Drums & Electronic Drums:
» Acoustic drummer's introduction to electronic percussion.
» What's the difference between rubber pads and mesh heads?
» Expand you gigging game with drum triggers and sound modules!
» The top five reasons to own an electronic drum kit!
» Percussion Controllers: The best-kept secret of the home studio!
» Drum Machines examined.
Electronic Drums and Percussion add substance to any studio or live drummer's arsenal. This Sweetwater Buying Guide includes information that can help you choose the right Electronic Drums and Percussion for your needs - whether you're a drummer, or simply want to be one! Since there's so much to consider when purchasing Electronic Drums and Percussion, don't hesitate to call 1-800-222-4700 for more information. It's never been easier to add drums to your studio or stage situation before!
Acoustic drummer's introduction to electronic percussion.
Recently this writer had the opportunity to introduce a classically trained percussionist to the world of electronic percussion. Although she was eager to explore the many sonic options this offered, she encountered a number of issues that required adjustments in her playing style. Electronic drumming is different in many ways. But there are ways to minimize the differences to make your transition easier. Here five top issues:
One thing that throws acoustic drummers off balance when they approach electronic percussion is the fact that the sounds they make emanate from a distant source, whether it's a stage monitor or the house sound system. When you sit at an acoustic drum kit you're right on top of the drums and cymbals, with the sounds "in your face." With electronic percussion you've joined the world of amplified instruments, and while keyboard and guitar players are old hands at hearing their output come from a speaker that's often several feet away, it will be new to you. One of your most important tools is a good monitor system that can return a sense of presence to your ears. It doesn't need to be especially loud - in fact, a pair of Hot Spots work great because they are small enough to fit into your setup and can be stand mounted to get them up to ear level.
MIDI pioneers used to argue about the perceived delay between pressing a key and hearing a sound. We'll just point out that MIDI implementation and trigger response have improved considerably and MIDI is capable of handling several hundred notes per second. Still, you might experience a sensation of delayed response when you play an electronic pad. Part of this is psychoacoustic (the presence issue we discussed above) but there is a delay of a few milliseconds between attack and sound. This just takes a bit of experience for your ears to make an adjustment.
Regardless of whether you use rubber pads or mesh heads, they definitely have different attacks, rebounds and general stick response than acoustic drum heads, cymbals or percussion instruments. Rubber pads shouldn't feel that unusual, though; they have a distinct "practice pad" feel that most drummers will find familiar. They do require you to make some adjustments in dynamics (more on this in a second), and their identical rebound characteristics from pad to pad aren't like the changes you expect, say, in toms, where head tensions can vary from tighter to looser.
Mesh heads, on the other hand, can be tensioned to different degrees and offer more "give" when struck. They can also present some additional creative options. Be sure to read the "What Are the Differences Between Pads?" section below.
Percussion instruments can be whisper-soft or deafeningly loud. Translating this dynamic range to electronic pads has always been difficult. This is actually an issue of the sound module's ability to deal with the signal coming from the pads. Some modules restrict dynamic range to the MIDI standard 0 (silent) to 127 (maximum velocity). Others, including ddrums modules, offer up to 1000 levels of dynamic response, allowing finer distinctions between hits. What many drummers never explore is the ability of most modules to be adjusted both for sensitivity and velocity curves. This gives you a much more playable kit!
This particularly affects percussionists. There's no real commonality between playing a conga drum with your hands and striking a pad with a stick. Likewise, playing a guiro, the notched gourd, involves sliding a stick over the notches at varying speeds and tensions. It can be disorienting to strike a pad once and hear the entire envelope of the guiro sound play back. There are alternatives, though, such as the Roland HandSonic, which offers a rim-free surface for easier hand playing plus ribbon and D Beam controllers to which you can assign sustained sounds such as guiros and bell trees.
So are electronic kits different from acoustic instruments? Of course; so are MIDI keyboards and wind controllers. But with a little adjustment time and the suggestions we've made above, you may just find that you prefer the advantages of your electronic percussion set to the limitations of "real" drums.
What's the difference between rubber pads and mesh heads?
Since the pre-MIDI days of Simmons electronic drums, the prevailing design of most pads followed the rubber "practice pad" paradigm. Then a few years ago Roland added a new element with mesh head "drums" that emulate acoustic drumheads. So is one design "better" than the other? Not necessarily. There are plenty of applications for both. Here's a rundown of the qualities of rubber pads and mesh heads.
