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MD Education Team Weighs In On: Ergonomics

MD Education Team Weighs In On: Ergonomics
We asked the members of the MD Education Team to share their thoughts on how to set up drums and cymbals. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Florian Alexandru-Zorn

My suggestion is to first get your instrument set up in such a way that you feel it as a extension of your limbs. It is important to get the drums set up so that you can reach any single instrument without having the need to overstretch. I really like having my toms and snares really flat so that I can play more “out” of the drums. I also prefer playing a smaller bass drum (18″ or 20″ in diameter) so that I can position my toms relatively low. When it comes to recording or miking the drums, it can be a totally different game. I try to position everything in ways so that a sound engineer can handle have enough separation from each instrument’s audio signal. My cymbals are positioned low, but not too much.

 

Jeremy Hummel

This is a great topic and is something that I cover in detail with my students. Before getting into specifics, I offer two simple thoughts. First, the kit should be comfortable to play. And the primary concern should be to have the ability to move around the set with relative ease.

There may be differing opinions on what “comfortable” means. My recommendation is to start with the drums and cymbals placed so you don’t have to do any unnecessary reaching, be it upward or outward. A good idea is to base your setup on a four-piece kit, even if you play larger sets. In his DVD A Work In Progress, Neil Peart explains that you should be able to comfortably strip your kit down to a four-piece with only the necessary cymbals (hi-hat, ride, and one or two crashes). He then shows how his kit develops from there.

I usually ask students to show me a picture of their setup. In many instances, the kit is set up awkwardly simply because he or she didn’t know any better. Here are some observations.

Snare Height

Besides the cymbals often being placed in hard-to-reach positions, the most common problem that I see is that drummers have their snare drum too low. This not only creates unnecessary reaching or dropping of the arm, but also restricts rebound. The stick will end up pointing downward if it has to be dropped to knee-level or below. The optimum point of contact is when the stick is perpendicular with the drum. Here’s an experiment. Hold your arms straight out, with your hands joined together. Make a circular motion by moving to the right, in towards the chest, to the left, and back to the starting point. Keep repeating this motion and notice how the arms move the easiest when staying on the same level. If you have to dip down too much on the right side (floor tom) or the left side (snare), it creates a disruption in the flow. Of course, we aren’t going to position the drums all at the same height. However, this experiment shows that keeping things in closer proximity allows for the best movement. For the snare, try a starting position closer to the belly button and modify from there.

Throne

Start by having the legs form a 90-degree angle at the knees and adjust to your personal taste. If the throne is too low, we end up pulling our legs toward us. This can create some serious hip flexor and lower back issues. Sitting too high can inhibit the power that the entire leg can offer.

Having done some studying on the Alexander Technique, one of the greatest things I have learned is to sit on my sit bones, which are those U-shaped bones on the bottom of the pelvis. These can be found by sitting on your hands. They are the bones that protrude in your hands. Allow these sit bones to sink into your throne.

The drumset can be a very aggressive instrument. I used to play toward the front of the throne. I discovered that allowing my entire butt to be on the seat helped my posture and my groove, as it allowed my body to be more relaxed.

Align yourself with the bass drum. Many of us play a single bass drum and have it positioned dead center. I find it important to have the right leg in line with the bass drum and pedal. I see drummers who center themselves more to the left, which can create a stretching and pulling on the body when reaching for drums and cymbals on the right. Additionally, try to avoid scrunching up your left leg tighter to the body than the right.

Here’s a photo that shows my larger setup from a few years ago. I used this kit for my clinic at PASIC 2010.

Jeremy Hummel PASIC KIT

Here’s a video I produced a few years ago on the topic of ergonomics.

 

Marc Dicciani

This is another one of those topics where the answers to what is best for you includes a high degree of personal preference as well as things like physics, kinesiology, physiology, ergonomics, acoustics, technique, and style of play.

I remember reading a quote that stated that the choice of technique and setup are yours, but the results are beyond your control. I take this to mean that many decisions we make have repercussions that can either help or hinder our playing. It’s our choice to play efficiently and naturally, with an understanding of how things work, or to ignore and pay the price. Although each of our bodies is similar in most ways, there are many ways in which we differ (height, weight, length of forearms, width of hands, etc.). So there is no single set of rules that will work for everyone. That said, how a stick rebounds after hitting a drum or cymbal is a matter of mathematics and physics. The height and angle of the drum relative to the position of the forearm and the path of the stick dictates how that stick will rebound and how much work it will take to return that stick to a position where you can comfortably and efficiently make the next stroke. Similarly, the angles and heights of ride and crash cymbals can make the playing of them easier or more difficult and can affect the sound.

