By Meg Thomas for Tom Tom Magazine | Photos: Meg Thomas & Michelle Heyden
“Why have more than one drum set-up? Why not?”
What you choose to play or NOT play is important and reflects you, but so do the “voices” with which you choose to speak. Music is often equated to language. What you play, how you play, the equipment that you use, how you set it up, all help you to communicate and express yourself.
For me it started with the interest in all types of percussion instruments. I started collecting them and learning how to play all of them. It wasn’t until much later that I had put together my first multi-percussion standing set-up for a band. (see pic #1“Standing Percussion Set-Up”) Until that point I had used standard 4 or 5 piece drum sets and seated 2 or 3 conga set-ups. It may have actually started with the simple addition of a set of bongos on a stand to my seated 2 conga drum set-up.
I think it is important to learn how to play everything with the proper technique while also learning some basic traditional patterns on each instrument. Some of my first set-ups were really just a few percussion instruments that I played separately. For example, I may have played one instrument in different sections of a tune or one instrument for one song and a different instrument for the next. While playing multiple instruments in this way works and has its place, figuring out how to assemble and play them together as one unified instrument or a “set” is the challenge.
I use several approaches in creating each of my set-ups. First, I think of the type of music I am playing, focusing on what the feel, tone, and texture should or could be overall. Then I decide what instruments could work tonally to fit the vibe. Other things I consider are what instruments mesh well together and what instruments can fit in musically if they are used or played in a non-traditional way. I also think of the percussion instruments as “sound sources” to categorize them based on how they sound, not where they originated or styles of music in which they are traditionally used. However, I will consider those aspects when I am playing the newly created set-up in order to come up with interesting patterns.
I like to have the option of playing all of the instruments separately but also as a “set.” Playing multiple percussion instruments allows you to pull from a lot of different genres of music. It has given me the ability to see my set-ups from different perspectives and keep things fresh musically. You can pull from the different patterns that you know from each instrument and spread them out on to different instruments or “re-voice” the groove on your particular set-up. For example, I might take a tumbao pattern from the congas and break that pattern up between different limbs and different instruments.
Some other things I consider when creating my set ups are:
A. Thinking of my foot as another hand. Here is a set-up that employs this concept. Pic #2“Mini Hybrid Hand Percussion Drum Set”
B. Using something else as a “bass drum.” Here is one that falls into this category. Pic #3“Mini Hybrid Percussion Drum Set”
C. Sometimes I want a set-up that can give the drum set feel but also have the unique tonal qualities of percussion instruments. See pic #4 “Seated Hybrid Multi-Percussion Set-Up”
D. Another thing I think about when creating a new set-up is having the instruments function in a different way or style then you would expect. For example, look at the (pic #5) “Standing Percussion Set-Up #2.” When I built this one I wanted to mix three main elements together: classical, world, and the esthetic of progressive rock. Classical: I wanted to arrange my toms in concert tom order from low to high pitch (opposite of a drum set) and use a mix of mallets in order to approach the set-up from the mindset of multiple drum etudes, orchestral percussion, etc. World: I included the congas, mini timbales and a few other small percussion toys to add a unique flavor and color. Progressive rock aesthetic: I really wanted to get the look of hanging cymbals and create a “cage like” visual to get crazy and work within. There are many great mounting devices and stands available today. You don’t have to spend a fortune to make a unique set-up. You can enjoy the challenge of utilizing the stands, clamps, mounts, and gear that you already own in a different way. Drums and percussion are an incredible, unique form of art, not only in the way we play our instrument, but in the way we put it together. It’s all custom made for you. Think of yourself like a musical chef mixing together musical ingredients of percussion instruments and drum gear along with spices from different genres and grooves, in order to create a fresh, one of a kind, innovative set-up.