Beginners Guide to Buying Drums & Percussion

The Beginners Guide to Buying Drums & Percussion

Posted on .

How to choose the right starter drum kit, cymbals, drum accessories or percussion instruments to bring out the best in your budding musician while maintaining your budget and sanity.

Table of Contents

Drum set components
Kick, snare, hi-hat: the big three
Best junior drum sets for beginners
A step-up drum set for older players
What about electronic drum kits?
Sold separately
World and Concert Percussion instruments
Still unsure about getting them drums?
We’re here to help

Sometimes parents who discover musical ability in their children have pleasant fantasies of their prodigy performing sweet-toned violin concertos or mellow classical guitar solos. But those fantasies are often shattered once those parents discover their offspring aren’t interested in such things—they want a drum set and nothing else will do!

In this guide we’ll walk you through the components that make up a drum set and highlight some beginner-friendly sets that are likely to make sense for your budget while thrilling than new drummer. We’ll also take a brief look at world and concert percussion instruments.

In this guide we’ll keep your options simple and straightforward. For a deeper look at drums and percussion, learn more with these expert guides:

Drum Kit Buying Guide
Cymbal Buying Guide
World Percussion Buying Guide

Drum set components

While most drum sets may look essentially similar to the untrained eye, there are significant differences among them in terms of their overall quality as well as the number of individual drums, cymbals and other percussion instruments they include. The average 11-year-old may likely have a “bigger-is-better” attitude and gravitate toward the big kits. But what are all those pieces, and which ones do you really need?

Kick, snare, hi-hat: the big three

These are three three basic components in any drum set. They provide the backbone of most drum rhythms, and are often the first to get upgraded as a musician progresses.

  • Bass Drum - The bass drum, also called a kick drum, is the biggest drum in the set. It is the one that stands on its side in the center of the drum set and is played with a foot pedal. It produces the deepest notes, usually the basic downbeats.
  • Snare Drum - The snare is the main drum in a set. It is mounted on a stand and positioned between the drummer’s knees, and produces a loud, sharp sound.
  • Hi-Hat - The hi-hat is a set of two cymbals positioned next to the snare drum. It’s played by clashing the cymbals together with a foot pedal and by hitting them with drumsticks.

Every drum kit will include a kick, snare, and hi-hat.


Toms, sometimes referred to as tom toms, are the other drums that make up the kit. They typically produce a hollow sound at various pitches depending on the size of the drum. Most drum sets have one or more suspended toms mounted on the top of the bass drum and sometimes called hanging toms. They sometimes include a larger, deeper-sounding floor tom that’s mounted on its own stand placed on the floor.

  • High Tom - This is the smallest tom and is mounted over the bass drum, nearest the snare.
  • Mid Tom - The mid tom, if there is one, is also mounted over the bass drum, beside the high tom.
  • Floor Tom - The largest tom, it’s usually mounted on a stand positioned by the drummer’s leg.

The toms are usually positioned to create an arc, from the highest pitch near the snare and hi-hat to the lowest pitch on the outside of the kit. Two or three toms should be perfectly adequate for a beginner drummer.

Pearl Vision Birch Floor Tom

The Pearl Vision Birch Floor Tom is a standard-size floor tom that stands independently, like most floor toms, on three legs.

Some advanced drummers never add a mid tom, because they like a simple kit or because their musical style doesn’t require one. Other musical styles make consistent use of three different tom tones, and so those drummers insist on a mid tom and perhaps several more.


In addition to the hi-hats mentioned above, there are two common cymbals found in most starter drum kits.

  • Crash Cymbals - Crash cymbals come in a variety of sizes, and are usually mounted above the toms. They are usually the loudest cymbals in a kit.
  • Ride Cymbals - The ride cymbal is larger than the crash cymbal, and is generally suspended above or near the floor tom. It creates a more gentle sound “wash.”

A junior drum kit will usually include one or two generic cymbals. They are smaller—to fit the scaled size of the kit—and don’t have the sonic quality of full-sized cymbals, so they are often not specified as “crash” or “ride” cymbals.


Many starter-level drum kits include a throne, but be sure to double-check. Conventional chairs and office stools are too tall for a drum set, so if the kit you’re looking at doesn’t include a throne, you’ll want to pick up one. You’ll find a large assortment of drum thrones to suit any budget at Musician’s Friend.