The greater the resistance and muscle activity you need to use to play the drumset, and the more you have to think about the next stroke, the less you’re hearing the music, feeling the groove, listening to the other musicians, and just playing and having fun. In this regard, your setup should be more about efficiency, comfort, and sound than anything else. Inefficiency, fatigue, discomfort, pain, and injury are often the result of improper technique and setup. I have had students come to me with various ailments and pains only to trace the cause of those things back to how they sit, and how they configure their drums.

Another thing to remember is that sometimes a very small adjustment is all that is needed to make a huge difference in your comfort level. Experiment frequently with your setup and seek the advice of a teacher or professional who is knowledgeable and experienced in these areas. Know that just because you see someone playing a certain way with a certain setup doesn’t mean that it’s the most effective way for you. You have to factor in whether you use traditional or matched grip or play the hi-hat open-handed or crossed. Try to keep whatever parts of your kit you use the most (snare, ride, hi-hat) in the closest proximity.

Here are two more important points. First, don’t ignore seat height. The lower you sit, the more pressure and stress will be put on the lower part of your back. Try sitting where your hipbone is slightly higher than the top of your knee. This is a good starting point for seat height. Also, invest in a high-quality seat that affords you the greatest support. Second, be careful of the position of you forearm and hand when playing the ride cymbal. If you keep your hand in a position that’s above shoulder-height for long periods of time, you could begin to experience numbness or tingling in your fingers, as well as shoulder fatigue.

I suggest paying attention to how your body moves naturally and to the signals your body gives you. Don’t fight nature, don’t fight your body, and know that the laws of physics apply to drumming just as they do to everything else in our known universe. Learn as much as you can, listen to and watch other professional drummers, experiment, consult with a qualified teacher, and then decide for yourself.

 

Marko Djordevic

The goal is always clear: to achieve a place of comfort and balance from which we can go in any direction without feeling impeded in any way. The more aware we are of our mechanics, the easier it should be to figure out how high or low we should sit, as well as the the heights, distances and angles of the elements of our beloved instrument.

Yet, this is a bit of a fairy tale, especially for those of us who regularly perform at different venues where we have to play on drums that we have never seen before. Even during those times when I have my drums set up by a qualified expert who knows what I want, drum and cymbal positioning is often contingent upon external factors, such as the impact of the acoustics of a particular venue on the feel we get from the different surfaces of the kit. So it is difficult for me to state with 100-percent certainty exactly what I want all of the time, let alone advise others about the particulars.

What is extremely helpful, however, is to make peace with the idea that often we are going to be less than fully comfortable. Once this is understood, move on to specific ways of practicing that will facilitate greater comfort, regardless of the situation. One thing to do is spend some of your time practicing on a kit that is intentionally set up to feel as odd and unfamiliar as possible, while banishing any excuse for sub-par performance. This is a lesson I learned from Ian Froman, who would forbid any adjusting of the drums in his lessons. You just played what was there and you were supposed to make it sound good.

I believe that looking at our beloved instrument from this angle puts us in the best possible position to create good music regardless of the circumstances. Remember, drums should not be playing you; you should be playing the drums. Well, when things are really happening, you should not be playing the drums either, but with that I’m crossing into the metaphysical realm…. Maybe the next topic could focus on the places music can take us after our drums are set up and ready to be played?

 

Bill Bachman

I’m a huge fan of ergonomics and am always striving to make things as easy as possible. I start by sitting facing the direction I want to face and set my stool height so that my thighs go downhill slightly and will come up to about parallel to the floor when my entire leg is lifted. Wherever my feet want to go is where I position the pedals, and I like the bass drum to stay in-line with my leg so that the energy goes straight to the drum and so that there’s no lateral torque on the pedal hinge. As a result, the bass drum comes out at an angle from the audience’s point of view.

Next I add the snare and set it up so that the beads of the sticks are landing a little bit past dead center when my arms are hanging loosely at my side. I angle the snare slightly and set it up as low as it’ll go while still being able to hit a rimshot without my hand hitting my hi-hat leg.

