The electronic drum usually consists of a set of pads mounted on a stand in a disposition similar to an acoustic drum kit. The pads are discs with a rubber or cloth-like coating. Each pad has a sensor that generates an electric signal when struck. The electric signal is transmitted through cables into an electronic module, which produces a sound associated to the selected pad.
Electronic drums history
It is said that the first electronic drum was created by Graeme Edge, drummer of The Moody Blues, in collaboration with Sussex University Professor Brian Groves. The device was used in the song 'Procession', from the 1971 album 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favor'.
From an interview with Graeme Edge:
Question - "One of the strangest pieces was 'Procession' (Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, 1971), which featured the pioneering work of Graeme Edge's electronic drum kit. How did that come about?"
Graeme - "I'd got in touch with the professor of electronics at Sussex University, Brian Groves. We worked up an electronic drum kit, a marvelous idea. I had the control panel in front of me, it's old hat now but we were the first to do it. There were pieces of rubber with silver paper on the back with a silver coil that moved up and down inside a magnet that produced a signal, so it was touch sensitive. I had 5 snares across the top and then ten tom-toms and then a whole octave of bass drums underneath my feet and then four lots of 16 sequencers, two on each side. There was a gap—to play a space—a tamborine, ebony stick, snare and three tom-toms. This was pre-chip days, back then you did it all with transistors. So it had something like 500 transistors. The electronic drums inside looked something like spaghetti. When it worked it was superb, but it was before its day, because it was so sensitive..."
The first commercial electronic drum was the Pollard Syndrum, released by the Pollard Industries in 1976. It consisted of an electric sound generator and one or more drum pads. It quickly called the attention of many famous drummers like Carmine Appice and Terry Bozzio. But the Syndrum was a financial failure and lead the company to ruin in a few years.
In 1978, the Simmons company was created in order to produce commercial electronic drums sets. Its most notable product was the SDS-5, released in 1981. With its characteristics hexagon pads, the SDS-5 was first used by Burgess: From the Tea-rooms of Mars ...., Chant No,1 by Spandau Ballet, and Angel Face by Shock. After its debut on the top parades, the instrument called attention of many important rock drummers. The sound of the SDS-5 is often described as 'awful' or sounding like 'trash can lids'. Despite the critics, the distinctive Simmons 'dzzshhh' sound was extensively used during the 1980s by rock groups like Duran Duran and Rush among others.
In the following years, other companies started selling their versions of electronic drums, notably Roland and Yamaha. At that time, the electronic drums were similar to today entry-level kits. They consisted of rubber coated pads mounted on a stand. The pads were velocity sensitive and the sound was generated through single or multi-layer sampling.
In 1997, Roland put into market its TD-10 model, which had two important innovations. First, instead of generating its sound through sampling, the TD-10 used mathematical models to generate its sound. Second, instead of rubber coated pads, it featured mesh-head pads. The mesh-head pads look and feel like a small acoustic drums. Its striking surface is a two-layer taut woven mesh of fibers fitted with several electronic sensors. Roland called its invention as V-Drums, which later became the brand of its electronic drums line. Together, the mathematical modelling and the mesh-head pads greatly increased the sound and feel of electronic drums.
Newer drum kits have addressed many of the shortcomings of early electronic drums. While each of the manufacturers have entry-level units, the professional kits are geared toward creating a sound and playing experience that is nearly indistinguishable from a quality acoustic kit. Examples include the Yamaha DTX 950k and Roland V-Drums TD-20. Typically, these high-end kits are equipped with:
- High quality digital sounds - These modules offer high quality modeled drum sounds with thousands of sounds to choose. Some modules let the user choose the tune, size and material of drums and cymbals. They also simulate effects like muffling, microphone position and ambient acoustic.
- Positional sensing and dynamic impact detection - The module can detect which area of the drum head is impacted, and provide a sample representative of that strike on an acoustic head. Additionally, the volume and timbre of the strike is dependent on the velocity of the impact.
