Electronic drum

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Basic electronic drum set made by Pintech.

An electronic drum is an electrical device struck by a drummer, played in real time (using either hands, sticks, brushes or other implements) to produce a selection of sounds, instruments and effects, from either samples or modeled sounds contained in a sound module or electronic processor. It is an electronic synthesizer that can, with sampling developments in the 2000s, replicate the sound of an acoustic drum kit credibly and with good quality. Strictly speaking, sequencers and drum machines are not electronic drums, because a human drummer is not triggering the sounds. [1]

The electronic drum (pad/triggering device) is usually sold as part of an electronic drum kit, consisting of a set of drum pads mounted on a stand or rack in a configuration similar to that of an acoustic drum kit layout, with rubberized (Roland, Yamaha, Alesis, for example) or specialized acoustic/electronic cymbals (e.g. Zildjian's "Gen 16"). The drum pads themselves are either discs or shallow drum shells made of various materials, often with a rubber/silicone or cloth-like coated playing surface. Each pad has a sensor that generates an electric signal when struck. The electric signal is transmitted through cables into an electronic drum module ("brain" as it is sometimes called) or other device, which then produces a sound associated with, and triggered by, the struck pad. The sound signal from the drum module can be plugged into a keyboard amp (for use in a band performance) or listened to with headphones for silent practice.


In 1967, however, Felix Visser, at that time a drummer playing with the VIPs, a Dutch pop band, modified one of the pre-Roland era rhythm boxes, called Acetone designed by Ikutaro Kakehashi who later founded Roland Corporation Japan. As with all rhythm boxes and later drum computers, before "human feel" was invented, they sounded like machines.

In Felix's modification, the Acetone box was extended with a large flat board holding 12 printed circuit boards of approximately 4 × 4 inches, the copper traces intertwining like forks, forming the touch surfaces for the sounds generated by the Acetone box. Each touch pad was sensed by an electronic circuit driving very high-speed Siemens computer relays found in surplus shops, which were connected to the drum and percussion sounds of the rhythm box. Although it was a crude way of playing electronic drum sounds by hand (like a percussionist playing bongos and congas), it worked and added human feel and allowed a new type of virtuosity (e.g., rolls on bass drum). The unit was used in Frans Peters' studio in radio city Hilversum, Netherlands.

The system was over-sensitive to humidity:

"The circuits would be triggered by the touch pads, merely by damp. Just breathing over them would do the job. So in the end a 40 Watt light bulb was built inside the box holding the pads, electronic circuitry and relays, to heat up the unit when the instrument had been sitting in a car and then put on a stage in a relatively warm, damp environment. After all we'd just left the dark ages of electronic music... "

The first electronic drum was created in the early 1970s 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".[2]

From an interview with Graeme Edge:Template:Http://www.self.gutenberg.org/articles/electronic drum

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 marvellous 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 tambourine, 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 Pollard Industries in 1976. It consisted of an electric sound generator and one or more drum pads. It quickly caught the attention of numerous high profile drummers/percussionists at the time, such as Carmine Appice and Terry Bozzio. But the Syndrum was a financial failure and led the company to monetary ruin in the following years.[2]

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 characteristic hexagon shaped pads, the SDS-5 was first used by Burgess on From the Tea-rooms of Mars ...., "Chant No. 1" by Spandau Ballet, and "Angel Face" by Shock. After its debut on the top musical chart shows and parades, the electronic instrument garnered significant attention from various established and influential rock/pop musicians. The sound of the SDS-5 is often described retrospectively with phrases such as "awful" or "sounded like trash can lids" by those who employed them at the time. Despite the critics, the distinctive Simmons sound was extensively used during the 1980s by pop/rock & synth-pop groups such as Duran Duran or Rush, among others, and is often viewed somewhat nostalgically by those who began to experiment with these early forays into electronic drums and percussion.

In the following years, other companies started selling their own versions of electronic drums, notably Roland and Yamaha. At that time, the electronic drums were similar to today's entry-level kits. They consisted of rubber coated pads mounted on stands. The pads were created to be velocity-sensitive and the sound was generated through single or multiple-layered sampling.

In 1997, Roland introduced its now famous TD-10 model, which had two important musical/electronic innovations. The first and more controversial innovation was its method of providing a sound for the drums/pads themselves to trigger, instead of generating its sound through samples of an instrument. The TD-10 used mathematical models to generate its sounds. While some drummers lamented the fact that the produced sound was not a "pure" sample of an acoustic sound, many would now argue that it is neither desirable nor positive to simply try and emulate a purely acoustic sound, when technology is today at the forefront of modern electronic composition and simple replication of an acoustic drum is not the goal. Secondly, instead of only rubber-coated pads, Roland featured a new mesh-like pad, produced in connection with acoustic drum skin manufacturer Remo.

