Arming the Artists

terms every drummer should know

Posted: 6th October 2022

You’ve just picked up the sticks, started drumming, and you’re well on your way to becoming a drum icon. Maybe you’re unsure of what everything is, or what things mean? We’ve made this handy guide to help you as you start, explaining some of the terms you might have heard, and detailing the different terms used for your drums and playing styles.

Read time: 4 mins

the Anatomy of the drum kit

Snare drum – A snare drum is a small, double headed drum fitted with snare wires held under tension across the bottom head to create a sharp, shorter sound when struck.

Bass drum – The bass drum is the largest drum on the drum kit, which is usually hit with a pedal and beater. It’s larger in diameter so it produces a booming, low sound.

Bass drum pedal- A drum pedal is a foot-controlled pedal with a beater on used to play a bass drum. These, most commonly, come in singular form but can also come as a double version which allows you to play with a second pedal on the same bass drum. This is often used in heavier music to create the pounding, faster hits from the bass drum.

Drum throne – This is a specially designed stool/seat for drummers to use when playing. This is usually a revolving seat that has three to five legs and is adjustable in height. You can sometimes find them with a backrest attached but are more often without.

High toms – Also known as rack toms or tom toms, high toms are a cylindrical drum that can be tuned to different tones or pitches. They’re usually used in drum fills and are often mounted either in the bass drum with a tom mount, on cymbal stands with tom clamps or on a snare stand next to the bass drum.

Floor tom - A floor tom or low tom is a double-headed tom drum which usually stands on the floor on three legs. However, they can also be attached to a cymbal stand with a drum clamp or supported by a rim mount. These are similar to a high tom but come with a bigger diameter and depth in comparison.

Cymbal – The cymbal is a flat, round disc made out of brass, bronze or other metal that makes a loud noise when hit with a drumstick or against another cymbal. These can come in a range of sizes and different styles to create different sounds for different genres of music.

Hi hats – Hi hats are a set of 2 cymbals mounted to a stand with a foot pedal to control the sound. When the pedal is depressed, the cymbals are pressed together which can create a range of different sounds, ranging all the way from tight and muted to a louder, more resonant sound.

Crash cymbal - A crash cymbal is a type of cymbal that produces a loud, sharp "crash" and is used mainly for occasional accents or a mainstay within a beat. There are many types of crash cymbals, such as light or dark or even effects cymbals, which feature holes or different treatments to alter the sound.

Ride cymbal -When struck, a ride cymbal makes a sustained, shimmering sound rather than the shorter, accented sound of a crash cymbal. There are many different types of ride cymbals for different genres, such as heavy rides, rock ride and jazz rides.

Tech terms you should know

RudimentsRudiments are a pattern of sticking used either on a drum set. This is a combination of different hands mixed in with different accenting to change the sound and increase control and speed.

Drum fill – A drum fill is the short transition leading into the main groove or between parts of a song. They are usually used to help break up or switch up a drum beat or musical phrase. 

Traditional grip – A stick holding technique primarily used in jazz music or by marching bands. Each hand holds the stick differently, with the right hand using an overhand grip and the left hand using an underhand grip.

Matched grip – Matched grip is a more commonly used stick holding technique. This technique involves both hands using an overhand grip compared to the traditional grip, which uses both underhand and overhand grip.

Drum groove– A drum groove is also commonly referred to as the beat. This is a repeated phrase that sets and maintains the rhythm and tempo of throughout the piece. Grooves and fills are the main components of the music played on a drum kit, and together with basic techniques – such as rudiments – make up the foundations for learning to play the drums.

Tempo – Tempo is the unit used to measure beats and is measured in BPM, which stands for beats per minute. An example that you might hear is someone explain that a piece is played at 120BPM and that simply means that the piece has 120 beats within a minute.

Simple time - Simple time is a musical rhythm where each beat in a bar can be divided into halves or quarters. The most common types of simple time signatures are 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 2/2.

Compound time - Compound Time is a musical rhythm in which each beat in a bar is divided into three equal, shorter beats. Common compound time signatures include 9/4, 6/8, and 12/8. 

Now you’ve read this, you’re armed with all the information you need to understand your basic drum terminology and what impact these components and techniques have on your playing.