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What drums are used in rock music?

Drums are an essential component of rock music, providing the driving rhythmic foundation that defines the genre. From classic rock to modern indie, the drum kit lays the groundwork on which everything else is built. While rock drumming has evolved over the decades, drummers tend to use similar core instrumentation across most rock styles and eras.

The Standard Rock Drum Kit

The standard rock drum kit consists of a bass drum, snare drum, toms, hi-hats, crash cymbals, and a ride cymbal. This basic configuration provides drummers with a versatile arsenal of percussion sounds to construct rhythms, accents, and fills. While additional percussion like cowbells or woodblocks may supplement a kit, the core elements largely remain the same.

Here’s a quick overview of the main pieces of a rock drum kit:

  • Bass drum: The largest drum, played with a pedal, that provides the foundational throb in rock rhythms.
  • Snare drum: A smaller drum with wires under the head to produce a crisp, cracking sound. It’s used for sharp backbeats.
  • Toms: Mid-sized drums that come in clusters of two or more. They offer pitched sound for fills.
  • Hi-hats: A pair of cymbals mounted on a stand, operated with a pedal. The hi-hat opens and closes to produce rhythmic chick sounds.
  • Crash cymbals: Thinner cymbals that produce loud, shimmering crashes to accent beats.
  • Ride cymbal: A thicker cymbal that provides steady rhythmic pinging, played with the stick tip.

This configuration allows drummers to layer the components together into dynamic, driving rhythms. The different pieces complement each other to build the propulsive feel that defines rock drumming.

Bass Drum

The bass drum is the backbone of any rock drum kit. Deep, booming bass drum hits anchor the beat. This big, low sound often reinforces the electric bass line, working together to form a rhythmic foundation. Bass drums for rock generally range from 18-26 inches in diameter, with depths around 14-18 inches. Deeper shells produce lower tuning and a more powerful punch. Common wood materials include maple, birch, mahogany, and oak.

Drummers strike the bass drum with a pedal that uses a felt or wood beater. Good bass drum pedals have smooth action and sturdy construction to stand up to constant stomping. Pedals may utilize a double kick configuration, with two beaters side-by-side. Double bass pedals allow rapid-fire repeats, which helps drummers achieve extremely fast tempos in high-energy rock styles like punk, metal, and thrash.

Snare Drum

If the bass drum provides the pulse in rock drumming, the snare drum delivers the backbeat cracks. The snare generates a sharp, cutting sound when the drummer strikes the head. Snares come in diameters between 12-15 inches with depths around 5-7 inches. Like the bass drum, rock snares are commonly made from maple, birch, oak, or mahogany.

The distinctive snappy tone comes from a set of thin wires, called snares, stretched across the bottom head. When hit, the head vibrates against the snares, amplifying the sound. Rock drummers use the snare on beats 2 and 4 to punch up these “backbeats” in the groove. A tight snare tension makes backbeats really pop in rock patterns.


Toms offer rock drummers a range of pitched sounds for fills and accents. Sets feature two or more toms ranging from high to low. Common configurations are 10 & 12 inches, or 10, 12, & 16 inches deep. The smaller the diameter, the higher the tuning. Two floor toms (14 & 16 inches) often supplement the mounted toms to expand the pitch range. Drummers mount the toms onto the bass drum or position them on cymbal stands in a freestanding arrangement.

Being able to tune the toms across a wide pitch range helps rock drummers inject more musicality into their playing. When properly tuned and muffled, toms can sound melodic. Drummers take advantage of this in fill patterns that alternate between toms to outline musical phrases. The sustained boom of floor toms makes them ideal for strong punctuations during transitions or breakdowns.


The hi-hat is operated with a pedal that opens and closes the two cymbals. Hi-hats consist of a thicker bottom cymbal mounted inverted on a stand, with a thinner top cymbal sitting on a rod. When closed with the pedal, striking the top cymbal produces a short, chunky chick sound. Rock drummers rely on the hi-hat to keep time, playing 8th notes or 16th notes in succession. The foot splashing the hi-hat pedal helps maintain the tempo and forward rhythmic motion.

Opening the hi-hat while striking the top cymbal results in a sloshier sound. Varying between closed and open hi-hat in patterns creates interesting syncopations. Drummers may also choke the cymbals slightly to cut off the ring for staccato effects. The versatility of the hi-hat provides an excellent accenting tool for rock grooves.