The mesh-head pads look and feel approximately like a smaller-sized acoustic drum. The Remo/Roland mesh surface is made from a double layer of taut woven mesh fibers, fitted with several electronic sensors or triggers. The playing feel is close to that of striking an acoustic drum, but with more bounce than an acoustic skin. Roland termed its innovative commercial drum set "V-Drums", which later became the marketed brand name of its electronic drum line. Together, the mathematical/computational modeling, mesh-head pad surface and improved trigger sensor technology greatly increased the quality of sounds, volume levels in practice and the "realistic" feel of electronic drums.[3]

Recent innovations[edit]

Newer drum kits from major manufacturers have therefore addressed many of the shortcomings of early electronic drum pads and modules. While each of the significant market brands have entry-level units, the professionally marketed kits are geared toward creating sounds and playing experiences that are nearly indistinguishable from playing a quality acoustic kit or world/orchestral percussion instruments. Examples of these high-end professional kits include the Yamaha DTX 950k and Roland V-Drums TD-30KV. Typically, these professional-level and studio kits are equipped with:

  • High-quality digital sounds – These drum modules offer high quality modeled drum sounds – with hundreds of on board sounds, effects and audio loops and song options/patterns to choose from. Some of these modules allow the user to dial in the specifics of tuning, head type, depth/width and material (metal, wood type, etc.). Trigger sensor/reliability and reduction of cross/talk have been vastly improved. Triggering now allows both the head and the rim to produce sounds, facilitating rim and cross shots as well as shell tapping and many other audio sounds that can be assigned to the head or rim, so that the options for live music increase even more. Cymbals can accommodate more zones: for edge, bow and bell strikes, with choking capability and realistic cymbal swells (Roland and Yamaha video demonstrations on YouTube and Facebook with Craig Blundell, Michael Schack, and Johhny Rabb for Roland, and Zak Bond and Andy Fisenden for Yamaha).
  • Realistic hi-hats - These newer versions are no longer single cymbal pads but dual replicated cymbals, that can be mounted on regular stands like their acoustic versions. These cymbals allow for actual opened and closed hand/foot playing. A high-spec electronic module detects hi-hat movement/height and position, providing realistic variations of sound via degree of placement – open, partially open, and closed hi-hat strikes. Some modules, like the Roland TD-30, also feature foot close and quick close-open sounds, with pressure on the cymbals also being sensed and replicated when tightening or loosening the foot pressure, even on a closed hi-hat. So, the audio sounds tighter when firm pressure is applied on an already closed hi-hat pedal (Roland's TD-30 Module, as demonstrated by Craig Blundell, Omar Hakim and Michael Schack on YouTube for Roland. Tom Griffen for Yamaha also demonstrates cymbal sensitivities in a demo on YouTube).
  • Multiple outputs - The professional-level modules from the leading manufacturers 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 commonly designated output is the MIDI connection, which sends signals to a computer based specialist MIDI software or, for example, a DAW (digital audio workstation). The increased processing power provided by this option allows the user to utilize actual, randomized samples of professionally recorded or modeled drums. The output and input of the pads, trigger devices etc. can be augmented or controlled through digital software, the module, MIDI instruments and other samplers. The result is a phenomenally credible, nuanced, flexible set of instruments and, arguably, by some accounts; an almost indistinguishable augmentation or replacement for traditionally recorded drums and melodic/world percussion and effects. Not many acoustic drummers will warm to that, and many studio engineers will quibble about the finer audio details regarding acoustic vs electronic, but that is not the scope of the article.

Comparison to acoustic drum set[edit]


  • Although not totally silent because they are still an instrument you strike, electronic drums and their counterpart devices usually produce considerably less acoustic noise than a traditional drum kit.
  • Also, the drummer can use headphones for an essentially silent and private practice in dwellings where it would be impossible to have a studio or acoustic noise level, and perhaps where regular-sized kits would not fit. They are lighter and easier to transport than an acoustic drum kit.
  • Electronic drum sets are (usually) more compact than acoustic drums- though it is possible to have them customized to acoustic sizes – or convert acoustic kits to become one and so that alters their size benefits, depending on your choice.
  • A single electronic kit can (via its module or software)simulate/replicate the sounds of countless acoustic kits and instruments/effects. A drummer in a cover band or wedding band can switch instantly between a vintage jazz drum kit and a powerful maple rock kit that a progressive rock drummer would use. Other options include congas, piano, guitar, brushes, orchestral timpani, gongs or even add hand claps or sound effects such as a sirens. In the 2010s, many non-musical samples and effects are available. It is therefore possible to achieve much more than one can with an acoustic kit alone and one has to transport significantly less kit to play a wide variety of sounds and instruments.
  • Electronic drums do not require complex and expensive microphones or their large stand arrangements for recording, unlike acoustic drums. Instead, the sound can be obtained through line-out or MIDI connections. Because of this, an electronic drum is good for education, practice, composition applications. The best-quality electronic drums and drum modules can even be used in studio recording or live performance.
  • Electronic drums usually have useful features for both the aspiring beginner or professional alike, such as metronomes with different metronome voices; play-along songs/loops and samples, with the ability to record practicing or playing; syncing of the metronome to a studio DAW metronome instead of using the studio's click; or experimenting with composition. It is also easy to use an MP3 player or iPod to play songs for practice or for looping those parts to target technique issues or replicate drum parts.
  • Electronic drums can be played at a significantly lower volume level, and so are less restrictive for use, avoiding the need for the rest of a band or other quieter musicians to have to increase their volume acoustically or electronically to match the percussive volume level. This is particularly advantageous in smaller rooms, or older architectural theatres/classical/folk/choral style settings, where excessive volume is not necessarily desired and can dominate in a way that is difficult and time consuming to solve (with acoustic drums, some small venues use plexiglass screens to reduce the onstage drum volume).
  • When equipment such as sticks, brushes (vinyl brushes for mesh heads) and mallets are used with electronic drums, they last slightly longer than on acoustic kits, due to the use of rubberized rims and hoop protection that prevents stick contact with metal.
  • They can be used to control or sample from other MIDI instruments or work with other samplers (Roland SPD-SX, or Yamaha DTX Multi-12), or percussion pads (Alesis Percussion Pad, Roland SPD-30 Octapad/Handsonic- HPD 20 or the Yamaha DTX Multi-12). They also work well alongside DAW software for using samples rather than modeled computer generated sounds.