Best junior drum sets for beginners

If your future drum prodigy seems at all serious about wanting drums, it’s best to avoid buying the toy-store variety. Toy drums are just that—a toy that can’t produce the kind of tones and offer the kind of performance that will keep the new drummer engaged and practicing.

Sound Percussion Labs Lil Kicker - 3 Piece Jr Drum Set with Throne

The Sound Percussion Labs Lil Kicker is the right size, quality and price for most young beginners.

Sound Percussion Labs Lil Kicker is a great option for younger beginners. It‘s scaled to accommodate kids’ smaller frames appropriately, but it is built of rugged steel so it’s definitely not a toy. It comes complete, with a kick, snare, hi-hat, tom, a small ride cymbal, throne, and drumsticks—all at a very budget-friendly price.

Ludwig Junior Outfit Drum Set

A complete drum set on a smaller scale, the Ludwig Junior Outfit Drum Set brings Ludwig quality to a great beginner kit.

Ludwig is a big name in drums, and their Junior Outfit Drum Set adds step-up features not found in similar junior sets. In addition to a junior kick, snare, hi-hat, cymbal, and high tom; this kit adds a mounted tom and a floor tom, as well as a more substantial cymbal stand.

A step-up drum set for older players

If your new drummer is a teen, a full-sized starter set is a good place to begin. Drum diameters are similar to more advanced and expensive drum kits and overall quality is higher than that of junior sets.

ddrum D2 5-Piece Kit

A respected brand among drummers, ddrum’s D2 5-Piece Kit deliverers satisfying sound and feel and can serve budding drummers for many years as they develop their skills.

The D2 5-Piece Drum Set from ddrum is a very affordable set that includes everything necessary to begin playing straight out of the box. With its step-up hardware and deep-toned mahogany drum shells it can make a great introduction to drumming that will keep new players enthusiastic as they progress in their skills. The complement of three toms with a bass and snare together with all hardware, a throne, and 5 sets of sticks with a stick bag make this set a great value.

Browse the complete Musician’s Friend selection of junior drum kits, or full-sized starter drum sets.

What about electronic drum kits?

As you start shopping, you will likely come across electronic drum kits. They are convenient for small rehearsal spaces because they can be played with headphones or at very quiet volumes. Electronic kits are sometimes useful in a studio setting because their sound is easier to control, and they can produce hundreds of drum, cymbal and percussion sounds.

While many experienced drummers prefer the natural sound and playability of an acoustic drum kit, electronic drums have the advantage of offering quiet or silent practice—a blessing for family members and neighbors. They do however usually cost more than starter acoustic drum sets.

Alesis Nitro Mesh 8-Piece Electronic Drum Kit

The Alesis Nitro Mesh 8-Piece Electronic Drum Kit is both compact and capable with over 40 drum kit sounds.

Sold separately

There are a lot of optional accessories for drum sets, but here are a few small pieces you may want to consider right away:

  • Sticks - Some beginner drum kits come with sticks, but some don’t. Drum sticks are sized by number and letter combinations. The higher the number, the thinner the stick. Small, inexperienced hands generally do better with wider sticks. Learn more with our Drum Stick Buying Guide.
  • Dampening Devices - Drums ring when they are struck, but too much ring is loud and annoying. Dampening a drum head slightly can produce a much better sound. Dampening gels or control rings are both good options. Additionally, a bass drum kick/impact pad will extend the life of the kick drum head.
  • Practice Pads - These allow near-silent practice while providing playing dynamics that resemble playing a real drum. Even professional drummers use them to hone their skills and develop endurance at times playing the drum kit isn’t possible.

Sound Percussion Drum Mutes

Sound Percussion Drum Mutes are available in six sizes, so there is sure to be one that fits every drum in your kit.

There is almost no end to the accessories and upgrades that are available, and you can browse the entire Musician’s Friend selection of drum accessories here. For the young drummer just starting out (and his or her parents), these few will get you by for now.

World and Concert Percussion instruments

  • World Percussion refers to a variety of drums and other rhythm instruments that are typically played with hands, sticks, or other types of strikers.
  • Concert Percussion is used in school bands and professional orchestras. It includes a wide variety of instruments that ranges from big kettle drums to the tiny triangle. In most school music programs, concert percussion is provided by the school due to its significant cost.

Though there are hundreds of world percussion instruments to choose from, the djembe has become a very popular choice due to its broad range of sounds, and relatively easy learning curve. The Toca Freestyle Djembe is one of our bestsellers thanks to its full-bodied sound, range of size options and cool graphics.

