Bass drum vs kick drum: Which is better for you?

Bass drum vs kick drum: Which is better for you?
Written by Corey Morgan

Is there a difference between a bass drum vs a kick drum 

Aspiring drummers frequently confuse the two terms, and this started me thinking about the distinctions between them.

When I think of a drum set, the first thing that comes to me is the “kick drum,” which I have heard and used at least as far back as high school thanks to my experience in composing and large ensembles.

People on drum forums can’t seem to come to a consensus, so I conferred with some friends who are professional drummers and percussionists at a conservatory to come up with a more universal description of what distinguishes a bass drum vs kick drum.

Bass drum vs kick drum – Overview

Kick drums (or bass drums), snare drums, floor toms, rack toms, and cymbals including hi-hats, rides, and crashes are the conventional components of a drum set. Although the other percussion instruments are essential to the drum set, the kick drum is where the energy and low-end frequencies shine.

There are a few different types of bass drums used in different musical contexts, but there is always at least one concert bass drum in an orchestra or band, one “kick” drum on a drum set, or a tuned set of three to five marching bass drums in the drum battery of a marching band.

Concert Bass Drum

The concert bass drum is the largest in a typical concert band or orchestra. Its common dimensions are 40 to 42 inches in diameter (but 38 to 46-inch widths are occasionally seen) and 20 inches in depth.

To accommodate a variety of playing techniques, concert bass drums are often positioned on a rolling stand on the side. Typically, a musician will use one hand to dampen the sound while striking the drum with a felt-tipped mallet.

When playing at a quicker tempo or performing rolls that require more force, a player may resort to using two mallets. A concert bass drum roll can be used to emphasize a downbeat, build tension, or create an effect (like cannon fire in the “1812 Overture,” for example).

Kick Drum

We still call them bass drums, although kick drums are a special kind of bass drum. The correct term for this instrument is “bass drum,” albeit these are far smaller than bass drums used in concerts. Half the diameter, on average measuring about 20 or 22 inches.

The phrase “kick drum” originated in the early days of recording studios when mix engineers and technicians required a shorthand to distinguish between the bass guitar and the bass drum.

There is usually a tangle of wire snakes and cables in a recording studio or concert hall, all of which are (ideally) labeled so that they can be routed to the appropriate channels on the mixer. To avoid confusion, sound engineers began writing “kick” instead of “bass drum” on cable tags and mixer boards.

This naming convention likely originated from the fact that bass drums are played with a foot pedal. The kick drum is more hip than the more commonplace foot drum.

By standardizing terms like “increase loudness of the kick” and “reduce EQ on the bass,” people were able to more clearly convey their intentions to the person operating the mixer board”

Kick drums, in contrast to concert bass drums, feature a porthole in the front of the drumhead that allows air to escape when the beater strikes the back of the drum.

What does a porthole on a kick drum do?

  • The porthole helps prevent foot fatigue and double kicks by reducing the beater’s bounce-back.
  • A more direct attack is achieved through the porthole by reducing the overall volume of the sound.
  • The portals improve how the first “thud” is heard.
  • The porthole facilitates drum microphone placement.

Almost always, drummers will insert something inside the bass drum to dampen the bass notes and reduce the overall “boom” of the instrument. To effectively propel the rhythm of a song, the kickdrums strike must be strong and distinct.

Most commonly, a pillow, blanket, or kick drum mute is utilized and placed so that it touches the drum head behind the spot where the beater strikes.

Bass drum vs kick drum: What’s the Difference?

Kick drums are sometimes referred to as bass drums, however, they are not the same as the bass drums used in orchestras. The bass drums used in orchestras are often much bigger than the bass drums used in drum kits.

Orchestral bass drums are suspended from the ceiling, as opposed to the floor-based bass drums used in drum kits. Orchestral bass drums are played using mallets or regular drumsticks rather than the bass drum pedal used for percussion.

What is the purpose of the Bass drum in a Musical setting?

The bass drum is a crucial part of the rhythm section in a wide variety of musical genres. When the mallet is used to hit the bass drum’s drumhead, a low rumble is produced. It is used to accentuate the tempo when performing a march. Traditionally, the bass drum has set the rhythm for marching bands.

When playing in common time, the bass drum is often performed on the downbeats of the first and third bars, whereas the snare drum is typically performed on the downbeats of the second and fourth bars. Depending on the situation, the bass drum can be both a measure of time and a melodic voice in jazz.

What frequency should a kick drum be?

The fundamental frequency of a kick drum can range from around 50 Hz to as high as 80 or 90 Hz, depending on the drum’s size, the drumhead material, and the musical genre being performed. In rock and pop music, it is usual for the kick drum to be the lowest frequency sound in a performance or recording.

Instead, in jazz and classical music, the kick drum is often tuned to a higher frequency, making the double bass the lowest frequency instrument.

To generate a strong and distinctive kick sound that can be played at high speed and ring out in a mix that could be extensively made up of many instrument sounds, metal music generally uses a relatively high frequency, but substantially damped, kick drum tuning.