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As crucial as ergonomics are, frequently, drummers don’t know how high the drum throne and drums should be on the drumset.
The ideal height for the drum throne is a height where your hips are slightly above your knees, which creates an angle of around 100-110 degrees.
This gives you flexibility in your pelvis while allowing your lower back to be straight and not extended.
Ergonomics, or the basic mechanics of how you set up and physically play your drumset, are a hugely important and underrated part of playing. The importance of ergonomics is twofold: it not only makes playing the drumset easier but also helps you to avoid strain and injury to your body.
Drum Throne Height and Ergonomics
The key to an ergonomic setup is to set up the kit in a way that allows for the most comfort in your playing. This means setting up the drums to where your hands will naturally fall, without having to change your stick or wrist angles. As far as for how you sit, you want to find a seat height that also brings you the most comfort without compromising the stability and support of your back.
Now that we’ve established the importance of comfort and support, the question becomes is what is the ideal way to achieve this? An essential fundamental in this equation is the height of the drum throne.
When setting up the drum throne’s height, we are looking for an ideal balance. If we sit too low, we cause strain on the lower back. If we sit too high, we lose the range of motion in our hips, which means we don’t have as much control over the pedals.
This video by Brandon Green is an excellent explanation of how seat height affects your spine:
Throne Height Affects Bass Drum Technique
The height at which you sit also affects the bass drum technique. If you like to use the heel up method, it makes more sense to sit higher. This is because with your heel up, you need more height to have more leverage over the bass drum pedal.
If you like to play heel down, sitting lower makes more sense. When playing heel down, your feet are more in contact with the ground, which means you don’t need to sit as high to have proper leverage over the pedal. This video by Stephen Clark goes further into how seat height influences the bass drum technique.
How to Adjust Most Drum Thrones
Most drum thrones are adjustable, as everyone’s needs are different. Drum thrones typically have an adjustment screw that keeps the throne height stable, as well as a mechanism to adjust the height.
To adjust the throne, you must first loosen the adjustment screw. Then you can adjust the height. Most thrones function like screws, “righty tighty, lefty loosey.” If you turn the top part of the throne clockwise, the throne shortens, if you turn it counterclockwise, the height is raised.
Some models of drum thrones are hydraulic, which means they are adjusted like office chairs. Personally, I prefer the standard style of drum thrones, as they’re easier to adjust to specific heights.
General Ergonomics for Drummers
The general principle of ergonomics with drumming is natural body mechanics. This is incredibly personal, as everyone has different physiological makeup.
What’s important to keep in mind is you want to adjust the drumset to suit the needs of your body, not the other way around. This means setting the drums up in a way that allows your wrists and arms to be loose and free, and not hyperextended. In other words, Do not set you drumset up like this:
An ergonomic setup would look more like this:
We’ll go into greater detail into each part of the kit, but what makes this latter setup more ergonomically “correct” is the ease of accessibility. You can play any part of this kit easily from a neutral playing position. You want to set up the kit to be able to move around it without excess effort. This helps us with avoiding excess tension when we play.
How to Sit on a Drum Throne
When dealing with ergonomics, we first need to find our “neutral” sitting position. By “neutral,” I mean the place where we have the least tension in our body, not necessarily how we typically sit.
For about the past two years, I have been studying the Alexander Technique. To put it most simply, the Alexander Technique is a methodology in which you put your body into proper alignment through the means of directing your head and spine to use your body more efficiently without causing tension.
While I am not an expert in this field, I have learned a couple of things about the body through this study. When we slouch when sitting, we put excess weight onto our arms and wrists, as these muscles now have to do the work of not only the motions we perform, but they have to do the work of supporting the spine.
Poor use of the body can cause all sorts of problems, including tendinitis, back pain, and sciatica. These are all bad news for drummers. The good news is learning proper sitting and playing techniques can help a great deal with preventing these issues. Studies have confirmed this as well.
Stephen Taylor has a great video about general ergonomic principles.
Stand on One Foot
When sitting on the drum throne, a few things are essential. We want to have solid grounding, which means our body is in touch with the floor below.