- Multiple triggers - Snares and toms have impact zones for both the head and the rim, allowing for rim and cross shots as well as shell tapping. Cymbals can accommodate zones for edge, bow and bell strikes, with choking capability.
- Realistic Hi-hats - These are mounted on standard stands, and allow for actual opened and closed foot playing. An electronic module within the unit detects its movement and provides variations of opened, partially opened, and closed hi-hat hits. It also features foot close and quick close-open sound.
- Multiple outputs - These modules have multiple outputs to the sound board such that each percussion group (i.e. toms, cymbals, etc.) can be independently mixed (like the multiple miking of an acoustic kit). Additionally, these groups have independent volume faders on the module to fine tune volume settings for each group. Another common used output is the MIDI connection, which send signals to a computer based specialist software. The increased processing power provided by this option allows the user to utilize actual, randomized samples of professionally recorded drums. The result is a phenomenally credible nuance and, by many accounts, an indistinguishable replacement for traditionally recorded drum.
Comparison to acoustic drum set
- Although not totally silent, electronic drums produce much less acoustic noise than a traditional drum kit. Also, the drummer can use a headphone for silent practice.
- Electronic drum sets are usually more compact than acoustic drums.
- One single electronic kit can simulate the sound of several acoustic kits, like a vintage jazz drum kit or a powerful rock band kit. It can also reproduce other sounds, like the Roland TR-808 sound widely used in electronic music.
- Electronic drums do not need complex microphone arrangements like acoustic drums. Instead, the sound can be obtained through line-out or MIDI connections. Because of this, an electronic drum is an adequate instrument for small and home studios.
- Electronic drums usually has useful features for the beginner drummer, like metronome and play-along songs.
- Electronic drums can be played at a lower volume level, avoiding the need for the rest of the band to increase its volume to match the drums. This is advantageous in smaller rooms where excessive volume is not desired.
- Despite recent innovations, electronic drums still cannot reproduce the exact feel and richness of the sound of acoustic drums.
- The most advanced features, like realistic pads and advanced sound modeling, are only featured in high-priced electronic sets, inaccessible for most non-professional drummers. Meanwhile, entry-level kits still use single triggered rubber pads and poor sampled sounds, limiting sound and playing experience.
- The sound of an acoustic drum set is powerful enough for a small gig. An electronic drum kit needs a power outlet and, at least, an amplifier, even for small presentations.
- Quality of sound is highly dependent on quality of amplifier and audio systems.
Table-top electronic drum
A table-top electronic drum (or portable electronic drum) is an electronic drum that has all pads (except foot pedals) and the electronic module combined in a single table-top like piece. It usually has a small amplifier and loudspeakers incorporated. The sound generation is usually simpler (single-layered samples) when compared to full-size kits. Also, the feel when playing a table-top drum is very different. The great advantages of table-top drums are the portability and the reduced price.
Acoustic triggered drum kit
An acoustic triggered drum kit is a regular acoustic drum kit with coupled triggers (sensors) on the drums and cymbals. The triggers detect hits on the drums and generate an electric signal, which is sent to an electronic module. Usually, the drum kit has mesh heads and other accessories to reduce the acoustic sound generated. This way, an acoustic triggered drum kit has the feel of an acoustic drum kit, plus the versatility of an electronic drum kit.
See also drum kit#Electronic drums.
Artists who use electronic drums
- Tim Alexander (Primus)
- Rick Allen of Def Leppard 1985–present: after losing his left arm, Allen used a customized kit built by Simmons (electronic drum company), but has since modified his drums.
- Nicholas Barker (Dimmu Borgir)
- Travis Barker on a Plus 44 album
- Sebastian Beresford - b.i.d Arkarna Leftfield Above & Beyond
- Hal Blaine session drummer Pollard Syndrum
- Tim Booth of James - plays an electronic drum during live concerts, notably on Hey Ma track Bubbles, although he does not do so in the studio.
