drum set

Also:       drum kit      trap set      

Title: The Best of Buddy Rich—Apples; Buddy Rich Big Band. Label: Pacific Jazz. Format: CD. Catalogue#: CDP 7243 8 57568 2 S. Track: 3.

Contextual Associations

The drum set (or ‘trap set’ or ‘drum kit’) is an integrated collection of membranophones and idiophones used in jazz, rock, and in many other stylistic idioms. One might think of it as a small mixed percussion battery performed by a single musician. It originated in the United States but is found today throughout the world wherever Western cosmopolitanism has taken root. It is a key element of the jazz rhythm section, used in both combo and big band configurations. The drum set has also been incorporated into many idioms of American popular, vernacular, theatre, religious, and commercial music. Whether performed by males or females, or by amateurs or professionals, virtuosic performances can be produced on the drum set and its players are often featured as soloists at least momentarily in many of the idioms in which the instrument is used (listen to audio example). 


The exact combination of components in a drum set varies, but it can be argued that a kick bass drum, a snare drum, two or three toms, crash, splash and ride types of suspended cymbals, and a hi-hat make up the core of a typical kit today. These are the instruments seen in the gallery photo on this page; they are pictured individually in the six detail photos and separate entries on each of these can be found on this site. Trap sets can include a second kick bass, a second snare drum, further toms, more suspended cymbals, and a variety of auxiliary percussion such as woodblocks and the mark tree.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The drummer sits on a stool (in the gallery photo, the drummer would be seated on the far side of the instruments facing the camera) and positions the various instruments so that the kick drum pedal can be operated with the right foot, the high-hat pedal with the left foot, and all the snare and toms heads and the cymbals are easily reachable with handheld drumsticks. A variety of sticks can be used, but wooden snare drum sticks are the primary ones. Nearby on a tray will be other beaters, including brushes and possibly felt-tipped stick beaters. Playing the drum set is a full-body workout involving both of the player’s arms and legs.


The drum set emerged in America at the end of the 19th century in association with ragtime and jazz. In the early 20th century it was used also in vaudeville and theatre pit bands. During this early period the trap set had fewer drum and cymbal components than is typical today, but a wider array of now obsolete drums (such as the Chinese tomtoms--see toms entry) and ‘sound effects’ idiophones (such as the cowbell, the woodblock, temple blocks, and the washboard). The invention of the kick bass pedal and the hi-hat cymbal in the 1920s were crucial to the evolution of the trap set, and with the introduction of a wider range of suspended cymbals, the replacement of the Chinese tomtoms with the single-head toms, and the shedding of many of the sound effects idiophones through the 1930s and 1940s, the modern drum set emerged.

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

Campbell, Murray, Clive Greated, and Arnold Meyers. 2004. Musical Instruments: History, Technology, and Performance of Instruments of Western Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Montagu, Jeremy. 2002. Timpani and Percussion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Robinson, J. Bradford. 1984. “Drum set [drum kit, trap set].” NGDMI v.1: 612-613.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: North America

Nation: United States of America

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.212.11--111.242.121 composite instrument comprised of membranophonic (set of individual double-skin cylindrical drums with one skin used for playing) + idiophonic (directly struck idiophones) components

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone + idiophone

Primary Materials

membrane - synthetic
wood - laminated
wire - snare

Entry Author

Roger Vetter