Sweetwater offers a Roland V-Compact series kit with pads for less than $900. And with dual-trigger pads available for less than $100, you can add on to your setup with a minimum investment.
If you're adding electronic sounds to your acoustic kit you may feel a bit space challenged. But a 7" pad can slip into the smallest spaces - and even fit discreetly over the rims of your acoustic drums. The compactness of pads also helps those who are not full-time drummers but want to get into percussion controllers. You can set pads up in any configuration that works without having to worry about space issues. It's much easier to reach a nearby pad than an 18" floor tom!
Many players prefer their controllers to have identical response and rebound as they move from pad to pad, as opposed to the varying tensions of acoustic drum heads as they move from snare to toms. When using percussion controllers for alternative sounds, including triggering sustained tones or loops, often a pad is more appropriate. The consistency of rubber pads is a plus in these situations. You could set up an array of like-sized pads in a quasi-keyboard arrangement if you wanted to!
||Better than ever:
Years ago many pads felt a little hard and didn't offer the rebound that drummers expected. Recently both Roland and Yamaha have introduced improved pad designs with reformulated rubber. They offer more "give" when struck and have a much more natural bounce. The new pads also promise longer life and resistance to developing dead spots.
For emulating drums, you can't beat (sorry) mesh heads. They're remarkably close to traditional drum heads in feel, "give" and rebound. The currently available mesh head controllers from Roland and ddrums are closer in size to acoustic drums, giving you a more realistic playing experience.
When used with a module that supports these features, mesh head controllers offer a wide range of sound responses based on the location you strike. Roland's TD-20 module delivers near-the-rim sounds when you play near the rim and dead-on-center sounds when you strike there. You can even play brush sweeps thanks to the combination of the head surface and the piezo sensor acting as a microphone in brush programs.
One of the immediate advantages of mesh heads is the ability to adjust their tension to achieve a feel and rebound that suits you. This allows you to have, for instance, a fairly tight, bouncy snare head even though the sound you've selected is a 1970s style slack-tuned, heavily muffled deep snare.
So there's room for both in the electronic percussion world. As we often say in these situations, the "best" pad depends on your needs, your expectations and your budget. We're here to help you sort out the information. Call 1-800-222-4700 and let a Sweetwater Sales Engineer help you!
Expand your gigging game with drum triggers and sound modules!
Back in the day, there was a club in New Jersey on Route 22 (otherwise known as Thunder Road... yes the one Springsteen sang about), where bands faced an interesting dilemma. The manager of the club, who was also the bouncer, had some personal issues with drums and was known to take a drummer's kit and throw it out on the highway if he had to tell him more than once that he was playing too loud. Of course not every small club is so extreme in its treatment of volume, but more often than not, volume is an issue that impacts on whether or not you keep the gig. These days, as the number of venues dwindles, it's not good policy to fall out of favor with a club owner. What's the solution? There are two: First, don't play that club on Route 22 in Jersey. Second, you can get triggers for your acoustic kit along with a sound module. From there, you can easily replace the drumheads with "silent" mesh heads and trigger the module from these. The response time and dynamics are the same as with regular heads. Using mesh heads makes it possible to play at small venues without being too loud. This trick is also effective if you don't want any acoustic sound coming from your drums for other applications. It's a pity that this technology didn't exist back then. Just think of all the Ludwig and Slingerland drum kits that would be on the vintage market today, had they not been tragically run down in their youth on Thunder Road. (And yes, it is a true story.)
Playing small clubs is only one reason for acoustic drum owners to invest in triggers, such as the RT-Kit-1 from Roland, and sound modules, such as the Alesis DM5. The opposite side of that coin is when you need extreme levels and would prefer to avoid blisters and keeping your sticks from looking like toothpicks that Bigfoot chewed on. Run a stereo out of your sound module into your PA, and you can play at extreme levels without having to worry about mic bleed or feedback.
Another reason to go with triggers for live performance aside from having the ability to produce a studio sound live, is the constant changing of drum and percussion sounds. These days, drum and percussion sounds don't just change from song to song; they change from measure to measure. Triggers and sound modules will give you the option of changing sounds as necessary as well as maintaining a dynamic performance.
