Electric drum kits have burst onto the drum kit market in a massive way. Many beginners look for electric kits when buying their first drum kit, both for their reduced volume and often smaller size. There is also a large demand for electric drum kits for drummers who play predominantly electronic music. The wide array of digital sounds available, and the ease with which sounds can be changed makes electric drum kits suitable for styles of music which require more than just a traditional drum set configuration (bass drum, snare drum, tom toms and cymbals). This article will explore the difference between acoustic and digital/electric drums while discussing some of the benefits and limitations of each. This will give you a clearer picture as to which is the right drum kit for you.
An electric drum kit is essentially a collection of sample pads set up in the same way as an acoustic drum kit. The pads themselves are designed to produce little acoustic sound, other than the dead sound of the wooden drum sticks hitting rubber. The drum kit has to be plugged into an amplifier, speaker, or pair of headphones to be heard, which makes them ideal for practice when volume has to be kept to a minimum.
- Great for low/zero volume practice.
- Pads are often smaller than acoustic drums so if space is a problem, electric kits can be a solution.
- Perfect if you’re playing electronic music that requires MIDI samples. You don’t need to buy a separate sample pad as with intermediate/advanced electronic drum kits you can programme specific samples to each pad.
- Most electric kits come with a built in metronome. (although nowadays this is less of an issue as you can simply download a metronome app on your smartphone).
- Doesn’t require any tuning.
- Doesn’t require knowledge of drum maintenance.
- The drum and cymbal samples have already been EQ’d meaning that the sound you hear is similar to the sound of drums in recordings.
- Beginner electric drum kits have limited features. You are often stuck with a handful of presets and have no control over individual drum samples or overall EQ.
- As digital technology is advancing so quickly you could buy a good quality electric drum kit and find that in 10 years it will have devalued significantly.
- Doesn’t require any knowledge of drums to maintain. If you have only ever owned an electric kit you’ll be at a disadvantage whenever you have to play an acoustic drum kit.
- Many drummers who have only ever played electric drum kits end up with a lot of bad habits due to the fact that a sample pad reacts differently to being played than an acoustic drum or cymbal does. Some examples are;
- Not allowing the drum stick/bass drum beater to rebound. When playing an acoustic kit not allowing the stick to rebound will produce a choked sound, whereas this isn’t the case on an electric kit.
- Playing with poor dynamic balance between different parts of the kit. On an electric kit it’s easy just to turn the hi hat volume down if you think it’s too loud, rather than hitting the hi hat lighter.
- Many drummers who have played electric drums their whole lives play with an awkward, forced feel when playing acoustic drum kits.
- Playing too loud. The volume on an electric kit can simply be turned down. On an acoustic kit if you want to play quietly you need to develop the technique to allow you to do this, something that as a professional drummer is incredibly important.
An acoustic drum kit is a set of drums and cymbals designed to be played as one instrument. A standard drum kit is made from a bass drum, snare drum, set of tom toms (the amount can vary depending on many things such as the style of music being played), hi hat cymbals (2 cymbals played together to create a “chick” sound), a ride cymbal and a crash cymbal. The sound is produced by striking the drums or cymbals with a drum stick or mallet.
- Great for most acoustic styles of music; rock, pop, jazz, blues, funk etc.
- Perfect for high volume/high energy playing.
- Requires more skill to get a nice sound early on.
- Responsive to your touch and feel.
- Knowledge of how to maintain an acoustic kit is very valuable. If you’re playing on someone else’s drum kit the chances are it will be acoustic.
- Practice can be more difficult if you have neighbours nearby or can only practice at night due to the loud natural response of acoustic drums. (this volume can be reduced with silencing pads)
- Often takes up more space.
- Requires tuning, something which takes years of practice to be able to do well.
- To get a decent sounding acoustic kit (especially cymbals) costs quite a lot of money.
If you want to take your drumming seriously, possibly make a career from it, and have no intention of playing electronic music then you need to buy an acoustic drum kit. If you are in this position and you end up buying an electric kit you could develop some really bad habits that take years to reverse.
If you are looking to learn the drums casually, won’t miss the power of an acoustic kit, or are 100% sure that you only want to play electronic music, then an electric kit is for you. You can learn how to play an amazing instrument without having to worry about bothering neighbours.
I have a number of students who have the habit of not allowing their drum sticks to rebound properly. It's something we work on every lesson and every lesson they make small progress but come back the following week with the same problem. The reason for this is that they practice on electric drum kits which aren't responsive to bad technique. While it is inspiring to hear a professional drum sound without putting in the hours of practice to obtain great technique, the fact that electric kits hide these imperfections in your technique will only be detrimental in the long term.
Either way the next step you should take is deciding exactly which drum kit you want to buy. There are a lot of drum kits on the market and the Liberty Park Music article on drum kit selection will give you a great headstart when hunting for that perfect drum kit.