The value of large drum sets versus smaller kits – Drum Set Lessons in East Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – The sort of small clubs and practice spots I currently play at require a 4-5 piece, tightly assembled drum set with no more than 5 cymbals.

No gongs, second kick drum, effects pads, or octagons are possible, or there would not be any room for the amps and guitarists – let alone our cases and cords.

Call it a frustrated experiment, but I decided during my summer vacation to conduct a “drumvention” of sorts in my garage.

I assembled a 16-piece (cymbals not included) “mega kit” by combining every single piece of drum equipment I own. The drum kit expansion project took about three hours to construct, but it provided me with some very valuable lessons and challenges – and lots of fun.

I combined both of my drum sets, a five-piece 1979 Rodgers Studio 10 series, one 1950s vintage Pearl tom, and a 2010 six-piece Gretsch Maple shell series, with two Matador timbales, pair of LP bongos, stationary tamborine, assorted woodblocks, cowbell, wind chimes, hand percussion instruments, and 9 Zildjian and Paiste cymbals, including a cool double highhat set-up. I also needed about 10 boom stands and 3-4 Tama hardware clamps to pull all the cymbals, toms and percussion altogether.

Whew. I get tired just listing all of that gear.

In comparison, my mega kit was built in the spirit of Neil Peart’s last tour kit. While mine is nowhere close to his kit’s quality or quantity, I did borrow a few key elements that Peart talked about in his recent instructional video, “Anatomy of a drum solo”, which I highly recommend you watch. The heart of Peart’s kit – snare, kick, center rack tom, ride, and first floor closely resemble a traditional jazz kit.

If former Frank Zappa drummer Morgan Ågren of Sweeden can play a three kick-oriented drum kit, I can at least attempt two bass drums. Terry Bozzio, another great Zappa drummer and current Drum Channel resident musician, plays at least a 24-piece kit on some concert tours. Hec, even PBS Seaseme Street drummer “Animal” (Ronnie Verrell) played a double kick set. That said, John Bonham and Charlie Watts were most comfortable behind a simple 4-piece.

Drum set largesse beyond a 10-piece kit, however, is declining in popularity today. A random drum kit PR photo sampling I conducted of the world’s top 25 celebrity drummers found online at (an awesome web resource for drummers, by the way) reveals that they play an average of 6-piece drum kits.

What is more interesting about these posted kit photos is several trends I identified. More and more drummers today are integrating a second pair of closed highhats above their first floor tom. Some just clamp them tight to boom stands while others use more sophisticated hydraulic cords to enable double HH foot pedals. I tried this concept out at a recent gig and it provided me with additional drum fill phrasing freedom, and the ability to use both closed and open highhats while playing double kick drum patterns.

Another trend I found while perusing drum set PR photos was that at least half of the drummers whose kits I studied are now using a floor tom to the left of their main high-hats. I have employed this strategy for years and it offers a wonderful off-beat accent tool – not to mention a back-up tom in case a head breaks.  Holds a beer and set list quite nicely as well. Just don’t hit said left tom while beer is on head.

There is also a growing interest in elevating a 8 or 10-inch rack tom above the high-hats, too. I am seeing many drummers orienting 3-4 rack toms centered above the kick drum these days. And finally, my highly unscientific analysis revealed that two floor toms to the right of the snare is more the norm today than the exception.

So how does this all relate with my mega kit experiment?

What I learned from the procedure is you need a lot of practice to handle that many drums. Detractors in the past have said large kits hide the imperfections of the drummer while he or she cannot cover up behind a 4-piece.

Not true. I make as many mistakes behind either.

You pick the kit that matches your style and tastes. Bill Cobham sets up a 10-14 piece kit regularly in jazz/fusion realms. And he actually uses all of those drums. I watched a recent warm-up video of Billy practicing at the famous Long View Farm Studios in North Brookfield, MA and he plays everything to perfection.

The challenge I have with a 16-piece drum kit is navigation at faster tempos. You need to be quite mobile to work a kit this size and still keep the beat. I did find a distinct advantage in tuning and control while playing two different kick drums versus using my transmission highhat double kick drum pedal on one. Both kicks and their respective pedals respond differently. I actually found it easier and more controllable to play double kick patterns on two bass drums versus one.