One thing I like to try with students is to have them balance on one foot. The way your foot feels in contact with the ground while standing one foot is the way your feet should feel all the time.
The other benefit of trying this exercise is it shows you the proper way your hips should be aligned. Most people stand and sit with their hips forward to compensate for slouching. Your hips should actually be a little more back to support your back. Try to be aware of this while sitting at the drums
Staying Grounded on the Drum Pedals
The pedals make it difficult to be grounded while playing drums, as a lot of your foot is off the ground. Try shifting your weight to the heels of your feet. You can also rely on your seat bones for grounding and support.
With proper grounding, you can use your abdomen to support your back. You mustn’t hold your position or “posture.” That will only cause excess tension.
Check out this video of Dave Elitch talking about the importance of proper body alignment. Dave is a big proponent of the importance of proper body mechanics when playing.
A couple of months ago, I took a couple of lessons with a New York Based drummer named Sanah Kadoura. One of the main things she pointed out to me in my playing was that I wasn’t breathing.
This shocked me, as no teacher I had studied with had ever pointed this out to me. If you’re not breathing, you’re not in touch with your body, and you end up having excess tension.
This is a lot harder than it sounds. Breathing while playing is like coordinating a fifth limb. It takes some serious practice.
To start working on this I recommend starting with something straightforward, like playing 8th notes on the snare drum at 80 bpm. Try to breathe in 2 bar increments, 2 bars in, and 2 bars out. Don’t worry if your breathing is not exact; it is more important to listen to your body.
Freddie Gruber, the drum guru who has taught a slew of great players including Adam Nussbaum, Peter Erskine, Jim Keltner, and Neil Peart, had a whole approach to teaching that stressed ergonomics. He also believes in the importance of breathing. Check out this clip of Freddie Gruber talking about breathing with Neil Peart.
You can read more about Freddie Gruber here. He’s a fascinating figure in drumming.
Best Drum Throne for Back Problems
What about those of you who dealt with back problems? You may wonder if there’s a type of drum throne that better suits your needs. Personally, I use Roc-N-Soc Drum Thrones, as I find they’re the ideal balance of support and comfort when playing the drums.
I want to stress that back problems often stem from poor use of your body. This goes beyond drumming; it can be the way you sit, walk, use your computer, or even drive. I recommend if you have back problems to see a physical therapist or specialist of some kind to help you deal with those issues.
Stretching or other forms of physical practice are incredibly essential to maintaining your body and preventing injury. Such methods that are beneficial to musicians are Yoga, Tai Chi, Feldenkrais, and Alexander Technique. Research these different practices and try them out, and see which one is most beneficial to you.
I also recommend getting a mirror to use when you practice. That way you can examine how you’re playing the drums, and make corrections that will help you to avoid injury.
Drum Throne for Tall Drummers
Now, if you are a taller person, you may need a taller throne to suit your needs. The good news is that most thrones on the market will suit your needs. Another great throne I recommend is the DW 5100. These are great, reliable thrones that will suit most drummer’s needs.
Drum Throne for Shorter Drummers
It can be trickier to find a right throne if you’re a shorter drummer. Sometimes drum throne specs don’t go low enough. One type I recommend Is Pearl’s Roadster drum throne. This throne goes a little bit lower than standard thrones, which also makes it great for kids.
What About Snare Drum Height?
Now the question is, how high should the snare drum be? The critical thing to think about with snare height is rimshots. You need to find an ideal balance in which the snare drum is high enough to play the rim of the drum easily but not too high as to hit the rim when you don’t mean to accidentally.
I believe Nate Smith says it best in this video, aim for around the beltline and above the knees.
This is an excellent basic metric to adjust your snare height. From this base, you can adjust higher or lower for comfort.
As far as the angle of the snare, I prefer the snare flat or very slightly angled towards me. You want to keep the angle of the snare stand fairly neutral to have easy access to the rim of the drum.
If you play traditional grip, it makes sense to angle the drum away from you, as this helps with rimshots. This way, you don’t overextend your wrist. Some drummers will even angle their floor tom away from them, as Fransico Mela does here
Find what you think is most comfortable. I’ve seen Brian Blade play with the snare drum a bit lower than the belt and pretty sharply angled towards him, and he always sounds incredible, as you can see here.
