Drum kit players come in all sorts of heights and shapes but drum kits may not meet all needs for comfort. Today I would like to address the topic of expanding the ideas of drum kit configurations. This will also cover auxiliary percussion add-ons.
Most drum kits come with predrilled holes for placement of the posts on the bass drum. There are straight cymbal stands as well as boom stands. Some snare drum stands have 2 directions for slant adjustments while others have a ball that allows the drum to be swiveled in any direction. Typically floor toms have 3 eyes for the 3 legs to slide into. And mounted toms normally have one hole or bracket in a fixed position to attach to your bass drum via a post or rack.
It is important that you are open-minded to what your body needs. There are plenty of us who accept the drum kit’s generic configuration and put our bodies through unnecessary stress of tight muscles, twisted limbs and compromised postures. Think about you, not what the manufactures dictate as “the norm”. You make your own norm.
Snare drum. Stop slouching! What is your main genre? Then take it from there. The height of the snare drum is important. Too low encourages slouching. Too high encourages a tendency to lean away from the drum or lift the shoulder up. It also can limit your range of motion of the forearm when swinging the stick downward. Too tilted towards you or away from you will lead to tension in the wrists. Place the snare drum so that your shoulder is mutual, not forward, not back.
My genre is Jazz or Latin. This means I do a lot of cross-sticking. Because a flat snare drum puts strain on my wrist’s ligaments my drum angle is tilted slightly to the right; similar to that of a traditional grip position. I am careful that the tilt is minimal; enough to rest the heel of my palm on the head for cross-sticking while avoiding the possibility of striking the rim with my hand or stick when not cross-sticking if using match-grip technique. My shoulder is in a comfortable place; not forward or stretched downward.
Hi-hat. Position the hi-hat where it is comfortable for you. For some this may mean closer to the snare drum and to the body; others may put it more in front of the snare drum. The goal is to prevent the need to reach over across the body and put strain on the shoulder of the hi-hat hand. It depends on the length of your arm and your genre. Experiment with bringing the hi-hat closer to the snare drum or to your body; this will put your hi-hat hand above or slightly behind the wrist of your snare drum hand, the French grip is more comfortable for this; or experiment with placing the hi-hat further away, putting your hand over your other hand; the German grip is more comfortable for this position. Wherever you put your hi-hat do not compromise your shoulder! Or embarrassingly whack yourself. I also encourage the open-technique approach; this is when the hands are not crossed. If using this technique lower the hi-hat cymbals so that the right and left hands are similar in height; this will ease the need to lift the hi-hat hand as a result of the cymbals being too high.
Mounted tom. As previously mentioned there are a few ways of mounting a tom. One way is the hanging method where the tom hangs from an arm off of the post attached to the bass drum. Pretty common on small drum kits; especially 4-piece ones. Most hanging toms are attached to an arm that swivels on a ball joint, allowing the drummer to place it on various angles. Another design is sliding a tom onto a beam-like arm that attaches to the post which is attached to the bass drum; these designs are more limited in range of motion, typically angling up or down or pivoting forward and backward. The tom can still swiveled but only in 2 directions.
Some may be fine with this with long reaching arms! Others may find themselves leaning forward or twisting their spine in order to accurately play the head. If neither of these designs is to your liking, take the tom off the bass drum! Yes! Put it on a drum stand; with this approach you can put the tom as close to you as needed and the height most suited to you. Another strategy is to invest in a percussion rack made from crossbars; these are used in percussion sections of drum corps or symphonies. You can also attach other auxiliary percussion instruments and a hanging floor tom. The vacant spot on the bass drum where the tom(s) usually attaches can also be a place to add more auxiliary percussion instruments with clamps and racks.
Cymbals. Think about the crash cymbal, the ride cymbal, and any other single cymbals you may want to use. The height and reach will impact your back and shoulders in the long run. Shoulder height or lower is a great start. The higher your reach the more you are asking your shoulder to take the beating of lifting your hand. Too high will add to the time it takes to reach it when your sticks leaps from the drum head up into the air! Too low will limit how much of the edge you can strike for that dramatic “crash!” sound. Ride cymbal placement is to be elbow height or lower. Feel what your wrist is saying to you. Feel what your elbow is saying to you. Feel what your shoulder is telling you. And pay attention to the flow of your blood; positioning the ride cymbal high will cause a backflow of your blood, leading to numbness or loss of strength; other muscles will tire as well.
Wait! We almost forgot the bass drum! Oh yes. Your ankle and knee will appreciate it when you learn where to place the bass drum and peddle. A straight line from knee to ankle or a gentle slant from knee to ankle away from your hip tends to be more forgiving for your knee and ankle joints. Pulling the ankle under the thigh may reduce blood flow and put a strain on muscles along the side of your shinbone. Having your foot too far out will strain your hip joint as well as reduce your leverage on the peddle. Regardless of the bass drum size the placement is vital to a long, comfortable experience with drumming.
Here are the key points: A set of manufacturing designs does not dictate how you customize your setup. Explore various drum stands and racks. Experiment with cymbal and drum placement. Find the arrangement that will allow you to be centered over your seat bones, your ability to lift your sternum to stabilize your shoulders, and where your wrist, elbow, shoulder, back, hip, knee, ankle will not become strain or sore. Your drum kit setup belongs to you and to you only!