The best thing about a larger than life drum kit is the endless possibilities with solos. The triad of toms and second snare to my left in this photo link here make a beautiful “solo” zone, if I shift my right hand foot to the left hand kick drum. Likewise, the timbales I dangled above my two right-hand floor toms offer many options for creativity.

I am not overwhelmed by the size of mega-kick, but it is just not practical for the types of gigs I play. Suffice to say, my two young sons love playing it – this time together.

Enough about my grandiose experiment, though. Please share your own drum kit set-up realities and dreams with this drumming community blog.

 – Tim Kane is a published writer/editor and professional drummer of 30-plus years.

Dude, I can’t hear you – Drum Set Lessons in North Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane

 STURBRIDGE, MA – I played a recent outdoor gig where the sound engineer placed the drum riser behind a pop-up shade tent and positioned all the amps and monitors out in front of my kit. I also had the distinct honor of playing without any floor or in-ear monitors.

What resulted from this poor stage sound arrangement was audio quality I can only describe as mush, and an inability for me to relate musically to any other musician.

I usually set-up before any other band mate and leave plenty of room on stage for other amplifiers. Unfortunately, a muffled stage sound is more the norm for me than the exception. Let us assume for a moment that you are like most drummers reading this blog: you are the weekend warrior-type musician playing live gigs at smaller indoor and outdoor venues with low pay and free beer (maybe). These types of gigs are not always conducive to running direct feed or line-in with all instruments going through a PA system. You often neither have the time, money, personnel, nor equipment for that integrated of a stage sound investment.

If I am lucky, the sound engineer will mic my kick drum and perhaps the snare at gigs. Because most venues I play at are space limited, guitar and keyboard amps are rarely sent direct through the portable sound system, and thus do not create a nice balanced on-stage sound by using EQ’d monitors in the overall mix. More often than not, I do not even have a monitor of my own. And even if I did, the most I can hear through it is vocals as I don’t need my own drums in the monitor. I need bass and guitar, which is only possible to achieve with a direct line-in amplifier send through the PA system.

So I have decided to take stage sound control into my own hands and ears. There are some simple strategies you can advocate for as a drummer to ensure you enjoy listening to the music you help produce as much as the fellow musicians in front of you.

What I advise is for drummers to encourage your bandmates to not stack their amps directly in front of your kick drum, snare, or floor toms. Be courteous to them as well. Arrive early and do not arrange your drum set in a way where there is no room beside your kit for amps and guitar stands to be comfortably placed. Talk to the sound person before he or she sets-up.

Moreover, try to have the “gig set-up” discussion at your next rehearsal. Express your inner feelings. In fact, use your next practice session as a true dress rehearsal. Set up exactly how you would live with an audience out front. Know how large your upcoming gig’s stage playing area will be. Garages work fine for this test, minus your car and lawnmower, of course – and a very forgiving spouse or roommate.

Another “back wall” stage set-up involves bassists and guitarists tilting their amps up towards the sky or roof and pivoting amps at a 45-degree angle toward center stage and you. That way, you catch some of their playing volume, but not all of it.

Running all instruments through the PA system and mixed into monitors is obviously the best option. With the overall stage volume down, the sound engineer can give you what you want to hear without killing the audience’s ears.

My own experimental solution at the next “monitor-less” gig will involve separately sending all amps and vocals through my laptop’s 8-channel audio interface device and wearing ear buds. That way, I can record the music and hear everyone at the same time.

The key is to take the necessary time before a gig to strategize stage set-up, run a few tunes as sound check, and be willing to readjust the position of certain speakers.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor and drummer for 30-plus years living in Massachusetts.

How your drum set playing style influences the overall drum sound – Drum Set Lessons in Sturbridge, MA

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – Good drummers should be able to get a great sound going on any kit, as those shells are an extension of their own personas.

Selecting and striking a drum at just the right time and receiving the intended tone is an art form. Like a cymbal, any one head can produce a bevy of different sounds. That’s why well versed hand and foot technique makes good drum sounds possible.

What I have discovered in my own playing and analysis of how celebrity and full-time drummers approach their instrument is quite simple.

Once you have obtained a decent proficiency in 4-way coordination on the drums, your next step is to think about total awareness of your presence in the pocket and how interpretation of the music going into your ears affects the notes resonating out of your shells.