  • Electronic drums do not perfectly reproduce the sound of acoustic drum kits.[citation needed] (This may not be the entire scope or purpose for electronic kits today, but it is still a large priority for many customers.[citation needed])
  • Unlike acoustic kits, the individual drums of an electronic kit are often incompatible with those of other models or brands.
  • Generally they are more costly than acoustic kits.[citation needed]
  • Important features such as realistic pads and advanced sound modeling or samples are generally limited to expensive sets. Meanwhile, entry-level kits generally use single triggered rubberized hard pads and modest-quality samples or sound modeling.
  • Unlike acoustic drum kits, which are powerful enough to be audible in a small gig without amplification, electronic kits need at least one power outlet and a keyboard amplifier or small PA system to be audible.
  • The quality of the sounds reproduced by an electronic kit depends on the quality of the sound module, samples, amplifier, personal monitors, headphones, satellite speakers, or audio system deployed by the user.
  • Every region has regulations on electronic equipment. Electronic drums need maintenance, periodic tests and accurate paperwork to match. Cables, plugs, adapters, earthing, and any sign of damage or modification without paperwork could nullify an insurance policy. Occasionally a venue may require a risk assessment before electronic drums can be used.[4]


Table-top electronic drum[edit]

Alesis PerformancePad electronic drum kit

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 unit. It usually has a small amplifier and loudspeakers incorporated. The sound generation, is generally simpler (single-layered samples) when compared to full-size kits. Also, the feel when playing a table-top drum/pad is very different. The advantages of table-top drums are the portability and the relatively lower price.

Acoustic triggered drum kit[edit]

An acoustic triggered drum kit is a regular acoustic drum kit coupled with drum trigger/s (sensors) on the drums and cymbals. The triggers can be "built inside" or permanently fixed on to cymbals- so that they are necessarily either: fixed triggers (electronic kit essentially), removable (can be either acoustic or electronic by default of purpose at the time), or simply an acoustic kit that is now actually a "Hybrid" kit-using external triggers that attach to the rim and skin (or batter head) so as to trigger other sounds on top of the natural acoustic sound produced or simply to boost it for performance.

The triggers detect hits/ vibrations on the batter head and/or hoop rim and generate an electric signal. The signal is then sent to an electronic module/sampler or via cables and Audio Interface to a MIDI-DAW/drum software on a PC/laptop/Mac- to trigger the selected sounds. Usually, the "acoustic triggered kit", has either commercially available mesh head skins (silent), or the drummer keeps its natural skins (acoustic skins for a Hybrid kit are standard practice) and other muting accessories to reduce the acoustic sounds generated when played together . This way, an acoustic (electro/acoustic) or Hybrid triggered drum kit has the feel and sizes of the standard acoustic kit but with the added benefits of an electronic kits silence/ or added sound Library . (See Craig Blundell on: "Hybrid Kits" & Roland V Drums, "Triggers" & Trigger bar on YouTube; See 682Drums for materials on conversions and DD Drums, Hart Dynamics Drum-tech or Pintech for Custom Acoustic/Electronic Kit sizes, that function dualistically or primarily as electronic kits but in various acoustic sizes).



  1. ^ [For the definition employed here cf: -'The Case for Vintage Electronic Drums' by Michael Render, page 1 (originally published in the Not So Modern Drumming Magazine) & sourced from "The Electronic Drum Experts" web site]
  2. ^ a b Render, Michael. The Case for Vintage Electronic Drums. [1], accessed June 21, 2011
  3. ^ Greg Rule & Steve Fisher. V-Drums History. [2], accessed June 21, 2011
  4. ^ UK Musicians Union (April 2014), "Powered Performance", Drummer Magazine, p. 46