Of course, live performance is not the only place that drum triggers provide an advantage. In the studio, the use of triggers will allow your performance to be recorded as MIDI data so that later on in the mixing process, sounds can be changed as needed for both corrective and artistic reasons. For the home studio, triggers mean not having to worry about mics, external noise, or finding out during mixdown that you don't like the recorded sound. You can find the appropriate sounds and even add in the room ambience you desire after the fact. Thanks to the ability to record via MIDI, a great take with a few mistakes, becomes a great take with no mistakes. Rather than having record and re-record, one good take is all you need. Editing will take care of the rest. A few other benefits of triggers include silent practice (with mesh heads), the ability to add more percussion sounds to your kit without having to carry more instruments, and with the ability to assign pitched sounds to your drums, so you can impress audiences by being able to play musical figures as well as percussion for the "Ultimate Solo."
Finally, there comes a time when no matter how many times you replace the heads and tune them, you just don't like the sound of your old kit. Triggers and sound modules, like the Roland TD 20, are a great way to add hundreds of dynamic new sound possibilities while keeping the expressiveness of an acoustic kit.
The top five reasons to own an electronic drum kit:
Perhaps we're biased but sometimes we think drummers haven't fully caught on to the tremendous power and convenience an electronic set offers. Keyboard players and even guitarists have embraced the technology that's allowed them to take their music in new directions. It's time for drummers to recognize that they have the same potential. Here's our Top Five list for those of you who haven't considered all the advantages of owning an electronic kit.
Nothing beats the ability to dial in just the right drum kit sounds to suit the music! If you're a working drummer, chances are you get calls for gigs that cover a number of different styles of music. Tonight's pop singer might turn into tomorrow night's jazz trio, with a 1970s cover band rehearsal in between. Instead of having to carry and maintain a collection of acoustic kits you can stick with the setup you like while delivering the appropriate sounds for the gig. Plus, you can use your electronic kit's MIDI output to trigger a whole world of sounds beyond what's in the module!
Live Gig Convenience:
From small clubs to concert stages, an electronic kit can solve many problems associated with live playing. In environments where you're frequently pressured to play quietly, you can do so easily - thanks to the near-silent performance of the pads - while still getting the sounds you want from your module. And on the large stage, you're able to play without requiring mics, which means no feedback, no bleed from other instruments, and no jumble of stands around your kit. Plus, using your module's built-in effects and multiple audio outputs, you have more control over the sound you send out to the house PA.
An electronic kit gives you the power keyboard players (both novice and experienced) have had since the early days of MIDI sequencing - the ability to play your track and then edit individual notes or instruments to your liking. That allows you to capture the groove you want but still be able to nudge a late hit into place or balance the velocities of a tom fill. When you're happy with the track, your module will play it back exactly the way you want it, with your personality and style intact.
||Freedom to Practice:
If your neighbors were reading this, THEY'd buy your kit! Let's face it: all drummers have encountered complaints and resistance when they try to practice. An electronic kit gives you practice-pad quiet volume while you can hear yourself through headphones. But there's more to it than that. Most modules feature built-in metronomes and many have time checkers (which establish a tempo, then turn themselves off and "listen" to analyze how consistent your playing is). Plus, many modules come preloaded with practice songs so you can play along to actual music, while others include auxiliary inputs so you can plug in a CD or MP3 player to practice to your favorite artists.
No matter whether you're on the road or practicing in your apartment, you can't beat the compactness and portability of an electronic kit. Even the big Roland V-Pro TD-20 S BK kit fits into a soft case or two! These kits weigh less and require less space in the van than acoustic drums. And at home, when you've finished practicing, your kit folds down to take up minimum space in a closet.
Makes sense, doesn't it? Sweetwater carries a whole range of electronic drum kits from Roland, Yamaha and ddrums. No matter what your budget or your musical style we've got you covered. So keep reading on, check out the products and call Sweetwater at 1-800-222-4700 to get the full story on any kit you see!
Percussion Controllers: The best-kept secret of the home studio.
Not every sound in music is properly expressed on a keyboard - particularly drums. No matter how good you may get at it, playing drum patterns with your fingers on a piano keyboard will never give you the same expression as a stick hitting a drumhead. The same holds true for wind instruments and guitar. That's why we have MIDI wind and guitar controllers. It's also why we have MIDI drum controllers. MIDI drum controllers like the Roland SPD-20, or SPD-6 have been the secret weapons of percussionists who also compose and sequence music. They are particularly useful in studios that are just control rooms with little or no space to set up a drum kit and especially for MIDI composers who aren't percussionists that want to add more realism to their drum tracks.
