I recently noticed that most types of drums are placed horizontally, left to right, from high to low pitch. Take for example the bongo and the conga drums. The higher pitched one is with both on the left while the lower one is on the right. Or with a normal drum set. The snare is left and moving to the right, each drum gets lower pitched. With pianos and marimbas and most other instruments it's reversed, the low pitched notes are left while the high ones are right. Why is this? Whenever during playing in my band I transfer from my marimba to for example the bongo or conga, it often confuses me and then I just turn the bongo around so the low one is left and the high one is right like I'm used to with instruments.


Please note that I'm not particularly interested in the placement of a drum set but rather drums over all, so take for example the bongo or conga. There it's just two or three drums which are placed from high to low.

  • 2
    What a good question. Well, snare is closer for left hand access. Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 22:30
  • Please note I'm not particularly enamoured by your moving the goalposts after I spent two hours on an answer.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 6:16
  • 2
    @Tetsujin I clearly stated the bongo and conga when I posted this question the first time. I also posted that I have trouble switching from marimba to bongo. So if you think this question was about the drum set only while I noticed that like only once, then that's not my fault. No need to get snippy, we all make mistakes sometimes. I appreciate the time you've spent even though that's not the answer I was looking for. Besides that, I didn't ask for you to spend two hours on an answer, that was your choice, not mine.
    – holland
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 7:23
  • 1
    Then the answer's gone. Please learn to hone your thoughts before posting a question. Google bongo players, you'll see there's really no set way to have them [it will also throw up dozens of 'not bongos' being played both ways round too.]
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 7:40
  • It's normal for people to make mistakes in their questions, that's why the edit feature is there. If you notice that you've erred, what do you do, leave it?
    – user45266
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 1:12

4 Answers 4


Left-to-right order of pitches on keyboard instruments makes sense because the melody hand tends to require more dexterity (so what about string instruments using the left hand to finger? It's more of an active/passive hand split there than of dexterious/simple: when doing metalwork with a hammer, you may need finer control with the workpiece hand than with the driving hand, but the dominant hand will still be taken for driving).

Now that answers only half of the question, but I am afraid that I'm not versed enough in percussion to attempt guessing at the other side of the difference.


As for a drum set, yes, as Areel notes, the snare is generally closer to the drummer because that's a drum that's used more. It's simply ergonomics.

Following that thread you could assume that the high tom is closer than the low tom which is closer than floor tom for the same reason. And that makes sense because, idiomatically, most tom rolls start on the higher toms and work down to the lower toms. It kind of gives the fill a sound of closure and marks a new point in the song or beat.

There's a Yogi Horton drum clinic video on YouTube where he talks a lot about how these kind of ergonomics affect how you play (and btw watch the whole video if you have time, he's great):

Now what this makes me wonder is did the high-to-low tom sound influence the ergonomics of kit set up or did the the fact that kits were set up that way (and the natural ergonomics that come with it) create the idiomatic high-to-low fill?


As for congas, it really depends on which is your dominant hand. The higher pitched drum tends to be for solos and the lower for bass accents. If you are playing both, your dominant hand is the one that will be jumping between the two drums, so if you're right-handed, the lower pitched drum will be to your right.

If you are using a three conga set, you can either arrange them high to low from left to right or you can use a triple stand with the highest pitched drum (used for treble accents)centered behind the two. If you don't use stands, typically they will be in-line with the conga (the middle-pitched drum) between your knees. For those who are not starting off with great coordination with the non-dominant hand, having the quinto (the higher-pirched drum) behind the other two, as the dominant hand can handle both the treble and bass accents.


The short answer is TRADITION! That's the way is has been done, so that's the way we will keep doing it. I have seen many different ways to set up drums in all genres of music. I depends on what you are playing and your dominant hand. If you are playing in a Latin Jazz Band, then traditional conga set up is just fine. But if you are playing a Middle School Concert Band piece that has a conga part that resembles (high, low, low, high, high, low, low), and you are right hand dominant; it is fine to switch the drums to have the high on the right and the low on the left for efficiency. (r l l r r l l)

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