Now for the most important part of my setup: the hi-hat. I use my Remote Speedy Hat to place the cymbals at eleven or twelve o’clock relative to the snare so that my sticks never have to cross. It makes everything so much easier and opens up countless new musical options, since the stick that would otherwise be limited underneath the cross now has a full range of motion and can comfortably play anything on the kit. (It’s similar to the open-handed concept, where you play the hi-hats with the left hand.) I set up the hi-hats so that they’re partially overlapping the snare and as low they can go while still being able to play on the edge of the cymbals without my hand bottoming out and hitting the snare. I use this position because there’s hardly any reaching required to play the hi-hats, and there’s no need to lift one arm or shoulder higher that the other to cross over.

Now it’s time for the toms. Since I play the hi-hats at least twenty times more often than the toms, I give the hi-hats the priority in positioning. I put the rack tom over the bass drum and as low as it will go, and I angle it so that my sticks naturally hit it at a ten-degree angle. This position assures that there’s no need to reach any more than necessary and I don’t have to lift my arms to access the rack tom. The floor tom goes as close to the bass drum as possible and is just a little bit lower than the snare, since I often play rimshots on the snare drum and rarely do on the floor tom. When I don’t need to set up and tear down my kit, I’ll add another rack tom and floor tom on the left side. This way both hands have easy access to toms without any crossing restrictions.

The ride cymbal is set up low and close on my right side so that I can play it comfortably without lifting my arm. The rest of the cymbals are set up about as low as possible and angled so that, with minimal reaching, I can comfortably strike the edges of them.

A visual always helps, so here’s a photo and video to check out.

Bachman drums overhead shot

Jim Payne

Seat Height

The legs should be extended. I don’t think it’s a good idea to cramp your legs by sitting too low. If the legs are cramped, they’re going to get tired sooner. I think the thighs should point down slightly.

I adjust the seat height according to how my legs are stretched out. I was fortunate enough to talk to Elvin Jones about this. He was getting on in years, and I believe he was also having some circulation problems with his legs at that time, but he said he was sitting higher and higher so that his legs would have more room to stretch out. As to exactly how high you should sit, that’s a matter of personal taste.

Posture

I’ve always been a fan of Tony Williams’ posture. He sat up straight. I know he also studied tai chi, and that helps everything from energy level to concentration to relaxation at the drumset.

Hi-Hats

Since I play a lot of funk, I keep the hi-hats high enough so that the right hand doesn’t get in the way of the left hand when the left hand is coming up to play a backbeat. My hi-hat cymbals are about seven to eight inches above the snare.

Snare Drum

Some slant the snare drum away from them, usually higher on the left side and lower on the right. This can work well when using traditional grip but not so well with the overhand grip because it’s harder to get rimshots. I keep the snare drum flat. I find that setup allows me to use both traditional and overhand left hand grips.

Cymbals

I like to keep the arms hanging naturally at my sides. I don’t like to raise the arms and elbows to play the cymbals, so I don’t set the cymbals too high. When you’re playing jazz, you’re on the ride most of the time and holding the arms high is counterproductive. It’s also easier to play the bell of the ride if it’s not too high.

Toms

I find that using a second rack tom makes it hard to set up the ride cymbal close enough, so I use a four-piece kit with just one rack tom. I keep the floor tom close to me and at the same level as the snare or a little lower.

The basic rule is to keep everything within easy reach.

 

Jeff Salem

I tell all my beginner students at their first lesson the most important part of the drumset is the throne. If it’s not set to a comfortable height and position, playing the drums effectively will be much more challenging and uncomfortable.

So what is right? The answer to that depends on your body height, weight, size, and what feels comfortable for you. A good guideline to start off with is to have the height set so your legs form a right angle from your knees to your feet and from your knees to your waist. The same applies with the arms when playing the snare and floor tom. It’s very important to sit up straight and have good posture. By doing so, it shows confidence, and it will give you strength and endurance when playing. Never slouch.

As far as the throne distance to my bass drum pedal, I am always aware of keeping a right angle in my legs. This way, I’m not too close or too far from the bass drum. Over the years, I have experimented with seat heights. I found that in the days of playing more double bass and heavy music I was sitting a little higher, as I felt I could get more power and volume out of bass drums, and I was mostly playing heals-up on the pedals.

Today, I play more jazz and have my foot positioned heals-down and I sit lower. When experimenting with throne heights, set it for a week and give it time for your body to adjust. You will know after a week if it’s right for you. There is no right or wrong; it’s what feels best for you. I share a teaching room with another instructor who loves to position his throne super-high, at least 4″ higher than my setting. We are the same height and weight, but he just feels more comfortable playing this way.

