Electronic drum: Wikis


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Basic electronic drum set made by Pintech.

An electronic drum is a percussion instrument in which the sound is generated by an electronic waveform generator or sampler instead of by acoustic vibration.


How electronic drums work

When an electronic drum pad is struck, a voltage change is triggered in the embedded piezoelectric transducer (piezo) or force sensitive resistor (FSR). The resultant signals are transmitted to an electronic "drum brain" via TS or TRS cables, and are translated into digital waveforms, which produce the desired percussion sound assigned to that particular trigger pad. Most newer drum modules have trigger inputs for 2 or more cymbals, a kick, 3-4 toms, a dual-zone snare, (head and rim) and a hi-hat. The hi-hat has a foot controller which produces open and closed sounds with some models offering variations in-between. By having the ability to assign different sounds to any given pad, the electronic drummer has nearly unlimited potential for configuring many different sounding drum kits from one set of electronic drums. Additionally, electronic drummers can sample non-percussive sounds and use them as drum sounds, as is the case with most industrial music. Many see this as a great advantage over acoustic drums, as one can have a jazz, rock or ballad drumset by merely changing the kit selector switch on the module.

Early electronic drums

Early Simmons SDS 5 Electronic Drums, ca. 1979.

From an interview with Graeme Edge of The Moody Blues:

Question- "One of the strangest pieces was 'Procession' (Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, 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 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..."

Many drummers claim that early electronic drums gave only an approximation of the sound of acoustic drums, as there were often technical issues with triggering, as well as musical issues such as decreased range of dynamic and tonal subtlety. Consequently, the pioneering electronic drumsets such as the early Pollard Syndrum, Simmons and Yamaha models, were often used for certain types of rock, disco and techno genres in which the drums were usually expected to play a specific pattern or beat repeatedly with no variation in timbre. These were little more than manual sequencers, except for the Pollard Syndrum which was the first pro recording studio quality electronic drum. It had timbre, reliable triggering and full dynamic audio range beyond the human ear. The Pollard Syndrum is still highly sought after by pro drummers and musicians for recording.

It should be noted that there are inexpensive low-end drums and modules currently in production whose quality is just marginally better than some of their pioneering counterparts. For the most part, these new electronic drums are targeted toward the hobbyist or novice drummer.

Recent innovations

Newer drum kits have addressed many of the shortcomings of early electronic drums. While each of these 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 DTXtreme IIS, the DDrum4SE and Roland's TD-12 and TD-20 V-Drums, having 2006 MSRPs ranging between $2,195.00 and $6,699.00. [1] Typically, these high-end kits are equipped with:

  • High quality digital sounds- These modules offer options ranging from high quality modeled drum sounds (Roland and Yamaha) to actual 24 bit samples (DDrum4SE - no longer in production) of actual percussion sounds with hundreds of samples from which to choose. Yamaha's DTXtreme IIs even offers the ability to store user-generated samples in the module (up to 8 MB).
  • 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 strength 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.
  • Realistic Hi-Hats- These are mounted on standard stands, and allow for actual open and closed foot playing. An electronic module within the unit detects the movement and provides variations of open, partially open, and closed samples as played, with different sounds assigned to a foot close, and a quick close-open.
  • Multiple outputs- These modules have multiple 'outs' to the sound board such that each percussion group (ie. 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.
  • Expansion slots/MIDI connections- for upgrading samples and software as they are improved through continuing R&D efforts, as well as control of external devices. Many users have taken to utilizing their electronic drum kits as controllers for computer based instruments/plugins. The increased processing power provided by this option allows the user to utilize actual, randomized samples of professionally recorded drums. The result is phenomenally credible nuance and, by many accounts, an indistinguishable replacement for traditionally recorded drums.

Electronic drumming communities

The following are links to community sites: forums, mailing lists, etc... related to electronic drumming:


Companies that produce electronic drum modules, trigger pads, and acoustic triggers:

Artists who use electronic drums

See also



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