Electric drum kit

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Electronic drum kit

There are many things to consider when choosing an electronic drum kit. Which pads, cymbals, module, technology should you choose? What does this mean for the situations you'll be using your new drums in? Here we try to answer some of the most common questions.


The benefits of an electric drum kit

Electric drum kit live

Electronic drums allow you to play with a whole palette of different sounds - so you can go wild with produced acoustic sounds, percussion setups or heavy hip-hop kits. So if you play a lot of different genres of music, it's easy to find drum sounds that match all your needs. Because you no longer need microphones to capture the sounds of your drum kit, setup is also faster. The absence of microphones also eliminates bleed from other instruments and the ability to control the sound of the drums in the speakers is also easier because the drum kit itself is almost silent.


Electronic drums in the studio

Versatility: With electronic drum kits, you can easily and quickly edit your sound, adjust timing and hear a finished sound instantly. Since your playing can be recorded as MIDI data, it's quick and easy to change the sounds afterwards with the endless amount of samples and drum plugins on the market, and it's also incredibly easy to work with MIDI if you want to quantize, remove individual beats, copy individual parts or anything else. Plus, you'll save a lot of time by not having to spend time mic'ing up the drums and making sounds.


Easy transportation

Electronic drum kits are more compact and portable than traditional drum kits. They can often fit in a couple of gig bags and a lightweight rack. This means they take up less space in the practice room, band van or apartment.


Practice and learning benefits

Most electronic kits come with built-in preset drum samples, which can be useful if you're learning to play. Playing along with these can help build the muscle memory and coordination needed to become a solid drummer. Some drum modules have specific learning tools and metronome features that can help new drummers develop their timing and ability to maintain a groove. A USB connector built into the sound module allows for the connection of external music players, iOS devices and computers, so you can play along with your favorite songs and artists and edit sounds using external software and apps.


How do electronic drum kits work?

Electronic drums basically require two components: the transducers - more commonly referred to as pads or trigger pads - and a trigger interface or module. The pads can range from a rubberized surface with the transducer embedded inside the housing, such as the Simmons SD1000, or a drum kettle with mesh skins and an internally mounted replaceable trigger like the Roland TD11KV.

Regardless of the type of pad, they work the same way. When the pad is hit, the transducer sends an impulse to the module and plays the sound assigned to that channel. If the hit is louder, more signal is sent to the module, increasing the volume, and when played softer, a quieter sound is played to mimic the dynamics of playing an acoustic drum.

Drum and cymbal pads often have multiple sensors mounted under the playing surface. This allows the module to reproduce the sounds created by striking different parts of the instrument - for example, a snare drum sounds very different in the middle of the skin and at the edge of the drum. Many cymbal pads also allow you to play the cymbal normally as well as the bell, and some even allow you to mute the cymbal by hand.


Which drum module to choose?

The most sophisticated modules create extremely nuanced sounds that accurately reflect the drummers' technique, even when using whiskers. Some kits aim to sound just like an acoustic drum kit, while others provide a more produced sound - the sound of drums on a recording with the drum recording post-processed. There are often also a lot of electronic sounds such as 808 or 909 kits, hip hop kits, trance kits, etc. as well as the option to play simple tonal instruments such as bass or chord pads.


Big soundstage

Electronics means that today's drummer is no longer limited to playing conventional drum and percussion sounds. Now drummers can trigger funk bass, guitar samples, thunder and lightning sounds, a Brazilian percussion section - or something else entirely. The only limitation is the sounds in your drum module - also referred to as a sound module, percussion module or "brain". With MIDI, it's also possible to trigger sounds from computer or a sound module. More advanced modules allow you to upload large sound libraries.



The history of electronic drums

The first electronic drum kit is attributed to Graeme Edge of the Moody Blues. Working with Brian Groves from Sussex University, he built a kit with rubber pads and sensors that was a primitive precursor to today's digitally controlled electronic drums. The kit is used in the song "Procession" on the 1971 album. In the mid-1970s, Syndrum, the first commercially available electronic drums, were introduced. Available in three configurations: single, twin or quad, they were soon adopted by drummers such as Keith Moon, Carmine Appice, Terry Bozzio, Jeff Porcaro and many more. One of the most famous Syndrum passages is heard on the intro to "Let the Good Times Roll" on The Cars' 1978 album.