I like to have the snare in front of me at the twelve o’clock position. The hi-hat is to my left, placed at approximately ten o’clock, and 4–6″ above the snare. This position feels very comfortable, and my arms and wrists move very naturally when playing. I have my floor tom positioned at a similar height as my snare, which is a few inches above my knees. I play my toms fairly flat.

My cymbal height and angles have changed over the years. Back in the ’80s, I wanted everything to look symmetrical. I had China cymbals set about eight to nine feet high. They looked cool, but they were a challenge to play. Ergonomically, it was totally wrong. Today, I have my cymbals at a pretty low height and not angled so vertically. My crash is positioned at about eleven o’clock, just to the left of my first tom, and my ride is positioned over my second tom, covering about a quarter of the head. This setup allows me to comfortably incorporate ideas between the ride and second tom or move my hand between the ride and floor tom.

Once you are comfortably positioned and relaxed, you should be able to express yourself fluently. If I can play with my eyes closed and maneuver around the kit without hitting rims or experiencing pain in my limbs, I have found my proper setup.

 

David Stanoch

Have you ever had to play another drummer’s kit with the strict instructions to “not to move anything”?

Typically one of three things happens. (Select the option that best describes you):

1. It’s impossible to get comfortable.

2. You like their setup better than your own.

3. It’s no big deal either way.

If you answered 3, you’ve likely arrived to a very elevated level of professionalism that I’ll discuss later on. If your reaction was number 2, you’ve been enlightened by the experience, which is always nice. If you selected number 1, you’re either stuck in an extreme situation, or you’re very picky.

I think it’s very important for a player to experiment often with his/her setup to find what works best. What a player likes often changes and evolves over time. For example, look at pictures of Vinnie Colaiuta or Steve Smith’s setups over the years. There was a time when they each sat very low, the drums were placed  high around them, and the cymbals were above them and somewhat vertical. This isn’t the case with their current setups. Everything is a bit more level, from a higher seat height to relatively lower and flatter drums and cymbals.

When I sit on my stool, I observe how my legs and feet fan out naturally from my core. I try to align the pedals with this position in order to prevent awkward twists or turns. I also make sure that the snare is positioned so that the tips of the sticks land naturally in the center of the drum. If I’m too close to the set, with my knees over the balls of my feet, I’m inhibiting my range of ankle motion and creating tension. If I’m too far back and my ankles are out in front of my knees, I lose the coil or spring I need to control the pedals. I choose a distance where the balls of my feet are out from under my knee, and my feet can easily work the footboard with either heel’s-down or heel’s-up techniques. My hi-hat pedal is tucked a little bit closer since I prefer to keep my foot mostly over the front end of the footboard.

All of this needs to be balanced with the height of my stool, which has varied quite a bit for me over time. I’m 6’4″, but because of some issues with my back from an old injury, I avoid sitting high on the stool. I prefer to be more nested into the set. As my foot technique has developed, I’ve gradually moved my stool higher so that I don’t have to lift my leg from the torso, which introduces tension. A slightly higher seat height makes my footwork more consistent and relaxed, and I can dance on the pedal with more grace. Yet, I still like having the extra power that you get by lifting your leg from the torso, which I feel becomes compromised if you’re sitting too high. I strive to find a balance between those ideals.

As I panoramically survey the landscape of my drumset’s upper regions, I have evolved how I arrange the drums, cymbals, and percussion into a series of fairly symmetrical tiers. At each level, the height of the instruments is positioned evenly from side to side. The angles may vary but their positioning is constant. Tier one is the snare drum and floor tom. I prefer the angle of my snare to slant away from me, but since I use both traditional and matched grip the overall height of the snare is a bit lower than it is for some drummers who play this way. I need to be able to switch grips comfortably and still easily catch the rim for rimshots. The outward angle works well, and it puts my hands in a similar position as when I play djembe, with the head slanting away from my body. I like the floor toms to be positioned level with the floor and at a point where the tip of my right stick lands naturally in the center of the drum. I hike it up a bit higher than the snare so that when playing rimclicks on the snare I have the option to slide the stick over to catch the rim of the floor tom, which gets an amazing huge and dark rimclick sound. That’s a trick I picked up by watching Eric Gravatt.

Tier two is primarily the right side area, about three to four inches up from my floor tom. This is where I place my cowbell, which rests between my rack tom and ride cymbal or over the far side of my floor tom when I use a five-piece setup. To the right of that is my China/swish cymbal. The cowbell is level to the floor but the China is angled-in rather steeply.