What About the Height of Toms?
Now that you’ve got your throne and snare drum set up, it’s now time to get your toms in an ideal playing position. Again, everything needs to be easily accessible without straining yourself. Economy of motion is especially crucial with toms, as then you can easily change which drum you’re playing on.
First, let’s discuss rack toms. The first thing to keep in mind is you don’t want the rack toms to be touching the bass drum, as this can cause unwanted noise and damage. The same goes for the rack toms and the snare drum.
From this point, you want to adjust the rack tom, so it is above the snare drum. How much higher and at what angle are up to your discretion, with one caveat. You want to make the rim of the drum easily accessible for rimshots, but not too high as to force you to angle your wrists to play the drum regularly.
I like my rack tom about 5 inches above my snare drum and slightly angled towards me, as you can see here. I also place my rack tom physically closer to me for ease of access to my left ride cymbal.
Some people like to put their rack to the right of the snare, as opposed to perpendicular with it. Another popular option is to put your rack tom on a snare drum stand, as John Bonham famously has done. This is an excellent option as it helps reduce noise in the bass drum.
Floor Tom Height
As far as the floor tom is concerned, the solution is pretty simple. You want to set it to the same height and angle as your snare drum.
It’s not an exact science, though. Sometimes your tom legs are shorter than the height of your snare drum. Sometimes you only have a couple of minutes to set up for a gig, and so you don’t have the time to tweak it to exact standards, you just want to have them in a similar ballpark.
I find sometimes I set up my floor to a little lower than my snare drum, and at a slightly sharper angle. You need to figure out what’s comfortable for you and helps you to play.
Cymbal height and angle is perhaps the most personal part of one’s setup. You see all kinds of arguments about what’s the ideal setup, and all extremes of how the cymbal is set up.
There are three things you want to keep in mind with cymbal ergonomics, which are:
1. Ease of access
Ease of access is fairly self-explanatory. You want to be able to access all parts of the cymbal, body, bow, and bell, without much extraneous effort. It’s just a matter of finding the right height and angle to achieve this.
The angle at which you position your cymbal has a significant effect on its sound. A cymbal at a sharper angle is going to have more stick definition, while a flatter cymbal gives you more of the body of the cymbal.
3. Arm positioning
It’s essential to keep body mechanics in mind when setting up your cymbal ergonomics. You want to make sure you can access the cymbals from a neutral, relaxed arm position. This keeps you from having excess tension when you play.
Adam Tuminaro, known as the Orlando Drummer, has a great video discussing cymbal heights and setup. He makes mention of the great drummer Forrest Rice, who has become famous on social media for his evangelization of high cymbal heights through #highcymbalgang, which is a popular trend on Instagram.
With my cymbal ergonomics, I’m somewhere in the middle. I like to have my cymbals only slightly angled, as to get some of the body of the cymbal, but I make sure the cymbals are high enough to promote proper usage of my body.
There’s a lot of crazy cymbal setups out there, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites. Check out this clip of Eric Kamau Grāvātt playing the ultimate in #highcymbalgang.
On the other extreme, check out Jonathan Blake’s low cymbals that are angled away from him in this performance with Ben Wendel.
Experiment with Height of Drums
Now that you have a solid sense of general ergonomic principles examine your setup, and see what you can improve. As I’ve said before, it’s imperative to find what works for you and your body. What works great for me may not work for you.
Don’t be afraid to change your setup. Sometimes we tend to get stuck into one way of playing or thinking. Sometimes something as simple as changing your setup can help you overcome those mental and physical blocks.
Anytime you make a change in your setup, give yourself some time to adjust to it before you decide to use it. It takes time to get used to any new setup, and you may prefer it in the long run, but you won’t know unless you give it an honest try.
And most importantly, have fun!
John Dalton is a Boston based drummer, composer, bandleader, and educator. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He performs regularly as both a leader and a sideman. His modular ensemble “Spheres of Influence” has recently released their debut album, Indigo Skyline. You can find out more about him here : https://johndaltonspheresofinfluence.com