Originally, drums and cymbals were played separately. Lame. One guy hit the drums; one guy clashed the cymbals. Sure, hitting cymbals together is fun, but it’s only a step up from your only instrument being the triangle, now isn’t it. So, drum combos were invented to save space and money in theaters. Then, thanks to Gene Krupa and a couple other drummers, the drum kit gained popularity in the 1930’s, and by the time rock music rolled around in the 1960’s the kits just got bigger. In the 1980’s, kits were HUGE! Look at Phil Collin, Neil Pert (Rush) and Bill Bruford’s (Yes) drum sets.
Typically, a standard drum kit includes five drums: a bass, a snare and three toms. Drums come in many sizes, but the rock sizes are a 22 inch bass, a 14 inch snare, and toms in 12, 13 and 16 inches. When buying a drum set, be sure to note, that often the kit does not include all your hardware for mounting the toms, or perhaps stands for your high hat or cymbals. Also – Cymbals are almost always sold separate. You’ll need some. If you’ve no experience hitting the skins, then you should start with a bass, a snare and a high hat. You can build from there.
In the end, a typical drum set has at least six components: a snare, a bass (on a pedal), two or more toms, a hi hat (on a pedal), a crash (cymbal) and a ride (cymbal). The most important drum in the drum set is the snare. It’s named for the strand of “snares” that are laid across the head of the drum. The snare offers a lot of versatility, because many sounds may be made by hitting the drum on the head, the rim or the shell, depending on the sound you’re looking for. The bass drum provides the lowest pitch and is struck by a beater attached to a foot pedal. The bass drum is also known as a “kick drum.”
Toms, or tom-toms, are drums without the snare. They originated with Native American and Asian cultures, but were made part of the traditional American drum set at the beginning of the twentieth century. Toms, in a drum set, are either floor toms or mounted toms. Typically, a floor tom is mounded on an independent stand, and a mounted tom is mounted directly to the top of the bass or kick drum.
The high hat and crash cymbals used very widely, and any good drum set should include one of each, at least. The high hat is actually two cymbals that are mounted together. When the drummer stomps the pedal, the two discs of metal crash into each other. The high hat can be played either open or closed. It has a “tighter” sound than that of the crash cymbal, which have a much louder and “wider” sound. Often the ride cymbal and the crash are the same piece of equipment; they are just played differently.
Other components of drum kits can include almost anything from cowbells to old boots to bells. It just depends on what kind of sound you and your band are looking for. You can be as traditional or as avant gard as is your drum set.