In the day and age of modern city dwelling, it’s oftentimes a challenge to be able to get a set of drums and bang away til your heart’s content. Usually that “expression session” can be interrupted by a different sort of banging; that of an angry neighbor or even the local police department! We don’t want that in our lives and so the debacle rages as to “how to play drums and not anger the locals”. Hopefully I can shed some light on the situation.
Drums, by nature are LOUD. That’s what they’re meant to be. There’s an allure that drags us in by way of the feeling we get when striking an instrument, feeling the air move and shake around the sound and it hits us somewhere primal. That’s what a drum should do. And that’s what is the big differentiator between electric and acoustic.
The gold standard for drummers are the usual suspects; a trapkit with a rack tom (maybe two), a floor tom, snare, kick, hihats, and a cymbal or two and you’re on your way to rock stardom! That is, after you’ve dealt with any noise suppression issues, scheduling (neighbors are away), etc. Real drums require logistics, much like a Sousaphone. But we’re talking about drums so I digress…
Real drums don’t require fancy connectors, a computer, just a pair of sticks and an open mind and a place to do it. That’s the simple beauty of playing the drums. They’re just awesome. Real drums push and move the air around us and give feedback by way of sound energy, and that’s the allure. The instant gratification of “hit drum, hear sound”. That’s the etymology of what drives us; the bug that bites us.
Modern electric e-kits more often than not have mesh pads that are designed to produce minimal volume that do not move any of the air and sound energy that an acoustic drum emanates. The only reason they call e-pads “drums” is that’s a catchy marketing term that puts the product in the same neighborhood as acoustic drums. I may stir some controversy with this opinion, but I feel that electric “drums” are not drums at all. Rather, they are a “data input device” and ought to be viewed as such. They are to sonic creation what a synthesizer is to a piano.
Electric pads are great on their own right and ought to be explored. If you have an e-kit right now don’t let this article discourage you, but rather inspire you to explore your instrument’s capabilities! One of the coolest things you can do with your e-kit is to hook it up to your computer and learn to use it as a trigger device. If you’re on a Mac, the e-kit will connect seamlessly to Garage Band or Logic Pro X and you can use the sounds within that library. And there’s a lot of them to choose from. On a PC you’d need to connect to Reaper (a free download) and you could start getting into VST plugins for your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation; Logic Pro X, Garage Band, Reaper and ProTools are some examples of that software). It’s a whole new world of exploration that oughtn’t go unexplored.
Within Logic Pro X, you can actually set the triggers up to automatically transcribe everything you play in realtime, not to mention recording becomes available at the press of a button. No mics needed, just hit the red button and let ‘er rip!
So, e-kits aren’t a bad thing at all, they’re just a “different thing” and ought to be viewed as such. Here’s a very informative video on Purchasing E-kits.
Common Problems Among The Two Worlds
One of the most common problems that either the electric or acoustic kits will present to downstairs neighbors is the constant stomping on the bass drum and hihat pedals when there’s a common floor/ceiling. If you’ve got concrete floors in your residence, this most likely won’t be an issue for you. For those in wood-framed structures It’s not going to be an easy problem to address, but there’s ways to do it. Here’s a video detailing the steps you can take to help tone things down.
A Hybrid Approach
Because of the allure of acoustic drums, a more forgiving approach would be to utilize an acoustic kit, and still retain some level of “acoustic-ness”. The answer here is to use acoustic drums outfitted with mesh heads and “practice cymbals” which are essentially real cymbals with thousands of holes drilled so that they are rendered far quieter, yet still deliver some semblance of tone. The mesh heads will also offer some tonal feedback, albeit not nearly as loud as a drumkit equipped with the usual mylar heads. Overall you’d be looking at a 90% reduction in volume, if one were on a solid piece of flooring such as a concrete foundation.
But I’ll let my student David Hasler explain his rig, which is a great illustration of what’s possible.
This kit is a little bit of overkill, but I always find it’s better to have too many things to hit that not enough. The basic configuration has gone through many, many different iterations, but I’ve been using the current setup for awhile now and I’ve really grown fond of it. I play open handed, so the hi-hats are set low (I sawed off most of the rod) and the ride cymbal sits just above it. Moving the ride to the left side was a bit of a game-changer for me and brought a nice balance to the kit overall.
Living in a small house in the city means I have to pay attention to noise. I’ve been using the Remo Silent Stroke heads and Zildjian L80 Low Volume cymbals since I took up playing again about 4 years ago and it allows me so much freedom in when and how much I can practice. I still get some decent tone out of the drums and the cymbals feel like the real thing, just without the hearing damage.
I hope this offers some insight into the pros and cons of Electric vs Acoustic.