The kit many might associate with the beginnings of electric drums is Simmons, who began producing electronic drum kits in the late 1970s. Their popular SDS-5 model with hexagonal pads became a hallmark of the 80s rock sound, thanks to the use of Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Wang Chung, Def Leppard, Rush, and many more pop and rock artists. Other companies, notably Roland and Yamaha, were also quick to jump on board with their own models.


Drum and cymbal pads, triggers, and mesh heads

A lot has happened with electronic drums since the late 1970s. The first models felt a lot like playing on a Formica tabletop. As a result, it was very tiring on the hands to play for long periods of time. Modern electronic drums offer a very different and improved feel and response using either rubber or mesh skins.

Trigger pads or mesh skins can have up to three sensors. A single sensor head triggers a single sound, while double or triple triggers can trigger multiple sounds based on which part of the drum or cymbal is hit.

Rubber pads have a rebound and feel similar to traditional practice pads - unlike acoustic drum skins and electronic drums with mesh skins, rubber pads tend to feel 100% consistent from drum to drum and provide a more uniform signal. That's why rubber pads are often used to trigger loops or backing tracks, while rubber pads are often included in cheap electric drum kits.


Mesh skins

Mesh skins are made of solid woven plastic that reacts more like a traditional drum skin, but with a greater rebound - i.e. the drumstick bounces back up from the skin more easily. Many mesh skins can be tuned to your preferred tension with a drum key, and are usually more sensitive to nuanced playing than rubber pads and often come with more expensive electric drum kits.


Electronic hi-hat

Electronic hi-hats have also made great strides. Multi-zone hi-hats are now available that produce a huge range of sounds and allow realistic, expressive playing by responding to open and closed position techniques. There's also a big difference between a hi-hat where the pedal and cymbal pad are two separate pieces of hardware and cymbal pads that are mounted on a normal hi-hat stand. The latter provides a much more acoustic hi-hat-like feel and allows for very expressive playing.


Drum modules

The drum module is the brain of the electronic drum kit. Modules vary in the type, number and quality of sounds they contain, with most featuring a range of tonal instrument sounds as well as drum and percussion sounds. Some offer independent volume levels for each trigger to create custom live or studio mixes. Modules usually offer a selection of preset drum kits optimized for specific music genres such as jazz, rock, Latin, hip hop and many more, while also offering the ability to build custom kits from the available toms, snare drums, bass drums and cymbals included in the module. Premium modules allow you to download sounds from extensive online libraries, making your options almost limitless.


Here are key features and capabilities to consider when comparing modules:



There is usually a direct relationship between the price of a drum module and the quality and variety of sounds it contains. Top-notch modules include all the standard drum kit sounds you'd expect plus many other percussion instruments, bells, wood blocks, special effects, non-percussion instruments and more. High-end modules also allow you to edit and create your own sounds. For example, some modules allow you to digitally 'tune' each drum until it fits 100% to your wishes.


Preset patterns

Each module has a selection of preset patterns, which are usually short two-bar loops that often suit specific drum kits or music styles. As mentioned earlier, these can be great to have when practicing and as sources of inspiration for creating your own beats.


Natural feel and sound

The best modules provide fast and precise trigger response, giving drummers the same feedback they get from an acoustic drum kit. The sensitivity and speed of the module can usually be tweaked to give you a more realistic playing experience. Many modules also allow you to adjust the EQ of the individual drums and cymbals for a balanced mix. They also often include mastering effects to improve your overall sound when playing in difficult performance or studio areas such as reverb and compressor.


Connectivity and expansion

If you plan to expand your electronic drum kit with more pads and triggers in the future, make sure the module has enough connectors to do so. A USB port allows you to send MIDI data to external PCs and digital audio modules and workstations, giving you access to a wide range of music software. Audio inputs for connecting MP3 or CD players allow you to practice and play along with your favorite music. Multiple outputs that can send your performance simultaneously to a mixer and a recorder can be useful both live and in the studio. Also, make sure the outputs support the type of amplification system you plan to use.


Overall, there are a lot of possibilities with an electric drum kit and the only limit is your imagination. When looking for your new kit, it's important to decide on a budget and decide which things are important to you - number of pads, mesh skins, how many sounds the module has, etc. That way you can navigate the large selection more easily.