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Drum Set Up & Technique

Jan 25 2012

We often have people asking us about the gear that we use for our album recordings and tours. We’re always happy to chat about it and honoured that other drummers appreciate our sound and want to incorporate it into their own setups. The setups that we use for projects such as albums, tours and conferences are vary greatly…

For example, a massive rock kit, with 16” &18” toms and 24” cymbals, works great in large auditoriums. But, this is probably not appropriate for many other settings. Even at our large auditorium at our Hills campus in Sydney, we would rarely (if ever) use such a big kit setup – simply because it would be too loud for that venue. We will always opt for a setup that is going to best suit and serve our church, rather than just what we would prefer to play ourselves!

We want to serve and worship God with excellence, with our very best. We love to see God move in people’s lives through worship! Across our church worldwide, at all of our campuses and services, we’re always changing and tweaking our drums setups to compliment what’s happening around us.

On one extreme, we’ve opted for a larger drums setup for some services and venues, using additional percussion to help create a fuller sound (which some of you may have already have seen at various conferences or tours). We’ve been trying various setups of tuned and auxiliary percussion played by a second drummer, including anything from toms and snare drums, tambourines and shakers, to more orchestral instruments such as a concert bass drums and glockenspiel/xylophones. These extra instruments help us create parts with more layers than are available with a standard 5-piece drum kit.

On the other extreme, we’ll often use stripped-back setups in other settings such as smaller venues. These may include:

-Kick/snare/hats kit with no toms or extra cymbals, played with brushes

-A Cajon box with a few soft shakers and tambourine played by foot on the ground

We’ve found that these kinds of setups are more suited to smaller settings in general, rather than a traditional drum kit.

However, the biggest thing to remember, something more important than what setup you’re playing, is always play appropriately for your setting. In a stadium or large auditorium, playing loud is usually ok, but it’s definitely not appropriate in smaller settings. We all love playing loud, BUT…it’s not ok if it’s going to distract people from worshipping God. Our music and playing need to invite people to worship, not distracts those in the congregation. We need to listen to our leaders and sound engineers and do our very best to bring passion and dynamics even when playing quietly. As servants in the House of God, we need to do just that…serve.

Here’s a few tips that may help you play quieter:

1 – Muting – we’ve started putting small strips of tape on drum skins and cymbals, to make them a little quieter and take away some of the cymbal wash that is often overpowering

2 – Use smaller sticks

3 – Just play quieter…control your movements.

All this rambling is basically to say that although you may hear and want to replicate some of the drum sounds/setups that you’ve seen on our recorded projects, these setups might not be the best for whatever context YOU are serving in.

Here are a few pictures of different setups that we’ve been trying… hopefully they will help and even inspire you to tweak your own setup to best fit your context of playing!


Percussion setup used at recent Hillsong LIVE recording, available in July 2012.


This is our most common ‘acoustic’ style setup. one drummer on a Cajon. a few shakers, foot tambourine, and hihat.


A drumkit/cajon hybrid setup. 14” floor tom and snare with kick pedals. shakers and cajon.


This is our most common stripped-back setup. regular kit with no extra toms or cymbals, played with brushes and mallets.


A simple auxiliary percussion rig, played by a 2nd drummer. floor tom, snare, and tambourine.


Tuned percussion setup for our Christmas services. glockenspiel, floor tom, sleigh bells, and a converted concert kick drum (a regular kick drum, with Fiberskyn 3 on bottom and clear PS3 on top. played with a bass drum mallet).


This is one of the recent setups that we’ve been trying for our new 8am acoustic service in our Chapel building (wooden pews, high ceiling, very resonant acoustics). The drummer plays standing up, to encourage them to approach their playing differently than they would on a regular drumkit. The small 16” kick drum is contrasted with the round sound of the 22” concert bass drum, and the piccolo snare (with mallets) helps us deliver good snare drum tone at a lower volume than a full-sized snare drum. The vibe of the setup is catered towards more of a marching and rudimental style, rather than open grooves on a drumkit. The greatest challenge to this setup is still delivering a sense of backbeat for the congregation, but this is helped by the hihat tambourine (playing the 2 and 4, for example).


Split drumkit setup that we’ve done recently. One drummer plays kick/snare/hats/cymbals, and the other drummer plays toms/snare/bass/tambourine. This is actually a very complex setup, and requires a higher degree of musicality than any other setup we’ve tried. It only works if both drummers are very attentive to what the other drummer is playing, and they ensure that:
— Their parts complement each other, and have the appropriate balance of space/simplicity and dynamics
— Their parts don’t clash sonically on the same frequencies (example: if drummer is doing 4 on the floor with the kick, the other drummer shouldn’t play toms on any of the downbeats, as they both are low frequency, and will create a muddy sound…)

If you have any other drum questions, share them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

JP Starra
(Hillsong Creative Team)