The drum world is full of weird and wonderful terms, and in this article, we introduce you to the toms - also known as tom-toms. These percussive heroes enable us to add so much color and expression to our drumming, and they have always been an integral part of the drum set.
So far in our 5 Essential Facts Series, we have covered the main parts of the drum set, specifically, the cymbals, snare drum, bass drum, bass drum pedal, and hardware. In the latest article of this series, we discuss the essential things that beginner drummers need to know about toms. What are they? When and why are they used? We talk sizes, shell construction, and drum heads and discover why some drum sets have just a couple and some have many.
Don't forget the Drum Ambition Glossary if you need help with any confusing terms (and the drum world is full of them), and if you want to dive deeper, check out our book, The Ultimate Survival Guide for Beginner Drummers.
The 5 Essential Facts Series.
1. Toms are an essential part of drum set musicality and a lot of fun to play.
We've already talked about the snare and bass drum in previous articles. So, the toms are the remaining drums that are mounted above the bass drum or suspended by legs.
In the image above, we see two bass drum-mounted toms (clear drum heads), and to the right (clear drum head), a floor-standing tom, referred to as the floor tom.
Toms can be incorporated into music in many ways, but they are used the most in constructing drum fills. If you want to see and hear what a drum fill is and how the toms contribute to the musicality of fills, check out our free video on this topic. Drum Ambition has you covered on fills in our thoughtfully constructed curriculum, with over 15 dedicated videos on this topic alone. Aside from their effectiveness in drum fills, toms are a lot of fun to play. From the singing high pitches of the smaller drums to the enthralling low-end boom and punch of the larger floor toms, these drums are an essential part of the drummer's musical palette.
2. The sizes and number of toms in a drum set can vary.
If you are in the market for a starter drum set, most options will likely come with three toms, as shown in the image above. Be sure to check the product specification carefully, though, because there are exceptions. For example, some manufacturers sometimes offer a free add-on tom, and some sets only have two toms. Most beginners learn on a drum set with at least three toms. Jazz drummers often prefer a two tom situation, with one bass drum mounted tom and one floor tom, and some drummers have multiple toms, depending on the style of music they are playing. You can have as many or as few as you wish, but we recommend three for starting, and as mentioned, most starter packages accommodate this.
Toms range in size from 8 inches to 18 inches in diameter, and most starter sets normally comprise of three toms; usually in a "rock" configuration of 12, 13, and 16-inch drums, a "fusion" configuration of 10, 12, and 14-inch drums, or a "hybrid" configuration of 10, 12, and 16-inch toms. We talk more about the size options, as well as the features and benefits in this article.
3. Toms have different tones, and the shells can be constructed from different woods.
It makes sense that the tone of the drum changes significantly, depending on its diameter. Eight and 10-inch toms provide the highest pitch options, 12 and 13-inch toms provide the mid-tones, while 14, 16, and 18-inch floor toms provide the lower tones. The drum's depth makes a difference too, and deeper toms tend to resonate more than shallow drums. The latter, however, can sit lower to the bass drum and are easier to position. It's not something you need to worry about since starter packs have drums with pre-determined, popular dimensions. Toms are mainly constructed from wood, and different types of wood have unique sound characteristics, as we discuss in this article.
4. Toms can be mounted in different ways.
Smaller and mid-size toms can be either bass drum mounted (where the toms attach to the bass drum using a mounting post and tom holder) or suspended from a cymbal stand using a clamp and tom arm. Toms that do not have legs are generically described as rack toms, regardless of how they are mounted. This is due mainly because they could be mounted on big frames called racks, which were more common in the 1980s and 1990s. While you can still see them today, they are usually used by professionals and touring drummers with many toms and cymbals. Floor toms typically have legs, and while there was once a trend of mounting larger toms from cymbal stands and racks, this is mostly the preserve of yesteryear.
5. The drum heads make a big difference to the sound.
The drum heads are the plastic surfaces attached to the drums that we hit with the stick. Known in the past as drum skins, they are no longer manufactured from animal calfskin, and thus the description has evolved. Drum heads are always included with drum set purchases. Some manufacturers already fit them for you, and some you have to fit yourself. You can see this process in full swing in our free video, How Do I Assemble A Drum Set? These heads are very basic models on many starter drum sets, and you can significantly improve your drum sound with an upgrade. This article will walk you through all of the options.
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