A standard modern kit (for a right-handed player), as used in popular music and taught in music schools, contains:
All of these are classed as non-pitched percussion, allowing for the music to be scored using percussion notation, for which a loose semi-standardized form exists for the drum kit. If some or all of them are replaced by electronic drums, the scoring and most often positioning remains the same, allowing a standard teaching approach. The drum kit is usually played while seated on a drum stool or throne. The drum kit differs from instruments that can be used to produce pitched melodies or chords, even though drums are often placed musically alongside others that do, such as the guitar or piano. The drum kit is a part of the standard rhythm section used in many types of popular and traditional music styles, ranging from rock and pop to blues and jazz. Other standard instruments used in the rhythm section include the piano, electric guitar, electric bass, and keyboards.
Many drummers extend their kits from this basic pattern, adding more drums, more cymbals, and many other instruments including pitched percussion. In some styles of music particular extensions are normal, for example double bass drums in heavy metal music and the enlarged kits used by some progressive drummers, which may include unusual instruments such as gongs. Some performers, such as some rockabilly drummers, use small kits that omit elements from the basic setup. Some drum kit players may have other roles in the band, such as providing backup vocals, or less commonly, lead vocals.
Prior to the development of the drum set, the standard way that drums and cymbals were used in military and orchestral music settings was to have the different drums and cymbals played separately by different percussionists. Thus, in an early 1800s orchestra piece, if the score called for bass drum, triangle and cymbals, three percussionists would be hired to play these three instruments. In the 1840s, percussionists began to experiment with foot pedals as a way to enable them to play more than one instrument. In the 1860s, percussionists started combining multiple drums into a set. The bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, and other percussion instruments were all played using hand-held drum sticks. Drummers in musical theater shows and stage shows, where the budget for pit orchestras was often limited, contributed to the creation of the drum set because they tried to develop ways that one drummer could do the job of multiple percussionists.
Double-drumming was developed to enable one person to play the bass and snare with sticks, while the cymbals could be played by tapping the foot on a "low-boy". With this approach, the bass drum was usually played on beats one and three (in 4/4 time). While the music was first designed to accompany marching soldiers, this simple and straightforward drumming approach eventually led to the birth of ragtime music when the simplistic marching beats became more syncopated. This resulted in a greater 'swing' and dance feel. The drum set was initially referred to as a "trap set", and from the late 1800s to the 1930s, drummers were referred to as "trap drummers". By the 1870s, drummers were using an "overhang pedal". Most drummers in the 1870s preferred to do double drumming without any pedal to play multiple drums, rather than use an overhang pedal. Companies patented their pedal systems such as Dee Dee Chandler of New Orleans 1904–05. Liberating the hands for the first time, this evolution saw the bass drum played with the foot of a standing percussionist (thus the term "kick drum"). The bass drum became the central piece around which every other percussion instrument would later revolve.