Toca Freestyle Djembe

The synthetic body and head used on the Toca Freestyle Djembe is impervious to weather changes, will hold up to being hauled around and comes with a shoulder strap plus carrying bag.

If you have a child who wants to play concert percussion with a school band, you may be asked to purchase a snare kit. The Pearl SK-900 Snare Drum Kit is one of the most basic, and most affordable options.

Pearl SK910C Educational Snare Kit with Rolling Cart

The Pearl SK-910C Snare Drum Kit includes a snare drum, stand, practice pad, drum sticks, and a drum key that all packs into a convenient backpack case.

Still unsure about getting them drums?

If you’re still unconvinced about getting junior a drum kit or hand percussion, consider this: Learning to play the drums improves a person’s sense of rhythm and coordination, and can provide a healthy outlet for frustration. Research also shows drumming encourages synchronous brain activity in which both hemispheres of the brain work together at the same time.

We’re here to help

Armed with a basic understanding of the different components of a standard drum kit, and a few examples of what you might be looking for, you’re ready to make a kid’s dream come true. If you still have questions about which drum kit is right for you, call a Musician’s Friend Gear Head at 800-449-9128. We will be happy to answer your questions and help find the right drum kit for you or your child.

Tags: Electronic Drums Acoustic Drums Percussion


# Martin 2016-12-09 10:41
Great site. I'm looking for a junior set up. I want a smaller kit like the Pulse, but that's currently unavailable (checked MF, GC, Amazon).
- Is a practice kit like the DW Go Anywhere okay?
- Is the SPL 3-piece junior kit a good substitute for the pulse? They look very similar...

# Anna Greene 2016-11-09 10:46
My 14yr old would like a box drum for her Christmas. Just Googled them and they range from £23 - £200+

What's an ok one for her to start off with? Clearly the lower price is what I'm aiming for but I don't want to get her something that's only fit for a fire!

Any advice is appreciated, thank you.

# Joshua Gill 2016-12-08 07:49
Hey Anna. I'm not an avid percussionist, but I'm a good musician (or at least I'd like to think so) with a fair bit of experience learning music, buying equipment, and playing and conversing with percussionists and musicians and I'd be happy to offer my advice.

Assuming you're still looking for an answer, it would be helpful if you could answer a few questions. Is your daughter a percussionist or just interested in learning the cajon (box drum)? If she's brand new, you can probably get away with a pretty cheap cajon. The differences in sound are not going to be nearly as noticeable for a brand new player, and it's really more about learning to play well (learn various techniques/rhythms well with good rhythm and technique). My philosophy has always been to buy as cheap as you can and learn to play and then upgrade once you're skilled and committed. The disadvantages to that method are that sometimes cheap instruments have issues which make them harder to play (probably not an issue for cajons, I only mention it because I've experienced it with stringed instruments and just want to be thorough) and that if she keeps playing, she's gonna want an upgrade at some point sooner than if you bought her a nicer cajon to begin with. One advantage is that it's cheaper and therefore not as big a loss if it somehow breaks or she doesn't ever pursue and play it. It also may be a good idea because this way she'll have a better idea of what she wants from a cajon in terms of specific woods, dimensions, snares, etc.

If she's already a percussionist she may already have have an idea of what she wants and so you should talk to her. If she's experienced, but doesn't know what she wants then you should encourage her to do a bit of research and take her to a music store to try some out. If she does want something nicer, then it's up to you to negotiate with her or set a budget or handle that how you want to.

The other question would be what she wants to use it for. Obviously if she needs a professional level instrument for pro recording, that's gonna be more expensive, but you may also consider that if she's in a band or something, it might be worth it to invest in something nicer because it will sound better and may be louder or more resonant (although honestly you probably don't need that right now, for ). Investing in something nicer is less risky if she is in a band or is definitely committed to learning to play.