- Rob Bourdon of Linkin Park uses two Pintech pads on the left of his kit, with different snare sounds triggered.
- Bill Bruford in (King Crimson), (ABWH) and (Earthworks (band))
- Warren Cann (Ultravox) An electronic percussion pioneer who made extensive use of the instruments on the albums Vienna, Rage in Eden, Quartet, and Lament.
- Danny Carey of Tool (band) - uses 7 Synesthesia Mandala Drums, which sense strike position and velocity.
- Igor Cavalera (Sepultura)
- Colm Ó Cíosóig (My Bloody Valentine) on the Loveless album.
- Rick Colaluca (Watchtower) (Only toms)
- Phil Collins (Genesis) – Simmons kits (SDS V, SDS7) on Genesis and Invisible Touch albums, Synare drums (various including the tympani) on Abacab and Genesis as well as the "And then there were three" and "Duke" tours, Simmons SDX on We can't dance.
- Micky Dolenz: During the Monkees' mid 1990s reunion tour
- Sly Dunbar An extremely prolific Jamaican reggae drummer and producer. He frequently used an electric drum set while playing with the band Black Uhuru.
- Stuart Elliott (The Alan Parsons Project) – Simmons kit
- Doll Factory
- Tats Faustino
- Wolfgang Flur, Karl Bartos (Kraftwerk), built their own manual electronic drum kit.
- Yasuchika Fujii (P-MODEL) - Bass drum was used to activate sequencer
- Bud Gaugh – sublime- dub effects
- Rocky Gray (Evanescence) – Wirges kit
- Alex Van Halen Prominently used on the5150 album and tour. Alex has since gone back to acoustic drums.
- Malcolm Holmes (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) On his first Top of the Pops TV performance in 1980 he performed 'standing up' playing an electronic drum kit.
- Peter Hook, New Order's former bass guitarist
- Rogerio Jardim – Infected Mushroom
- Akira Jimbo
- Jean-Michel Jarre
- David Kennedy (Angels & Airwaves) on Angels & Airwaves 2008 Tour.
- Osamu Kitajima
- Da Kurlzz (Hollywood Undead) He uses electronic drums in every live show and on the album Swan Songs
- Marina (of the Fresh Beat Band)
- Nick Mason (Pink Floyd)
- Joseph San Mateo (Kairos)
- Keith Moon (The Who) Pollard Syndrum
- Jay Moore (Primal State) – Reality Resistant EP
- Stephen Morris (New Order & Joy Division)
- Jim Mothersbaugh (Devo) - home made electronic kit
- Alan Myers (Devo) – Synare drum pads
- Nadeem-Shravan (Bollywood Composer Duo) who rocked the 1990s with their Music. They extensively Used Combination of Electronic Drums with Conga Drums.
- Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery, on the song "Toccata".
- Dan Pearson (Ganga Giri)
- Neil Peart (Rush) – currently uses both electronic and acoustic drums in his live solos
- Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater – triggered kick, snare, and toms used on Images and Words)
- Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM & R.E.M.)
- Sean Reinert (Cynic)
- Ryuichi Sakamoto (Yellow Magic Orchestra)
- Christoph Schneider (Rammstein) – Hybryd Drum set During Herzeleid and Sehnsucht era
- Jez Strode (Kajagoogoo)
- Sadatoshi Tainaka (P-MODEL) - Played during second tenure with the band, utilized together with acoustic drum kit
- Yukihiro Takahashi (Yellow Magic Orchestra)
- Roger Taylor – Queen
- Matt Tong of Bloc Party He uses electronic drums on the track Compliments and some pads in other songs from the 2005 album Silent Alarm.
- Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa)
- Gary Wallis – Pink Floyd, Mike + The Mechanics, Shiller[disambiguation needed], Il Divo
- Alan White of Yes
- Alan Wilder (Depeche Mode)