What Is the Difference Between Rock & Jazz Drum Kits?

by Walter Johnson

The drum "set," or "kit," normally is customized to the specific music being played. This includes the type of head, cymbal, hardware durability, tom sizes and the stick size. Playing rock or heavy metal requires a different technique and attitude relative to jazz, and drummers are usually specialists in one form or another. Major studio drummers, such as Vinnie Coliauta, Dave Weckl or Greg Bissonette, can easily go back and forth from one genre to another.

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Rock Kits

Since the early 1970s, rock kits have changed rapidly. They became very large, averaging 14-18 pieces in the 1980s, and have become smaller since the mid 1990s, though still very tom-heavy. Rock sets use heavier Remo heads and the toms have a tendency to be deeper, the so-called "power tom" developed by Tama and Ludwig in the early 1980s. The double-bass setup, created by the recently deceased Louie Bellson, has become less popular, but the double bass pedal, working on a single bass drum, has increased in prominence. In the 1970s and 1980s. These kits were muffled with pillows in the bass or custom-made foam rings, but, as of 2011, this has long fallen out of fashion.

Heavy Metal Kits

Metal kits, developing in the 1970s, have traditionally used many toms, from the smallest at 6 inches to the large 18-inch, usually on the floor. The double bass remains very popular, though there are always prominent hold outs like Niko McBrain who refuse to use them. The many cymbals are either Paiste Rudes or Zildjian Zs, and are usually heavier and brighter in tone. Some metal drummers invert their sticks and play at the thicker end. The fast double-bass technique was developed by Slayer's Dave Lombardo and Anthrax's Charlie Benante in the early 1980s, and this remains an often difficult staple of heavy metal playing. A chain-driven bass pedal is often a necessity.

Traditional Jazz

This kind of music requires a lighter touch. The traditional 4-piece setup is the single bass mounted tom, single floor tom, snare and bass. The snare always has a frosted, rough head for brushes. Cymbals are often the lighter Sabians or the Zildjian K, and are very dark in tone. Usually, very little muffling is used. Traditional stick grip, with a few exceptions like Gary Chaffee, is the rule. Rock usually uses matched grip for greater power.

Electric Jazz

Drummers like Billy Cobham, Harvey Mason and Dave Weckl developed the electric jazz kit in the early 1980s. The stereotypical set here is 4 toms, thin, sometimes piccolo snare, and the 20-inch bass drum. It lies between the traditional jazz and rock set, and, in many cases, can be used interchangeably in both. Electronics were used in the 80s, but these have fallen out of favor. Zildjian and Sabian cymbals are used almost exclusively, and Yamaha has lost its grip on this drum market since the early 1990s. For all jazz sets, the snare is usually very sensitive to the touch, since ghost notes are used very liberally. The use of microphones has always been a problem, since, in a live setting, the very subtle notes and techniques are often lost in the volume of the show.

About the Author

Walter Johnson has more than 20 years experience as a professional writer. After serving in the United Stated Marine Corps for several years, he received his doctorate in history from the University of Nebraska. Focused on economic topics, Johnson reads Russian and has published in journals such as “The Salisbury Review,” "The Constantian" and “The Social Justice Review."

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