Regardless of all this, I'd just like to bring a few things to your attention to help you out. I noticed you said that you saw some cajons for £23. I'm in the U.S., but I converted that to usd and it looks like it's about $30. I looked on Musiciansfriend at all the cajons sorted from cheapest to most expensive and the only cajons for that price are mini cajons which are only 14 cm (8-3/4") tall (It's a sixth of the size of a normal cajon). Maybe you/your daughter are cool with that, but I thought I'd let you know just in case. It looks like the cheapest regular cajon you're gonna get is the Meinl Jam (~£55) [blocked]://[blocked].musician einl-jam-cajon which is actually a bit smaller too, but not by much and should work great. The other option is to get the build your own kit for a little less (~£40-50) [blocked]://[blocked].musician einl-make-your-own-cajon. Both of these (plus other options) are also available on amazon, but I linked to musicians friend because I like it and it's the site we're on now. I linked to Meinl because I know they're popular and have heard good things (and they had high customer ratings), but I'm sure there are other options that are just as good. There's probably also something cheaper somewhere other than Musiciansfriend, but I'll leave that up to you. I'm in no way affiliated with any company, just trying to be helpful. Hope this helps. Feel free to respond with any questions, I'll do my best to answer.
# uwamaliya Yvette 2016-09-05 09:59
I need to help me Please
# uwamaliya Yvette 2016-09-05 09:57
Thanks for your help. I will need to know how to
drum because I don't know to drum. please
help me. I really like drums.thank you for your help God bless you. Amen
# SERGIO BLANCO A 2016-08-24 15:34
# SERGIO BLANCO A 2016-08-24 15:32

# Jeron 2016-07-20 05:27
After an accident I lost my left leg above knee..I was learning how to play the drums 15 years ago so I'm back to being a beginner so what Drum kit is best to buy as a start up and sticks to start again with.Is there any music teachers to get me going again..Also will I need any hearing equipment etc as I'm very serious in learning and playing the drums like the pro's.. Thank you for your help
# Steve Dunegan 2016-06-10 22:00
Can I use a Jr Tom on my reg. Set
# Amanda 2016-05-08 22:50
Ok, so. This might come off as.. well.. awkward. But I'm 23 and very interested in learning drums. I never had the chance before due to financial situations and housing. But I'll be moving into my own place soon. I don't have a ton of space or money to spend, but I'd love starter set suggestions. Thank you so much!
# Ryder 2016-04-29 19:27
I am ten and want a good set to start out with. I had a bad drum kit with 3 drums that was cheap and I want somthing good to play. Any recommendations?!
# geneva williams 2016-07-14 14:07
I just inherited a 5 piece FIRST ACT DRUM SET with
cymbals and d
bass drum pedals as well as cymbal pedals selling every thing for $150.00 AS IS.
# Quinn Francis 2016-03-30 18:53
My brother and I both want to start drums (he's 10 and I'm 15), and I was wondering what size would be good to get. Also are there any recommended brands that aren't over-the-top expensive?
# Rose J 2016-03-12 03:22
I'm a beginner, so I gotta ask, are Franz Kremer good? I play rock so do you reccomend it? Thanks in advance! (I'm 14 years old)
# Jacki 2015-11-07 16:52
My 7 year old son has been for about 8 drum lessons and loves it. We are considering buying him a drum set. Is there any reason why we shouldn't by an electronic set as a starter drum set? Or what are your recommendations?
Thank you
# Nicholas Cremato 2015-11-27 05:58
As a player of 40 years the decision as to go with an electronic or acoustic set depends on what your son wants. If you get him something that is a second choice he will lose interest and no play as much. Just ask him. There are plenty of silencers for a standard trap kit that will keep it quiet.
# Jim Hanley 2015-11-05 13:05
I want to a buy a beginner set for my 10 year old child but he is tall (5 feet). What's the best beginner set considering his height?
# Jake 2016-05-18 22:09
I agree with Nic, but buying high-quality cymbals such as Sabian might be a little too expensive (VERY expensive considering that range for a single cymbal can vary from $100- $700). I suggest visiting a local music shop or some place that specializes in drums will be your best bet in finding a good set for your son as the people there might be your best bet for the best set!
# nicholas 2016-01-21 03:58
If he plays rock its tama or pearl export. look for maple heads. If its jazz or pop birch is a good choice.
It never pays to get a very cheap set as it has no resale value and he won't take any pride in his set.
Get him a name brand cymbal set like sabian.
# Greene 2015-10-28 11:03
Thanks for the overview... was helpful...
# Cameron 2015-09-03 18:54
This was very helpful. Its just what I was looking for. thanks!
# John Lester 2014-11-04 23:33
How about a beginners pkg for drummers, to include:
a 12 in pad,
a snare drum stand,
music stand,
Alfred's beginning snare drum method
and a pair of 5B sticks?

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