Drum heads are one of the most essential parts of a drum kit. Not only do they impact the way the drums sound, but they also significantly affect playability.
Many different types of drum sets are available, each designed for certain preferences and playing styles. The different sizes of the drum shells mean that the heads also come in varying dimensions.
If you’re considering replacing your drum heads or are simply interested in learning how to measure them, this guide will provide you with all the insights and information you need.
How Are Drum Heads Measured?
The easiest and most effective way to measure drum heads is to use a tape measure to find the diameter. Extend the tape measure from one edge of the head to the other and check the measurement in inches.
If you don’t have a tape measure, you may also find the diameter in your drum set’s specifications.
Whether you’re searching for new drum heads to replace your old set or you need to know the measurement to tune your existing drum heads optimally, there are several tried and tested methods you can use.
Replacing your drum heads can make a huge difference to the way they sound and feel. Even if your drum heads aren’t in need of being replaced just yet, knowing how to measure them will be helpful when the time inevitably comes.
How to Measure a Drum Head
Despite being an essential part of a drum set, the importance of drum heads is often underestimated. As drummers, we often pay more attention to our choice of sticks, cymbals, kick drum pedals, and stands.
Without drum heads that are optimal for your drum setup and the sound you’re aiming to produce, you’ll never be able to reach your fullest potential while playing your existing drum kit.
Measuring your drum heads shouldn’t be too difficult, provided you follow the simple instructions in this guide.
Method 1: Measuring Tape
In theory, measuring your drum heads should be a fairly straightforward process. However, it’s important to ensure you get the measurements right to avoid buying the wrong sizes for your drum shells.
The easiest method is to use a measuring tape. Here are the simple steps you can take to measure your drum set using this method:
- Get a measuring tape and lay the drum flat in front of you
- Measure from one edge of the shell to the other across the diameter
- Take note of the measurement
This simple process will provide you with an accurate measurement of the drum head so that you can ensure that you choose a suitable replacement.
The reason that you need to measure the shell rather than solely the head is that the drum head may become curved or misshapen due to the tension it has been put under when held in place.
Measuring the full width of the drum shell is the most reliable way to ensure that you get accurate dimensions.
Method 2: The Eye Test
The first method requires you to have a tape measure and a drum key, but what if you don’t have one or both of these devices to use? Thankfully, an old-school method requires no equipment and is pretty effective for measuring drum heads.
Many drummers change their drum heads twice a year, depending on how frequently they play their kit and the conditions in which it is stored.
The old drum heads are usually removed and then thrown away. However, it may be useful to put them into a box and save them.
Rather than measuring the dimensions of your drum heads, you can simply use your old set to ensure that you’re getting the right size. When you go into the music store, take your old drum heads with you and compare them to potential new heads you’re thinking of purchasing.
This is a good solution if you need a new set of drum heads relatively quickly but don’t have a measuring tape.
Popular Drum Set Head Dimensions
If you’re considering replacing your drum heads, you’ll need to know exactly what style and type of kit you have. Drum kits are designed for specific purposes. There are options that cater to rock, jazz, and fusion drummers, amongst others.
These different drum kits require different types of drum heads, which vary in size, volume, sound, and feel. Let’s explore the most popular varieties so that you can make the right choice for your drum kit.
Standard Drum Head Sizes
The sizes of “standard” drum heads vary depending on the manufacturer of the kit. In most conventional drum sets, the snare drum is commonly 14 inches in diameter, while the kick drum head is likely to have a diameter of 22 inches.
The smallest rack toms in a standard drum kit are usually 8 inches, and floor toms are likely to be 16 inches in diameter, as these produce the lowest sound.
Standard drum kits can be used for several different styles rather than being specifically designed for one genre.
Rock Drum Head Sizes
Depending on the preferences of the drummer and the specifics of the drum set, rock drum heads vary in size. Most rock drummers want to produce a loud, powerful sound, and therefore the shells used for these kits are often larger than those used for other genres.
With that being said, there are subgenres of rock drumming that typically have a tighter, more controlled sound, and for this, the drum shells may be slightly smaller, which means the drum heads are also reduced in size.
The typical rock drum head measurements are as follows:
- 22” Kick Drum
- 14” Snare Drum
- 12” Hi-rack Tom
- 13” Medium-rack Tom
- 16” Floor Tom
As you can see, the dimensions of rock drum heads are pretty similar to standard drum head measurements. One of the great things about rock drum heads is that they can be used for other styles too.
Jazz Drum Head Sizes
Jazz drummers understand the impact that the size of their drum set has on the way their playing sounds. Being such a feel-based genre, jazz requires significant attention to detail.
On the whole, jazz drum heads are smaller than those used on rock and standard kits. The drum heads must be large enough to produce a punchy sound when required but also not so loud as to overpower the other soft-sounding instruments commonly found in a jazz ensemble.
Here are typical jazz drum head dimensions for modern drum kits:
- 18” Kick Drum
- 14” Snare Drum
- 12” Rack Tom
- 14” Floor Tom
The reduced size of the jazz drum heads makes them quieter than rock heads, but they still have enough power to cut through the mix when necessary.
Fusion Drum Head Sizes
Fusion drum heads are a great choice for drummers who haven’t decided on a specific style of drumming. As the name suggests, they’re designed as a fusion of two drum kit styles – rock and jazz.
Fusion drum kits are great for beginners and children because they’re significantly smaller than most other drum kits. This makes it easier to learn the techniques and develop the coordination required when drumming.
The size of the kick drum head is the most notable difference. At 20”, it’s not quite as small as the 18” head used for a jazz kick drum but is not as large as the 22” kick drum heads commonly used for rock kits.
In most cases, fusion drum sets use three toms which are 10”, 12”, and 14” in measurement.
A fusion snare drum is usually 14” in diameter and therefore requires the same sized head as a jazz, rock, or standard drum kit.
Rock/Fusion Drum Head Sizes
Another hybrid variety of drum sets is the rock/fusion set. This type of kit requires slightly larger drum heads than a standard fusion kit to give it a louder, more rocky sound.
The kick drum is usually 20-22” in diameter, while the snare is 14”. The toms are where we see the biggest difference, with the hi-rack tom head measuring 10”, the mid-rack tom 12”, and the floor tom 16”.
Compact Drum Head Sizes
Compact drum heads are ideal for saving space or rehearsing. They’re generally quieter than other kits and have a tight, crisp sound that makes them good for recording certain styles of drumming.
The common sizes for a compact drum kit are:
- 20” Kick Drum
- 14” Snare Drum
- 12-16” Toms
After treading our guide to measuring drum heads, you should now be equipped to find a suitable set of replacements. Make sure you check that the drum heads are made by a reputable manufacturer like Remo, EVANS, Roland, WHD, or Aquarian if you want the best quality.