Tier three starts on the left side, from the inward edge of my hi-hats to the rim of the rack tom to the edge of the ride cymbal. They are all at the same height. The hi-hats are flat and the tom and ride cymbal are angle slightly downward. My hi-hats are positioned so I can play them comfortably over the top of the cymbal or on the edge with minimum motion.

The final level, tier four, is where my left- and right-side crash or ride cymbals are suspended. If I’m using rides, I angle them slightly inward so that it’s easy to get my stick parallel to their surfaces. If the crashes are up, I keep them flat and level to the floor, like Buddy Rich did. This is a challenging position, but I find it very useful for executing a variety of techniques, including glancing blows across the bow (or from underneath, like Billy Cobham) or direct hits for maximum power.

Often times when playing, I can’t really watch what I’m doing on the drums and nor do I always want to. Sometimes I just like to close my eyes and let my ears lead me into that nirvana-like zone of connectivity. Or I might be reading a chart or needing to keep an eye on an act or musical director for cues. This tier system gives me the confidence to know that my limbs can go where they need to go on their own.

The height of my crash cymbals varies at times. Why? One reason might be to raise them up, as Simon Phillips recommends, in the recording studio to aid in getting better separation between the drums and the cymbals. But live, there are many things that might affect my setup. For example, if I’m on the floor of the stage with the rest of the band, I might be able to see better with the cymbals placed lower on the kit. If I’m on a riser, I might need to suspend them higher for the same reason. In these situations, it pays to be flexible with your positioning for reasons that may not always be the best ergonomic option.

When I was a teenager, Art Blakey explained to me how he was the instrument. His concept was so complete that he could sit down at any drumset and project his own sound. I strive for that kind of security, and so should you.

 

Jason Gianni

I am a small person so set up and positioning is extremely important to me. If I feel that I am the slightest bit off from where I normally sit, my playing, as well as my focus level, may suffer. Perhaps the toughest thing to deal with as a professional musician is the necessity to use backline equipment at various gigs. So devising a regular system for adjustment is important.

From a teaching standpoint, I feel it is vital to point out the guidelines and details of positioning from the very first lesson. These pointers about positioning will last a lifetime. Here the a general overview I typically introduce to a new student.

All setups begin with seat height. I introduce seat height in comparison to the resting position of the feet. Once your feet are in place (either heel-up or heel-down) on the pedals, then I have the student angle the legs at a 90-degree position or a bit greater. I’m also very particular about the position of the rear end on the throne itself. I feel that sitting in the center of the seat, and not towards the back, will enable you to achieve the most control and motion from your legs. Sitting too far back will typically affect leg motion and posture.

The next, and perhaps most critical, step in your setup is posture. You want to position yourself in a comfortable yet functional spot behind the drums. Often times, students slump behind the drums, which is not only detrimental to your technique but to the health of your back and spine as well. An adjustment that will make all the difference in your positioning involves your lower back. If you pretend like someone is pushing on the lowest part of your back (just above your pants line), it will immediately straighten out your back and allow you to sit in a proper, upright position. A warning, however, is to watch the effect that that adjustment may have on your shoulders. Often times, this posture adjustment causes students to subconsciously yank their shoulders back, putting stress on the trapezius muscles. This is a major source of muscle tension for a great amount of drummers. Make a deliberate effort to let your shoulders drop and relax as much as possible.

The snare and hi-hat are the next items to adjust. I typically promote raising the snare to where the snare rim is approximately two to three inches above your left knee. That way, rimshots and various other types of snare strokes are easily obtained. Once the snare is in position, I instruct my students to extend their pinky and their thumb on their left hand. By placing the pinky on the snare, you can use the top of your thumb to act as a measuring stick for where the lower hi-hat cymbal will sit. Hi-hat positioning may vary depending on playing style, however this is a good starting point.

Once the snare is in a comfortable position, I usually suggest lining up the closest rim of the floor tom to the same height as the snare rim and then slightly angling the floor tom higher from the far side. The rack toms always present a lot of opinions when it comes to angles and height. I feel that a good starting point is to raise the tom holder up high so that you can then drop the toms down to a 45-degree angle. This will allow you to line up the rims of the rack toms.

A good starting point for the ride is to position it at a 45-degree angle right next to, and slightly higher than, the second rack tom. I usually promote positioning crash cymbals a little above eye-level. Of course, crash cymbal height will change drastically depending on the type of music you play.

For more information on this topic, please reference my 2008 DVD, Set Up, Tune and Play Your Drums, available through Hudson Music.

 

Mike Sorrentino

Ask a hundred drummers how to set up a drumkit, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. And all of them will be right for the person speaking but wrong for you. There are entirely too many variables to say there is any one rule that should be followed when setting up a kit. And once you find a setup that works for you, invariably it feels uncomfortable a few days later. A cymbal here gets tilted, a drum over there gets lowered, and so on. We are human beings, and as such, are in a constant state of flux. What works today on this gig may not work tomorrow on another. But that’s part of the journey of playing the drums.

Look at the setups of your favorite drummers over the years. They have all changed. How many drummers gasped when they saw Neil Peart with one bass drum? How about Vinnie with a Ludwig kit with one rack tom in the recent issue of MD? Physicality affects musicality. As a kid, I emulated the setups of my heroes and found what worked, as well as what didn’t. I discovered that I don’t really like a second floor tom, for example. My hi-hat was sky-high when I was studying with Rod Morgenstein in the ’80s. I lowered it significantly in the 90s, and I lowered it even more recently. Your body will change, and so will the musical needs of your kit. Don’t get too wrapped up in the rules. It’s the music that matters most anyway.

 

Steve Fidyk

The positioning of each drum and cymbal in your setup will influence your sound quality, time feel, and flow of ideas around the kit, regardless of style. Throne height and distance away from the bass drum play a major role in this too. Some players like to sit low so they are closer to the sound of the bass drum, while others prefer sitting high, which provides greater leverage and power. For the music I play, I sit somewhere between a low and high throne height. I also center my torso on the snare and adjust my toms and cymbals accordingly. It all comes down to how comfortable and relaxed you feel when seated, and this will vary from player to player and will take some experimentation on your part. The end result is a feeling of complete control, with the instrument being an extension of your mind and limbs.

Ask yourself: can I comfortably reach each drum and cymbal? Do I feel the need to adjust my body to fit my current setup, or do I regulate the instrument to adhere to me? To answer these questions, try practicing in front of a mirror and closely examine how you address the instrument and how relaxed you truly are. Chances are if you don’t look relaxed, then you won’t sound relaxed either.

 

Claus Hessler

As far as microphone positioning goes, my set is kind of a nightmare for sound engineers. I am well aware of that. As far as playing in the most comfortable position goes, I love it. I can reach many parts of my set without too much motion from my upper arms, and it takes very little effort to move from one instrument to another. The picture below was taken during the filming of my upcoming DVD, The Drumming Kairos. It illustrates the core of the set as I am playing it now.

Since I play open-handed, the hi-hat is at almost the same height as the snare. That allows me to sit straight and relaxed, with no sideway twist of my upper body, and my shoulders are relaxed. My center is not facing the direction where my bass drum points, but between the bass drum and hi-hat. I am using two rides, both at about the same height. I have my small 8″ rack tom on the right side, which allows me to bring my right ride closer to me. The floor toms are at the same height as my snares.

Regarding height of my throne, I feel it works best for me when there’s more than a 90-degree angle between the lower and upper part of my leg; the upper part isn’t parallel to the ground. My knee usually is directly above the heel of my foot.

As far as finding good positions for your drumset, I recommend checking out all kinds of drummers (especially the ones you like) and try imitating their setups. Once you have played for a certain time in their modes, evaluate what is worth sticking with and what you want to abandon.

Claus Hessler's Drumkit

 

 

Chuck Silverman

I’ve been playing drumset since I was fifteen, and I’m still looking for the “right” way to set up my drums. It’s the truth. Do I sit lower or higher? That’s pretty much the main question for me. Ever since I saw Harvey Mason play at the Baked Potato here in L.A. (mid-’70s) I’ve thought to consider my body as an actual part of the drumset. Harvey played so relaxed and he really seemed to be part of the instrument.

I envision a circle with a circumference that encapsulates the front of the drums and, on the opposite side, my back. This puts my body inside the circle.

But do I sit low or high? Lately, I’ve raised my throne. I definitely have more control and am more comfortable this way. (Thanks to Otis Brown lll for the inspiration to sit higher.

As far as the toms are concerned, I’ve always found their position by just closing my eyes and, in a relaxed manner, reaching out with my sticks. Where they land naturally is where the toms are placed.

Through my studies with Murray Spivack and Richard Wilson, I learned where the snare should be placed. The snare is the first part of the drumset that I arrange. I then notice where my feet naturally fall, and this is where I place my bass drum and hi-hat pedals. The rest of the setup follows naturally. The key words are easy and natural.

 

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