left. –  Southerneer Sep 13 '11 at 15:03

Apparently, most standard drum kits have four cymbals, not three. That's something I was missing. Quoting from another site I asked this on, which has both drummers and gamers:

the kit you've linked in the top pic is what I'd consider extremely barebones. Here's what I consider a pretty basic drumkit:

typical complete drumkit

In most anything but a barebones drum kit, you're going to have four cymbals: the hi hat on the far left, the ride cymbal on the right, and two crash cymbals above, left and right. So it's completely natural to have a crash cymbal on your upper right.

and

A drum set with a single crash typically is either a jazz kit or a travel kit. It works for jazz because you don't do a lot of crashes and milking a smooth sizzling sound out of the hi-hat can be used for a similar effect.

In those setups the crash is between the ride and hi-hat because it allows you to use it as a transition between the two, and also because when playing faster tempo'd songs it would be very difficult to go from a right-positioned crash back to the left-positioned hi-hat. This isn't as noticable on a Rock Band kit because it's so much smaller, but a real kit might have 3 or more feet between the crash and the hi-hat - not insurmountable distance to move your arm.

... and thus there are typically two crash cymbals, one on the left, one on the right.

enter image description here

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I agree the Rock Band setup is odd. The hi-hat should really be red instead of yellow. I moved the yellow cymbal (hi-hat) to the left of the red drum (snare). I play it with my hands crossed over like a real drummer would. (I have the ION drum set which allows you more flexibility). Messes with your mind a little at the beginning. Probably couldn't have learned it that way since it no longer matches the order on the TV screen, but I already have the muscle memory.

I also agree the Rock Band blue(ride) and Green(crash) cymbals are backwards. I didn't bother to switch those, but I did move the blue(ride) to the left of the toms and Green (crash) between the toms so they are at least in the normal position for cymbals. p.s. besides switching them, the crash should really be yellow. Only if they added a second crash should it be green.

Hey, if I was still in high-school maybe I would be a real drummer. But I'm 47 and love to hang with my 16yr old on Rock Band. Most teens don't even want to be with their parents....

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I've played drums for 35 years so a few thoughts that may (or not!) help:

  1. don't forget the only real reason you traditionally cross your hands to play the hi-hat, is the need to put the pedal under the left foot. If you have a remote pedal like in an electronic kit (and acoustic kits as an add-on) you can put it anywhere. Some big kits have 2 hi-hats, one on the right. Also, a common mistake: allow some height (say 6 inches or more) between hi-hat and snare if you're finding your hands/sticks are hitting each other when crossed over.

  2. traditional 70's and 80's acoustic rock kits had high crash cymbals and deep angled toms for show, these days toms are less deep and less angled (almost flat), and lower to be as near to snare as possible, to allow faster rolls around the kit.

  3. modern rock kit cymbals (real ones) are lower, perhaps roughly around shoulder height. This is to allow faster rolls around the kit, but also to reduce the risk of breaking sticks (from hitting them edge-on) and breaking cymbals (which should ideally by hit by a downward sweeping motion). So, if acoustic drummers have no good reason for high cymbals don't think electronic ones have to either. Also, you want your crashes as easy to reach as possible as you'll use them loads, don't tuck them too far away so you have to reach and slow you down.

  4. So, in conclusion, even heavy metal drummers on acoustic kits are moving towards lower, closer, flatter kits, to allow for faster (and easier) playing so there's every good reason to do that with an electronic kit. Just make your layout as comfortable as possible! Cheers, Steve.

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For rock the standard kit (depending on the era as I believe it changes all the time)is bass drum, snare drum, high tom, low tom, floor tom, high hat, high crash, low crash/ crash ride and ride cymbal.

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