Tommy Igoe: Drum Setup & Tuning Basics
Forming The “Power Square”
Now that we have the proper leg placement, let’s build the rest of the drum set from this position. We are going to create what I call the “power square.” On a standard 5-piece kit, the snare and your three toms form the “square” itself.
First, make the lower left corner of your square by placing the snare drum in its correct position: between your legs with the top hoop above your knees — right around your belt buckle. Your knees should be close to the snare on either side, but not touching it. It’s a good idea to start with your snare relatively flat, though some drummers enjoy an angle in one direction or another. Experiment and see what you like. Most importantly, your body should be centered behind your snare, facing the direction of your bass drum and not flaring out on an angle.
The smallest mounted tom forms the upper left corner of your square. Adjust it so the top hoop of the tom is a few inches above the top rim of the snare, but not touching, with a slight angle downward towards your body. At this point the snare, small tom, and your body should be in a fairly straight line. Commonly, young drummers set up too far to the right causing them to face the hi-hat and lose their neutrality and balance in relation to the rest of the kit. Staying centered behind your drums with good posture is a great advantage for not only playing but also for avoiding a common drummer ailment: back pain.
Now, to form the upper right-hand corner of the square, position your second mounted tom so that it matches the height and angle of your first mounted tom (Fig. 4). The two toms should be very close together but not touching. If you see big gaps of air between your drums, close up the gap. Drums that are too far apart only add unnecessary work when trying to get around the drum set.
The floor tom forms the lower right-hand corner of the square (Fig. 5). It should be even with the snare and relatively flat. The top hoop of the floor tom should be below the top hoop of your second mounted tom. Pull the floor tom nice and tight to your knee without touching it, about 4" to 8" away from your snare.
Your power square is finished. You’ve created a powerful base of operations for your drumming. Now that the drums have been “ergonomically” formed around your body, you can experiment with angle and height adjustments to fine-tune your setup to fit the way you like to play. And, if you have more drums, just add them as logical offshoots to the power square. Easy!
Setting Up Cymbals
Now you can also complete the drum setup by positioning the cymbals correctly. Here are some general cymbal setup tips:
Your ride cymbal can be in any number of places, but there are two common ones: right above your second mounted tom (Fig. 6), or lower down next to just above the floor tom. Try both and see which you prefer. Remember, there is no “right” way — it’s a personal decision.
Set your crash cymbals high enough above the drums where you can get some power and not hit your hands on the hoops of your toms (Fig. 7). I recommend a bit of tilt towards you, but some players like them set flat. Please, use glancing blows off the cymbals! Never punch “through” them. You’ll only break them and get an ugly sound. Cymbals always sound better with a flick of a wrist than with a stabbing jab.