Beginners’ Guide to Electronic Drumming

About this guest author:
Steven Wong is an aspiring blogger and is looking out for more articles to write and share with the world. Coming from an acoustic drumming background, Steven is now “sold” on electronic drumming and aims to share more about it on his website on electronic drumming

Electronic drumming has come a long way since the 1970’s when it was first created and then, mass-marketed in the 1980’s. The early electronic drums, whilst successful, were pretty much treated as sub-par when compared to acoustic drums. Yet, the benefits of electronic drums could not be understated. For the first time, drummers can practice in the comfort of their homes without disturbing the peace and quiet of the surrounding neighborhood.

Fast forward to today, electronic drums have seen drastic improvements. The advent of technology only means that today’s electronic drums can do so much more than acoustic ones. A low-end, sub $500 electronic drum set today could reproduce sounds of 10 different types of acoustic drums. For example, with the press of a button, the Yamaha DTX400K electronic drum set can reproduce the sounds of a Yamaha Maple Drum Kit. Another press of a button, and the same electronic drum set could sound like a Yamaha Studio Drum Kit. On mid-range models, one could program the electronic drum set to reproduce the sounds of shattering glass, a tower bell, a gunshot or any other sounds imaginable.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The coming of age of the electronic drums is even more pronounced by the increasing number of professional drummers who use them. Some of the artists that used electronic drums are Rick Allen (from Def Leppard), Phil Collins, Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Roger Taylor (Queen) and more.

The next logical question would be whether the electronic drum set could really sound like an acoustic drum set? My answer to that question would be a resounding ‘Yes’! In fact, I think its even better sounding than a real drum set… for a beginner, that is.

Why?

Well an acoustic drum set needs to be tuned. And if one is new to drumming, tuning the drum set is not that straightforward. In the case of an electronic drum set, there is no tuning required, as it would have already come with the sounds of a well-balanced and tuned acoustic drum set. The sounds reproduced are the exact sounds recorded from a real drum set that has been professionally tuned.

To understand this further, lets take a look at the construct and the components of an electronic drum set.

A standard electronic drum set is constructed to match a standard 5-piece acoustic drum set. In a standard 5-piece acoustic set, there will be:

  • a Snare Drum
  • a High-Tom Drum
  • a Low-Tom Drum
  • a Floor-Tom Drum
  • a Bass-Drum
  • a Hi-Hat
  • a Crash Cymbal
  • a Ride Cymbal

In an acoustic set, the bass drum would be the base for the high and low toms. The toms are attached to bass drum via a shaft that extends upwards and outwards from the bass drum. See fig. 1 below.

electronic drumming beginner guide steven wong

Fig. 1
Photo Credit: How tom-toms are connected to the bass drum  – Author-owned and permission given

The snare drum would be seated on a snare drum stand and the floor-tom would have legs attached to it so that it could stand up from the ground. The cymbals will be attached to cymbal stands and the hi-hat will be propped up on a hi-hat stand.

The standard layout (from top-down view) of an acoustic set would look like the following:

see pic high low floor tom snare ride cymbal bass drum hat electronic drum drumming

Fig.2
Photo Credit: Layout of the acoustic drum set (top-down) – Author-owned and permission given

In the case of an electronic drum set, each drum is replaced with a drum pad, and the drum pads are held up and arranged into a similar layout above using a rack. The rack will have adjustable, protruding arms with shafts that the drum pads can attach to.

In essence, there will be 8 drum pads, one for each of the drums – the snare, the high-tom, the low-tom, the floor-tom and the bass drum – as well as the cymbals and hi-hat. With the exception of the bass drum and hi-hat pads, the other drum pads are attached to the rack. The bass drum pad typically comes with a stand that props it up from the ground and the hi-hat is attached to a hi-hat stand. Some models do not even have a bass drum pad but instead provide just a pedal that simulates a bass drum sound when stepped on.

A good electronic drum set very much depends on its drum module

In addition to the drum pads, an electronic drum set will also have a drum module. This is essentially the “brain” of the electronic drums and is responsible for all the good stuff that an electronic drum set delivers. The drum module is responsible for storing and reproducing the sounds of the drums when they are hit.

Every drum pad is connected to the drum module via a cable. Each drum pad can be assigned a sound or multiple sounds, for some drum pads that are multi-zoned. When a hit is registered on the drum pad, a signal is sent from the pad to the drum module with information such as location and strength of the hit. The drum module will then process that information and output the respective sound that has been assigned to that drum pad (or its zone) out to the amplifier that is connected to the drum module.

A drum module has on-device memory, which it uses to store “voices” or sound samples. Certain drum modules allow its users to upload their own samples into the module so that they can be assigned to the drum pads.

The electronic drum modules of today deliver more than just the capability of storing and reproducing drum sounds. All modules have in-built digital metronomes to assist the drummer in “keeping time”. Many electronic drum modules come with training programs that allows a drummer to practice, train and become a better drummer on it. Training modules would work in many ways. For example, a training module could play a demo song with all the instrument sounds turned on, and then replay it with the sounds of the drums turned off. Instead it would allow the drummer to try to play according to the programmed rhythm and track the progress and precision of the drummer.

As such, a good electronic drum set very much depends on its drum module. The definition of the word ‘good,’ in this case, can mean different things to different drummers. A beginner might find a drum module good when it provides a ton of training modules, whilst an experienced drummer will find a drum module that allows him to add new sounds to the module as a good feature.

Many would contend that the electronic drum set does not reproduce the same feel to the drummer when playing them. While this was true not too long ago, today’s electronic drum set has vastly improved drum pads that reproduce the same bounce when a drumstick hits it. Some even have a normal drum skin attached to the top of the pad just so to achieve the same effect.

Personally, I feel that the electronic drum set has definitely come a long way and many of misconceptions about it are already obsolete. Add to it the benefits such as quiet play and ability to reproduce so many different types of sounds, the electronic drum set far surpasses the acoustic ones of today. That certainly does not mean to say that acoustic drum sets are no longer relevant, they are. It is just that electronic drum sets are now mainstream and appropriate for the masses than their acoustic counterparts.

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