So how does one exude a confidence that a certain playing style will influence their overall drum sound?

Pro drummers such as Thomas Lang and Chad Wackerman are masters of playing as an integral part of the drum set versus sitting on a drum throne and just hitting drums. They groove and have tremendous chops to boot.

Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl prefers hitting with force, but understands that dynamics play a huge role not only in the song’s ebb and flow between verse, bridge and chorus, but also in what distinct sounds softer and harder hits produce on the drum kit – whether single-stroke rolls and flams or a solid slam is the best recipe for that moment in time.

Pure jazz drummers such as Jack DeJohnette are all about good posture, buzz rolls around the kit, left-hand independence as a piano and guitar accent tool on the snare, and soft hands. They tend to hit their heads with more beats per second than rock, and the tonal qualities of the shell change rather dramatically.

Good drummers are the instrument as much as the drums themselves. Drummers should hear the sound they will create before that musical phrasing plays in their ears.

Shell sounds are all your own to create and have fun with. Like Keith Moon showed the world, be the drums.

– Tim Kane, a professional writer, editor and drummer for more than 30 years.


About Tim Kane

CELL/TEXT:  413-813-5350


Blending diverse rhythmic styles into the mainstream scene with good taste has been Tim Kane’s forte as a musician for more than 30 years. 

He is certified and endorsed as a school drum instructor by Vic Firth, an international manufacturer of drum sticks, mallets, brushes and percussive devices.  He is also a recognized current member of the Massachusetts Music Educators Association.

An award-winning musician, Kane began drumming and playing trombone in fourth grade and continued through college. He is certificate and course trained in rock, jazz, concert and marching bands. He studied and performed with a jazz quintet at the well-respected Indian Hill Music Center in Littleton, Mass. and in Fitchburg State University’s jazz ensemble and orchestra. He now plays in three local bands and has performed with national touring artists. 

Inspired early on by music from artists such as Rush, Dave Brubeck, Van Halen, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, The Police, Buddy Rich and Phil Collins’ Brand X, Kane has developed his own style that is often compared that of master drummers Steve Gadd and Stewart Copeland. 

CELL/TEXT:  413-813-5350

Stuck in the sticks

By Tim Kane

Sturbridge, MA – Call it an identity crisis of sorts, but my bag was chock full of odd-sized drum sticks to the point where I just had to purge them the other day.

I used to prefer playing the skinnier, lighter and shorter 5A nylon tips, which were invented by Joe Calato, by the way. Then, dear wife gave me custom drum sticks with 5B wood tips for Christmas with my website address laser written onto them. Sweet! They just sounded better on cymbal bells, produced stronger shell resonance, and created more bounce while playing buzz rolls on the snare.

By simplifying what I own for models, however, I am slowly rediscovering the best types of drum sticks in terms of weight, length, finish, taper, durability, color, and tip in order to match my particular needs.

Like highhats, drum sticks are one of the most important elements of your drum set. Take the time to experiment with various types, though one challenge you’ll encounter is a growing number of local music stores don’t carry a great diversity of brands these days.

What should you look for? In my opinion, the top five drum stick manufacturers in the world include Vic Firth, Zildjian, Pro-Mark, Vater and Regal Tip. If you get the chance to test drive some pairs, roll the sticks on a flat surface before using or purchasing them. Like 2X4s at the lumber store, drum sticks are not all cut perfectly straight. The more warped they are, the less efficient they perform around your drum set.

There are specific wood types and outer coatings to consider as well. The most common drums sticks are made from Maple, Hickory, and Oak – Maple being the most apt to break and Hickory drum sticks being the most popular. I have never liked synthetic sticks such as aluminum. Drums are meant to be played with real wood.

Varnished or lacquered sticks are important considerations as well. If you sweat a lot, you will want to avoid slippery coatings, or sand them down after purchase. There are a growing number of sticks with tacky surfaces embedded over the butt ends now. You can even buy sure grip wraps for them. I stay away from painted sticks, as they tend to taint my heads with that particular color.

As for drum stick tips, I still prefer wood, though nylon is the standard today. The problem I have with nylon is they tend to sound too pinging and brilliant on certain cymbals where wood produces much warmer tones. There are actually four types of tip designs and tonal qualities to consider, including: rounded (focused for cymbals), pointed (triangular shaped for medium tones), teardrop shaped (diverse sounds), and barrel (larger area for bashing). I have found the most success in playing distinct patterns with teardrops.

