We see a bunch of electronic instruments when looking a modern rock or pop group, including guitars, basses, and keyboards. What about drums? Acoustic sets are still the most popular for live performances, but you might be surprised at how many electronic components might be in use. This can range from using standalone pads to acoustic drums that actually use electronically triggered heads.
I’m going to dig into these a little bit and show you that the elements of electronic drums are actually quite established in the mainstream. They’re even used in situations electronic drums may seem a little unconventional.
What are these electronic elements?
This is one of the most common ways that drummers electrify their acoustic drum sets. Drummers simply place a percussion or sample pad next to their drum kit. Popular items are Roland Octapad, Roland SPD-SX, or the Yamaha Multipad. This makes for instant electronic drum sample options that you can hook directly to a PA system.
These are a lot more common than you might expect. Metal drummers have been using them for years on their double bass drum heads. These items attach to your drum heads and trigger a MIDI signal via a cable whenever you hit your bass head. MIDI is capable of very precise timing and velocity so they can be very effective.
You have a bunch of different sound source options when triggering these. For example, you can hook the drum trigger to a percussion pad, an interface for music software on your laptop, or an external drum trigger module.
You can even get dual triggers that make the playing surface of the rims of your drums electronic. Hitting the rim of your snare could produce a clap or other sound effect.
Electronic drumheads for acoustic rims
This can be a confusing one for non-drummers. This is where you completely replace your acoustic drum heads with electronic ones. This keeps the aesthetic and presence of your drum set for live performances, while actually turning it electronic. You might be surprised at this, some of these sound very close to the real thing.
Layering acoustic and electronic sounds
You can mic up a triggered acoustic drum head. This means that you can layer both sounds together. Altering the electronic sound to match the pitch of the acoustic sound can really make your kit sound punchy for live situations.
Switching or Automating sounds
If you’re playing to a live set, you could actually change the sounds of your triggers both depending on the song or what part of the song you’re playing in.
However, some may consider taking this too far. You can automate the response and samples of your triggered drums based on the time in your track. For example, when playing a dance track, you could swell the pitch of your snare drum to match the drop in the song. It might sound cool, but keep in mind that you’re no longer fully controlling the sound live!
What are the benefits of these developments
Many of the points I’ve mentioned above are now new, but they’re continuous adoption and development in the drumming industry are starting to make them a lot more noticeable.
Using these elements can give drummers much more live sonic capabilities that more accurately replicates studio versions of songs, such as using claps, sound effects, and even melodic samples.
Amplifying drums are notoriously difficult to get right for gigs. This is much more prevalent for smaller gigging situations. Some drummers are opting to use triggers on their bass drums, even for genres where electronic elements are unconventional.
The kick drum is one of the most important sonic elements for dance and pop. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been to a gig where you can hardly hear the kick drum. Triggering the bass head can instantly provide that punchy sound.
Using these hybrid set-ups, you can get past one of the biggest hurdles of electronic drums: the cymbal sounds. One of the biggest dead giveaways of an electronic drum set in live situations is the sound of the electronic cymbals. When using a hybrid drum set, you can still use your acoustic cymbals to provide a better sound and freedom of expression.
Are we leaving pure acoustic drums behind?
The main drawback to any of these setups is that we’re moving away from purist acoustic drum sets. Some people hail electronic drums as the work of the devil. Though, I feel that their mind is stuck back in the sound of terrible, clunky electronic drum sets of the 1980’s.
It’s important to realize that standard acoustic drum sets used to be called hybrid drums. The set-up of a snare, toms, kick, hi-hat, ride, crash were all arbitrary decisions inspired by marching bands and orchestras that made their way to the mainstream. As drummers, we can get too stuck in the idea of the standard drum set, but the very nature of drums is configurable.
Acoustic and electronic guitars co-exist nicely in the musical world. So I think it’s the same case for drums.
Some of the points in this article may have seemed obvious to drummers experienced with electronic drums. However, I feel it’s still a very misunderstood area for musicians.
There have been fantastic developments in the electronic drumming industry, which I really believe can complement drums in new and impressive ways.
Mike O’Connor is an Irish drummer, with a passion for music production and hybrid drumming. He writes for the site electronic drum advisor, which provides reviews, guides and tips for electronic drumming.
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