Crash Cymbals

crashes help rock drummers punctuate important beats for emphasis and excitement. Crashes have thinner construction and more taper than ride cymbals. This allows them to swell quickly from the impact and then decay for a lively, shimmering crash. Drummers position crashes within reach above and to their left or right. Having multiple crash cymbals available gives drummers options for crafting accents.

In rock music, crash cymbals tend to fall in the 16-18 inch range. Popular crash models like Zildjian A Customs or Sabian AAs offer bright, cutting sounds that slice through loud mixes. Drummers will crash on transitions to new sections or on big downbeats like the 1 count or the “4-and” of a fill. Faster and more aggressive rock styles may incorporate more frequent crash patterns compared to more laid-back genres.

Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal serves a vital rhythmic role in rock drumming. With its sustained, shimmering tone, the ride provides a constant stream of motion and groove. Cymbal sizes range widely from 18-24 inches, with larger rides offering more crash capability. Rides have a thicker build and less taper than crashes for a controlled sound. When struck repeatedly with the stick tip, the ride produces a steady pinging pattern.

Drummers position the ride cymbal on their dominant side, up high to allow comfortable access. It’s played extensively with the right hand to maintain steady 8th or 16th note figures. This keeps time and drives the beat forward through fills and transitions. When a drum break or rest comes up, the ride pattern usually drops out to establish space before kicking back in.

Tuning and Muffling

Properly tuning drums and cymbals makes a huge difference in achieving quality rock sounds. In general, rock tuning utilizes moderate tension with muffled resonance. Higher tuning and thinner heads bring out sharper attack for crack and pop. Muffling controls unwanted ringing and overtones. Drummers typically use moongel patches, gaffer’s tape, or fabric rings to fine-tune drums.

The snare, with its characteristic rattle, requires special attention. Snares work best tuned medium-high and very snappy. This prevents boxy, tubby tones that lack articulation. Cranking down the snare-side head higher than the batter produces crisp sensitivity. Hi-hats and cymbals often benefit from dirtier sounds rather than pure tones. A bit of texture helps these cut through a mix better while matching the rawness often heard in rock drumming.


Quality hardware forms the framework that holds a drum kit together. This includes cymbal stands, tom mounts, snare stands, drum thrones, and pedals. While cheaper hardware gets the job done, pro-level gear offers sturdier feel, adjustable positioning, and long-term reliability. Investing in robust stands and pedals prevents slipped angles or sudden collapses mid-performance.

Many drummers combine separate cymbal stands with boom arms for maximum flexibility. Hybrid drum racks with integrated cymbal mounts provide a streamlined, more portable alternative. Mounting toms on bass drum rims or integrating them into racks keeps the kit compact. Rounding out the hardware with smooth-action kick pedals and comfortable thrones enables drummers to power through demanding rock sets.


The batter (top) and resonant (bottom) drumheads have the biggest impact on overall drum sound. Quality plastic heads like Remo or Evans provide the right blend of durability and tonal properties for rock. The standard choices include:

  • Bass drums: Coated batter for low boom, clear resonant for projection
  • Toms: Clear batters for attack, Ambassador resonants for tone
  • Snare: Coated batter for crispness, hazy resonant for reduced ring

Thicker heads mute overtones on the resonant side while thinner batters facilitate response. Adding muffling pads extends control over ring and sustain. Drummers may further customize sound by experimenting with different head types based on their desired punch and tone.


Drum stick models designed specifically for rock provide the perfect balance of power and control. Rock-focused sticks offer larger oval tips for riding cymbals, thicker necks for durability, and larger gripping surfaces. Popular choices include Zildjian Rock sticks, Vic Firth Rock sticks, and Vater Power 5A.

The wood type impacts the sound, feel, and durability. Maple provides bright attack, hickory offers thicker impact, and oak blends articulation and power. For heavy hitting, oak or maple suit rock best. Larger stick diameters (5A, 5B) give drummers extra mass in the strike for louder volume. A stick’s balance point, neck, and taper also influence its handling and rebound.

Heads vs. Triggers

Acoustic heads allow natural resonance and dynamic sensitivity tailored for live applications. In recording, close-miking amplifies attack while gates minimize bleed. For extremely consistent sound in the studio, some drummers use triggers mounted on heads. These piezo pickups detect impact and relay the signal to trigger drum samples at a fixed volume.

Triggers ensure mechanical precision take after take, streamlining edits between multiple recorded hits. Programmed samples sound pristine and perfectly equalized. However, triggers can lose the expressive quality of acoustic drums. The synthetic samples often sound too sterile for authentic rock albums. Most drummers use triggers selectively, keeping the core kit acoustic.

Common Genres and Drum Kits

While the standard rock configuration remains fundamental, drum instrumentation varies across subgenres. Here are some typical kits used in key rock styles:

Classic Rock

  • Four-piece with one tom, one floor tom
  • Smaller sized drums for focused attack
  • Single bass drum pedal
  • Tight, dampened tuning

Blues Rock

  • Vintage four-piece kit
  • Tuned low and open
  • Loose snares
  • Single paried down ride

Heavy Metal

  • Large diameters for volume
  • Extra tom/floor toms
  • Double kick setup
  • Crashes accent heavily

Punk Rock

  • Heavily muffled snare
  • Fast, trashy crashes
  • Deep floor toms
  • Minimal cymbals

Indie Rock

  • Vintage four-piece
  • Bright, articulate tuning
  • Lower volume tones
  • Ringy openness

Optimizing drums for genres allows drummers to capture the right sound and colors for the style. Metal demands deep, booming toms while indie favors more open resonance and jangly tones.

Notable Rock Drummers

Over decades, pioneering drummers have shaped the path of rock through their innovative styles and kits. Here are some legendary rock drummers who impacted the genre:

Drummer Bands Style & Gear
John Bonham Led Zeppelin Sledgehammer grooves, giant tones from Bonzo’s signature Ludwig kits
Keith Moon The Who Wild, unrestrained energy; constant fills and cymbal crashes
Neil Peart Rush Technical prog master, towering kits with extensive percussion
Stewart Copeland The Police Reggae-influenced syncopation, crisp hi-hats balancing with splashy cymbals
Ringo Starr The Beatles Established steady backbeat drumming in early rock
Dave Grohl Nirvana, Foo Fighters Monster punk energy gives way to hard-hitting rock drumming

The breadth of sounds these drummers pioneered opened up new possibilities in rock drumming. Their creative contributions built the foundation of go-to drumming styles used by rockers today.

Modern Hardware Innovations

Beyond traditional acoustic kits, many modern options expand a drummer’s creative arsenal. Some notable hardware innovations include:

Electronic Drum Kits

Electronic kits feature drum pads connected to modules that trigger synthesized drum sounds. This allows for programming customized kits with any imaginable tone. Electronic kits are a mainstay for practice and recording.

Hybrid Acoustic/Electronic Kits

Hybrid setups combine real acoustic drums and cymbals with electronic pad modules. Drummers get the responsiveness of acoustic drums with electronic trigger capabilities in one kit.

Cocktail Kits

Cocktail drum kits integrate bass drum, snare, and cymbals onto a standard drum rack setup. This allows drummers to transport and set up compactly, ideal for crammed stages.

Auxiliary Percussion

Effects like tambourines, triangles, chimes, and congas supplement standard kits. Extra percussion broadens the rhythmic palette and enhances songs.

As technology progresses and rock continues evolving, drummers integrate new hardware innovations while retaining the classic acoustic drum sounds that have defined rock drumming through the decades.


From heavy-hitting hard rock to jangly indie, the standard rock drum setup provides the core sounds that drummers need. Bass drum, snare, toms, cymbals, and hardware fuse together to form the driving rhythmic engine. While additional percussive elements color the kit, the basics first laid out in early rock remain playfully simple yet dynamically diverse.

By blending the raw punch of drums with athletic, expressive playing, generations of drummers have shaped rock music. Their ingenuity and skill behind the kit makes drums so much more than just a beat- it becomes an integral part of each song and the genre’s identity. The interplay between kick, snare, cymbals, and the guitars and bass elevates drums from rhythmic necessity to an art form. Understanding how to tune, dampen, and optimize kit components unlocks creative possibilities. No matter how rock music evolves, the essential drum setup will continue anchoring songs with rhythmic energy and passion.