Author: Emrich, John
Date published: April 1, 2012
Editor's note: This new column has been created to address common questions about electronics.
I just got my first electronic drumset, and I was wondering if I should play the electronic pads differently from my acoustic drums.
The simple answer is yes, but only in the approach you take. You have to make slight adjustments for every drum that you play, regardless of whether it's acoustic or electronic. Just as different-size snare drums will cause you to make minor adjustments to your technique for articulations like rolls and flams, understanding the way different trigger pads work will go a long way toward getting the best performance out of them.
The first example is the Roland-style mesh-head pad. A closer look at the trigger underneath the drumhead shows a foam cone with a piezo trigger element (figure 1). That element pushes up against the center of the head in order to generate the trigger signal. This type of construction can create a very sensitive hot spot right above the piezo. I recommend reserving the center of a mesh head for only the loudest hits. This is similar to how you would play an acoustic drum.
Many drummers prefer to play just off center to get a richer sound. As you play more softly, you move toward the edge of the drum. The same approach applies to the mesh-head trigger pad. Just be careful not to play too close to the rim, because then you're getting farther away from the trigger element and the pad might not respond as accurately. You need to experiment to find the range on the head that works best.
The same basic approach should be used for a rubber pad, like the ones on Yamaha electronic drums. You won't find a hot spot on these, but you can easily get into what's referred to as a machine-gun response, where one sound/sample is played repeatedly at the same velocity. To avoid that, try not to strike the pad in exactly the same spot when playing multiple strokes. Additionally, a rubber pad might require you to use a slightly heavier stick to generate the proper dynamic response without having to overplay. With both types of pads, the gain structure within your sound module will come into play. (We'll cover basic drummodule setup in a future installment.)
Cymbal pads also require a bit of understanding in order to achieve the best performance. All electronic cymbals feature a company logo. The trigger placement inside these pads is optimized when you have the logos facing you (figure 2). The most sensitive area is from the bell straight down to the six o'clock position. As you move around toward nine o'clock, you lose a little trigger sensitivity. This can work to your advantage when you're playing at softer dynamics.
One thing that needs to be cleared up involves edge strikes on a cymbal pad. The trigger element for edge sounds is usually a switch-type sensor on fop of the outer edge of the pad (figure 3). You can strike the very edge of the pad to trigger the edge sounds, but you'll get a better response if you use the shoulder of the stick on the outer end of the top of the cymbal. Plus, playing the edge of the cymbal can cause damage to the pad (figure 4).
John Emrich is an expert in the field of electronic percussion. He has produced sample libraries on FXpansion's BFD2 and Eco platforms and has produced products for Modern Drummer, Platinum Samples, Bosphorus, Mapex, Alesis, Pearl, WaveMachine Labs, Native Instruments, Yamaha, and Zildjian. For more info, visit johnemrich.com.