A MIDI drum controller like the SPD-20 is small, easily stored, easily set up, and provides the nuance to MIDI sequenced performances that drum tracks performed on keyboards never will. In the case of the SPD-20, the surface pad is divided in sections that can be assigned the various sounds of the drum kit, while inputs are provided for kick drum and hi-hat triggers such as the KD-7 Kick Trigger and FD-7 Hi-Hat Control Pedal, for even more realistic and natural sounding drum sequencing. The good news is that you don't have to be a drummer to use them effectively. (Of course, a few rudimentary techniques under your belt certainly wouldn't hurt.)
Basically, all you have to do is practice the parts you wish to play the same way you would on a keyboard. The only difference is that the parts will sound more realistic and expressive, since they are being performed in the manner that drums are normally played, which equates to a much more realistic drum track. The advantages to your music will become very obvious as you will be able to perform cymbal and drum rolls much more effectively that ever possible on a piano-style keyboard.
Considering that Latin and World percussion has been an integral part of popular music spanning a variety of genres, the need also exists to be able to create percussion parts that would normally be played by hand, such as congas, or African Talking Drums. This is where a hand percussion controller like the HPD-15 comes into play. The HPD-15 surface is optimized for the various onboard percussion sounds (Over 700 in all) to allow them to be performed in the same manner as you would the real thing. For a drummer performing live, a controller such as the HPD-15 allows you bring a wide variety of percussion instruments to a gig to enhance your sound in one very compact and convenient instrument.
Apart from the obvious advantages MIDI percussion controllers provide in terms of giving life and realism to your MIDI sequences, the hidden bonus is that they come packed with great percussion sounds and onboard effects. If you already have a library of drum sounds, you know that there's always room for more, Conversely, if you're just getting started, you get both a professional sounding drum library covering a wide variety of sounds as well as a truly musical way of creating drum tracks.
Drum Machines examined:
At this point in music creation, the days of hardware seems to be giving way to software. One of the hardware units that appears to be in danger of going the way of the Dodo or the Great Auk is the drum machine - but drum machines are still being made, which means there's still a need for them. So let's find out if you might be someone who needs one.
Drum machines have been the staple of Hip Hop and Rap for 20 years. In that time they have evolved from simple units like the TR808, whose sounds continue to be used to this day, and have evolved into full-blown samplers with onboard sequencers and real-time controllers. But, drum machines are not just for Hip Hop - they also provide the rhythm section for one-man-bands. Despite the fact that some people in that category are using software drums, drum machines are far more stable and reliable than software drums (see Hardware synths vs. Software Synth Pro's and Con's for reasons why) easier to transport than a computer, and are built to take the punishment of the road whereas computers are not.
There are other advantages to using a drum machine in live performance. Let's say you're a keyboard player with two synths and a drum machine in your setup. Your left hand covers, bass, the right hand is for comping chords, and the drum machine can be triggered via a foot pedal. This allows you to be much more fluid in your performances. Instead of being limited by the length and order of preprogrammed sequences, songs can be extended or shortened as needed. This gives you the option of having other players sit in, or ending a song quickly that isn't going over. It's also much more visually impressive to your audience rather than playing along with a sequence. (Which just looks like cheating to most people) Besides, if you try to run three soft synths in standalone mode - well, it just isn't going to happen. If nothing else, they will fight for which one gets the sound card.
Of course, the most obvious scenario for using a drum machine is for the singer/songwriter or anyone who wants to record or perform their music and has no interest or desire to learn how to program drums. Conversely, a drum machine also happens to be a great tool for those who do want to learn how to program drums.
Even if you are using a computer for sequencing, triggering a drum machine via MIDI will add to your arsenal of sounds without using up system resources. The last thing you need is for the system to choke while in mid-song. Keep in mind, that the drum machines of today sound much more realistic than they did twenty years ago.
Another use for drum machines, particularly an inexpensive one, is as a practice tool for bass players, guitarists, and keyboardists. Think of it as the ultimate metronome. Not only can you work on your timing, but your feel as well. For bass players, it provides the ability to learn to lock up with a kick drum in a wide variety of tempos and rhythm patterns. Additionally, using a drum machine brings more musicality to practice, which not only alleviates boredom, but is in fact what practice should be about; musicality, not mindless repetition of meaningless patterns. Practicing with a drum machine also provides more real-world training by teaching the ear to hear tempo within much more complex rhythm patterns. When first performing in a band, the untrained ear is overwhelmed by the variety of sounds and rhythms coming at it.
As you can see, there are quite valid reasons indeed for drum machines to exist. From reading this, if you've determined that you have need of a drum machine, the next step is to call your Sweetwater Sales Engineer to find out which one suits your particular needs.