kick bass

Contextual Associations

The kick bass drum is a double-headed membranophone with a cylindrical body. First developed in the United States, it can now be found wherever Western jazz and popular musical idioms are found. It is a component in a composite instrument called a drum set (see first detail photo) that includes other membranophones (see toms and snare drum) as well as idiophones (see suspended cymbal and hi-hat cymbals) all of which are played by a single percussionist.


The cylindrical tubular shell of the pictured bass drum is made of laminated beech wood painted black. Equally spaced around the circumference of and securely fashioned to the shell are two rows of ten metal lug assemblies each of which accepts a threaded rod. Each of the drum’s two synthetic membranes is stretched over a metal flesh hoop with a diameter slightly greater than that of the shell. Each head is placed over its respective rim opening, followed by a collar hoop--like the shell made of laminated wood and painted black--that has the same diameter as the head hoop over which it fits. Ten metal rim-tension claw-hooks are attached around the rim of the collar, each with an eyelet. The twelve claw-hooks are aligned with the twelve lug assemblies, and one of each is connected to the other by a metal tension-rod. Except for its wider bolt-like head, a tension-rod passes through the eyelet in each claw-hook. The bottom of each rod is threaded and screwed into a lug bolt located in the lug assembly. It is with this above-described mechanism, and with the use of a tuning key, that the amount and evenness of tension on each of the membranes can be independently controlled. Two adjustable metal legs keep the drum from rolling when set up on the floor. An elaborate mechanical beater device, called the kick pedal, rests on the floor at a perpendicular angle to the beater head and is clamped to the beater-head collar hoop (see second detail photo). It is a metal frame with a footplate that activates a chain drive mechanism that, in turn, propels a rubber head at the end of a metal-rod beater against a reinforced spot on the beater head. The responsiveness of the kick pedal is adjustable. A metal post attached to the top of the drum’s shell is used to support two toms (see separate entry).

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The shell of the kick bass rests on the floor, stabilized by its two legs, its heads positioned vertically, and the kick pedal attached. The seated drum set player (who would be on the far side of the pictured drum set facing the camera in the first detail photo) operates the kick pedal with his or her right foot. The ideal sound quality is a bass-range, but un-pitched and dull thud, the dryness of which is essential for when a fast succession or articulations is produced. The player can control the volume of the sound, which can range from soft to very loud. Some drum set configurations include two kick bass drums, each with its own kick pedal operated by one of the performer’s feet.


The kick pedal design pictured here was invented by William F. Ludwig of Chicago, Illinois, in 1909, although other pedal designs preceded it. By the 1920s it had become fully integrated into the drum set, and instrument manufacturers have continuously tweaked the basic Ludwig design right up to the present day.

Bibliographic Citations

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

Holland, James. 1978. Percussion. New York: Schirmer Books.

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 membranophone--individual double-skin cylindrical drum, one skin used for playing

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: variable number of drums

Shell design: tubular - cylindrical

Number and function of membranes: two, one for sounding and one for resonance

Membrane design: framed with rigid flesh hoop

Membrane attachment: counterhoop, lapped over framed membrane hoop, connected by lacing or tension rods to brackets attached to shell

Membrane tension control: rotating screw rods or bolts

Sounding for membranophone: striking with foot-operated beater

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


20 in. diameter 17 in. depth of shell

Primary Materials

wood - laminated
membrane - synthetic





Entry Author

Roger Vetter