Friday, April 21, 2017

Keeping Up With The Jetsons

I was at a panel discussion for drum teachers when the question of electronic drums came up. The drummer-educators on the panel seemed to agree that electric wouldn't do unless there was no other way. These were seasoned pros and perhaps a bit old school, but the message was clear. 
The main issues seem to be nuance and ‘feel’. True, electronic drums aren't as sensitive to touch as acoustic drums, they can lack a convincing rebound, and they can have a compressed dynamic range, but with developments in sensors, software and ‘head’ material, the gap appears to be closing.

Then, aside from the sensitivity thing, what's so wrong with electronic drums?

Require power: Without some sort of power source, you have a fairly elaborate set of practice pads. So batteries and headphones at a minimum, and more if you want to play live.

Too small: The pads typically are smaller -- e.g. 10" snare pad, 12" cymbal pad -- and just plain harder to hit.

Too limited: Finite sounds, instruments and settings; finite control over settings; and the racks can be hard to adjust.

Don't look impressive: In the days of techno bands, fine, but I can't see a metal drummer sitting behind a set.

Good ones are expensive: And so they should be, comparable to quality acoustic setups.

Not-so-good ones proliferate: Below a certain price point (e.g. under $500, with a few exceptions), you're looking at toys, not musical gear. Avoid.

Well, what's right then?

Dozens, even hundreds of sounds at the touch of a button: Pretty hard to top this.

Try different tunings, styles with less fuss, risk: It's a great way to experiment with new sounds to see if they work for you without messing with your acoustic instruments.

Change voices mid-song: Imagine having two or three or more sets available at the same time (depending on the nature of the controls).

Compact, easy to move (mostly): Even take them on the road for practice.

Play at 4:00 AM at full volume: With headphones, of course.

Better response than a practice pad: Head feel can be very good; some are nearly as physically and sonically responsive as real drums.

Dynamics getting pretty good: Modern triggers now incorporate a number of sensors and better sound processors, giving a big boost to dynamics.

Rock out in your own little world: I don't usually play heavy rock, but when I do I like to switch my e-kit to 'Bonham mode'.

So if you've been toying with the idea of an electronic set, I really can see no reason not to make like George and jump right in!

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