What Are The Differences Between Bass Drums & Kick Drums?

Bass drums and kick drums are often treated as synonyms. However, these terms may refer to slightly different instruments in some contexts.

What are the differences between bass drums and kick drums? The differences boil down to the following:

  • The bass drum is larger than the kick drum.
  • The bass drum has a louder and more resounding tone than the kick drum.
  • The bass drum is played with a hand beater, while the kick drum utilizes a pedal.

Throughout this writing, we'll elaborate on the distinctions just described between both instruments. For the first section, nonetheless, we will focus on reviewing the historical context of both instruments.

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The Backgrounds Of Bass Drums And Kick Drums

The history of drums goes all the way back to ancient China but also spreads across the area around Mesopotamia and Egypt during the Chalcolithic era. Central and Western Africa also started producing their own drums during the first centuries of the iron age. Eventually, these membranophones found their way into the Mediterranean, making their appearance in Rome and Greece at around 200 BC.

It is said that the direct precursor of what would be known as the bass drum in the West today was the Turkish davul (also called the tabl). This davul was made with heads fabricated from animal skin and was played with mallets held in each hand which would strike both heads.

These prototypes were introduced into Western Europe by the 1700s on the occasion of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and would soon find usage in military operations. It was not until a century later that they'd be given a place in classical music, becoming almost mandatory in orchestral settings, especially coupled with mallets.

The bass drum also made it to America and was thrust into vaudeville and Dixieland bands. With time, it was increasingly difficult to fit the entire rhythm section into smaller venues. For that reason, one drummer had the initiative to use a contraption that would allow him to play the bass drum with his feet while playing the snare drum with his hands.

This drummer was Edward “Dee Dee” Chandler and would be credited with inspiring the creation of the modern drum kit. This contraption was ultimately called “kick pedal” and was patented in 1850 by British inventor Cornelius Ward, being subsequently registered in the US almost 40 years later by one R.G. Olney.

The pedal used by Chandler was still highly inconvenient, but drum company Ludwig came up with a functional pedal by the 1920s. The bass pedal featuring this contraption would receive the name “kick drum”.

Ludwig is featured in top drum brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!

Interestingly, that term was not initially employed to differentiate between bass and kick drums but between bass guitar and drum cables. Studio technicians labelled the bass guitar cable as “bass” and the drum cable as “kick”, which set the stage for this new naming convention.

What Are The Differences Between Bass Drums And Kick Drums?

Without further ado, we'll be going over the differences mentioned at the beginning of this article:

Difference 1: Design

The first difference goes as follows:

“The bass drum is larger than the kick drum.”

As was already hinted at, in the context of the drum set, the terms “kick drum” and “bass drum” are used interchangeably, and, technically, the term “bass drum” is correct.

Nevertheless, the first thing to notice is that kick drums are usually built much smaller than the standard concert bass drums.

To put this into perspective, the standard kick drum measures around 22″ in diameter, whereas the concert bass drum can reach almost double the size.

Marching bass drums are much more comparable to kick drum sizes, often ranging between 16″ to 28″ in diameter.

Apart from the size contrasts, there are more differences in this respect worth mentioning. For example, while not intrinsic to the instrument's core design, the bass drum tends to be mounted on a stand to allow players to strike it with a mallet, while the kick drum, as suggested many times, is placed on the floor to be hit with the kick pedal.

Another interesting element that often differentiates a kick drum from a traditional concert bass drum is the presence of a porthole on the drumhead that allows air to escape from the inner chamber of the drum, reducing thus the resonance or “boom” effect.

This porthole is not found in all kick drums, however. In those drums that don't have the porthole, drummers would insert either an accessory called a “kick drum mute” or, in its absence, a pillow or blanket. By doing this, they'd muffle the sound so that it doesn't drown other instruments within the mix.

Difference 2: Sound

In line with what was just exposed, another difference brought up was that:

“The bass drum has a louder and more resounding tone than the kick drum.”

This is owed, in great part, to the muting mechanisms incorporated into the kick drum, either by design or via accessories or objects inserted into the drum by the drummers themselves. This allows the kick drum to render a sharp staccato that's optimal enough to drive the rhythm.

In addition, the size itself contributes to these distinctions in sound delivery, considering how the size of the heads shapes the pitch and other tonal qualities of membranophones like these.

Difference 3: Playing Method

Finally, I stated that:

“The bass drum is played with a hand beater, while the kick drum utilizes a pedal.”

This is probably the most notorious difference between the bass drum and kick drum, so much so that it would be the main distinguishing factor between the two.

As was disclosed in the previous section, the kick pedal was invented shortly before the creation of the drum kit and would become a critical feature in the latter.

Prior to the introduction of the pedal, the kick drum was essentially a smaller bass drum that was operated in the same exact fashion as concert bass drums, with all the limitations that ensued. The kick pedal gave drummers far more versatility and the possibility of combining the bass drum with other drums and percussion instruments.

Read How Bass Drums Compare To Other Instruments

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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