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Zendrum LT played by Jonathan Coulton

A Zendrum is a hand-crafted MIDI controller that is used as a percussion instrument. It is the commercially available version of the "Drumitar", invented by Future Man. There are two Zendrum models that are well-suited for live performances, the ZX and the LT. The Zendrum ZX is worn like a guitar and consists of a triangular hardwood body with 24 touch-sensitive plastic pads which act as MIDI triggers. The Zendrum LT can also be worn with a guitar strap, and it has 25 MIDI triggers in a symmetrical layout, which provides an ambidextrous playing surface. The pads are played by tapping or slapping with the fingers or hands. As a controller, the Zendrum does not make any sound by itself. It uses an electronic interface called MIDI to control a synthesizer or electronic drum device that generates the musical sounds.


Once the Zendrum is hooked up via MIDI to a sound module, and connected to an amplified loudspeaker or headphones, the player can tap or slap the pads. The pads on a Zendrum are velocity sensitive, which means that the volume of each note depends on how hard the corresponding pad is hit. The Zendrum is often used to play drum or percussion instrument parts, but it can also used to perform the sounds from tuned instruments, ranging from steel drums or vibraphone to piano, bass, guitar, or bells. Sustained sounds like organs or string orchestra "patches" can be played, but they are awkward and difficult to control. A sustain pedal can be plugged into a Zendrum, but it is tricky to coordinate tapping the pads and depressing and releasing the pedal.

The playing styles and techniques that work best on the Zendrum are quite different from those of a traditional acoustic drum. Traditional drumming (especially for a drum kit) requires a certain amount of "limb independence," whereas the Zendrum requires more "finger independence." Also, traditional drumming is more than just triggering sounds; a drummer playing a physical kit gets important feedback in the way his or her sticks bounce and react from the drums and cymbals. This feedback is limited in MIDI drum kits, and missing completely from the Zendrum. The Zendrum is worn like a guitar, which allows the player to stand up and walk around, within the limits of the MIDI cable. Some Zendrummers even go as far as using wireless MIDI technology so that they can move about without cables.


Drumitar — modified from a SynthAxe previously owned by jazz musician Lee Ritenour

MIDI sound generators have long been able to make realistic drum sounds, but the traditional keyboard of a synthesizer is not well suited to playing percussion. MIDI triggers can be retrofitted onto the traditional drum kit to allow drummers to play synthesizer drum sounds (or other sounds) using their regular drum kit. Futureman (a.k.a. Roy-El, a.k.a. Roy Wooten), the percussionist for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, uses a Synthaxe Drumitar to trigger drum sounds on several MIDI sound modules. In 2008, the Zendrum ZAP (Zendrum Articulated Programmer) was released. It is a smaller Zendrum with a hexagonal layout designed for studio and 'desktop' use.

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