Size and taper wise, traditionalists will tell you that 5Bs and 2Bs are intended for hard rock drummers while 5As and 7As are best suited for jazz and funk. Though originally designed for such uses, I use 5Bs during practice to build my endurance for live gigs employing 5As. I have even used a 5B in my left hand for more punch on the snare while playing a lighter 5A on the ride and vice versa.

Choose the drum stick best fit for your hands and drum set positions, not just the musical style you are playing. Stick selection is an often-overlooked process to being the complete drummer, and is actually a critical ingredient.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

Here’s some kick drum help


One of the main problems new drummers have with playing double bass is that they see extreme metal drummers and they try to play at their speed. Speed is something that you can’t just learn. You need to practice every day and build up.

Start heel up and play with your entire leg, keeping your ankle semi-stiff and bending at the waist, practice there at a comfortable speed and develop those hip-flex muscles until you’re comfortable playing (120bpm or so) for a good 10 minutes without getting tired.

You’ve only just started, the technique you’re using right now is referred to by George Kollias as “level 2”, and this is only going to get harder.

As you progress upwards in speed it will eventually become a waste of energy to keep up the up down motion through your hips; this is where you want to try level 3.

At this speed (should be up to 180 or so bpm, semiquavers of course), you want your hips relatively relaxed, and your ankles doing all the work. It will feel very awkward at first, but you need to just practice and let it happen. Adjust the ball of your foot’s position in relation to your pedal until you find that sweet spot (again, it will just come to you), practicing at this speed and position is even more uncomfortable than level 2, but you’ll find once you’re used to it it’s actually easier for a long period of time, assuming you’re not going for full power strokes.

When you get even more intense (and you won’t, for a long while), level 3 is putting too much pressure on the center of your calf muscle; this is where level 4 comes in. the idea behind this is that you’re rotating your heel back and fourth about the ball of your foot. This sudden motion will both increase your speed as well as force yourself to use the entirety of your calves to remain steady for a long time.

don’t try to skip levels. Make sure you’re perfectly comfortable for the longest period of time at each level before trying to move on.

-Position your drum throne further back than you might find normal; you want the front of the chair as close to your knees as possible while remaining comfortable seated, and you want your knees bent slightly forward, so that your legs are closer to straight than bent. Putting the throne up higher can also help with this.

-Adjust those pedals. The faster you get the more annoying that throw is going to be. Make the beater travel a smaller distance by putting it closer to the hinge, and loosen up those bolts so it’s easier for your calves to do the action.

-Adjust that drum head. You want it tight, very tight. Reducing the throw and tightness of your pedals just made it difficult to get the pedal back started, and the solution is making a good snare-like surface for it to bounce off.

You might be interested in the heel toe, dribble, or double swivel techniques.

The heel toe technique puts your toe at the top of your pedal and allows you to play in a 4-way motion (left heel, right heel, left toe, right toe, repeat)

The dribble technique is very fast and loud, but also very uncomfortable and difficult to sustain. If level 2 is your comfort zone, you might like this one. The technique is done by holding your feet off the pedal using your hip flexors and tapping your toes up and down like you’re dribbling a basketball. I’d recommend starting in level 2 and then lifting up to accomplish this, just like you would with a basketball.

The Double swivel technique, sometimes referred to as level 5, is just like level 4 but accomplishes a Mueller-like concept within it but hitting each side of your swivel twice (right heel leftleft, left heel leftleft, right heel rightright, left heel rightright, repeat)

Having practiced each of these, I’d recommend the double swivel, although if you’re comfortable with heel toe, it can be one of the fastest methods around, and Tim Waterson holds the world record at some 1300+ single strokes using this method. However, I wouldn’t recommend you even get close to any of these until level 4 is doable, and by then you probably won’t even be interested in getting faster, after all many drummers have been clocked at over 180bpm semiquavers with a single foot using this technique. is a multi-faceted, self-employed music business offering online virtual and live performance, drum set and percussion lessons, drum history lectures, group djembe drum circles, drum and percussion repairs, and musician/band marketing. Email: