Large Drum Sets vs. Small Drum Sets

All “size matters” jokes aside, there is a lot to be said on this subject. I think there is a different mindset that comes from playing large, small, or “alternative” drum sets. And PLEASE keep in mind that the modern drum set is only about 100 years old anyway, so the “standard” drum sets that we see today could very well change within the next few years if we keep our minds open. My prediction is that we’ll soon start to see more “multi-percussion” set ups rather than the regular ol’ 5-piece preconfigured kits that are sold so frequently and not questioned today.

Back to the topic at hand, growing up I always knew I was a Large Drum Set person. To clarify, I’m talking about 6+ piece kits vs 4- or 5-piece kits. And even on a 5-pc, putting the rack toms off to the side of the bass drum rather than right over it scores some points with me (I call that an “extended 4-piece” kit). I learned a lot from watching Mike Portnoy, Simon Phillips, Neil Peart, etc., and adapted my playing style to incorporate that in there because it was flashy and exciting. But at some point I felt that I needed to reinforce the basics – not just rudiments in this case because they should be a standard practice for all drummers, but HOW to play on a Small Drum Set – to lay back and focus on the simplicity of The Groove. Obviously there can be some VERY impressive ideas expressed on a Small Drum Set like THIS, while many Big Drum Set players can become stuck in their ways or sound “contained,” despite their intimidating setups.

So where is the middle ground? I find that once you find Your Sound, you can really develop it further by experimenting with alternative drum setups. For me, I set up my Large Drum Set with symmetry and geometric patterns in mind. I think this keeps it fresh and lets me explore more possibilities than I would be able to do on a standard out-of-the-box 5-piece kit. It also allows me to see fills and patterns as shapes and to work within a certain shape or start there and expand upon it.

Coming from the Large Drum Set background, whenever I get a chance to play on a Small Drum Set (I’m talking 4-piece), I feel that I can sit back, relax, and just PLAY. I also find that the less “stuff” I have around me, the more I LISTEN to the other players or even myself. I’ve taken this approach back to the Large Drum Set, and have seen my compositions become more focused and less about hitting everything on the kit in each measure. And so when I do go for that 6″ tom or effects cymbal, it has more “meaning” than it would otherwise.

I’ll leave you with this:

The Process of Rhythmic Complementing

my, what nice 8th notes you have…” <— Nope, not even close:

Instead of showcasing a specific instrument for this blog post, I want to explain a little bit about a layering concept that I often use as a compositional tool and when I perform live to “beef up” the rhythmic nature of a piece. I haven’t heard any other names for it, so I’ll refer to it as the process of “Rhythmic Complementing.”

Strategic Rhythm Placement to Fill Up the Groove in Your Music

Different from rhythmic counterpoint and polyrhythms, rhythmic complementing (or, … rhythomplementing?) is a way to thicken up the rhythmic texture of a piece of music by filling in the gaps created by the main rhythm. Once applied, the result is a measure of all 16th notes (in the example I’ll give), or just a busier groove than what you started out with, regardless of the meter. There is no exact formula for how to do this, other than this simple set of instructions:

1. Write out the main rhythm of the piece.

2. Write another rhythm above or below the first one, making sure to place a note where there was a rest or held-out note in the first one, to fill in the gaps or “complement” it.

3.  a.) Keep in mind this second rhythm should make sense on its own, too. Notes in the second rhythm can certainly overlap and/or double those in the first rhythm in order to make it all flow better together AND separately.

b.) Or, leave some gaps and fill in only strategically, sparingly, or wherever it makes the most sense or feels right for you and for the piece (although this could be considered rhythmic counterpoint).

4. Expand rhythms out into melody/notation for your instruments of choice.

Intro to "Ceramics" by The Gathering Mist

Intro to “Ceramics” by The Gathering Mist

Keep in mind that not every piece calls for this, so listen for the context of when to use it and when not to. This works well in live music settings also! Its easiest in a group with a drummer and a percussionist, but experiment with other instrumentations too!

A clear example of this is in a piece I did called “Ceramics” from The Gathering Mist’s album, “Reservoir” (notated above – follow along!), which starts off with a jembe playing a syncopated rhythm in 11/8, panned to one side. After four bars a dumbek enters, panned to the other side, playing a complementary rhythm to the jembe, still in 11/8. Four bars later at measure 9, the jembe and dumbek switch parts but the same principle still applies. Once the dumbek enters on the first beat of measure 5, the rest of that beginning section to the piece sounds like straight 16th notes because of this rhythmic complementing process. Enjoy!


There are a couple subtle hints of this technique sprinkled throughout other tracks I did for both of The Gathering Mist’s albums. And keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily confined to only percussion instruments…