OnlineRock: Empowering Musicians  
OnlineRock CD Review  

Marching To The Beat Of E-Drums

By Bruce Shutan
© 2000 Bruce Shutan. All rights reserved

Digital technology may not exactly be a drummer’s best friend. All it takes is one or two screw-ups in band practice for a guitarist to quip, "My Doctor Rhythm never makes mistakes. So watch out. You can be replaced!"

But don’t be fooled. With a surprisingly high integrity of sound, today’s electronic drums will fatten your chops, broaden your technique and lead to more imaginative playing.

About a year ago, I purchased the Yamaha DTX Drum Trigger Module Version 2.0, which features 64 drum kit presets as part of a six-piece set up (the extra floor tom packs a nice low-end punch). The DTX was meant to supplement my "other" Yamaha: a Power Recording Custom kit with birch shells and a handsome cherry wood finish. In all fairness, I should mention that Roland sells an equally impressive competitor featuring an entirely different interface imbedded in the product’s electronic "brain."

This wonderful toy is amazing for a number of reasons, the first being that it allows drummers the freedom to practice without disturbing anyone. All you need to do is plug in a pair of headphones, turn up the volume and go to town. Other obvious advantages involve ergonomics (forget ever having to strain for bell patterns on your ride cymbal), a soft touch (playing with brushes has never been easier) and standard pad sizes (set up and tear down is simple, especially since the kit is so light weight that it can be carried to your car with just one hand).

Apart from messing around with fills and patterns, e-drums allow you to play along with preset songs (some are pretty cheesy, others challenging) or to your own CD collection – which is what I prefer to do. Imagine jamming to the deft drum muscle of the Dave Matthew’s Band, Sting or Rush.

There’s something for everyone among the presets, allowing you to work in a variety of styles, including rock, jazz, hip-hop, electronica, reggae, Latin and World Beat. But the real beauty of this product is that you can customize your sounds rather than settle for what’s pre-programmed. You could conceivably edit the entire boilerplate of offerings and turn all 64 presets into a rock ’n roll feast for the ears.

The possibilities are endless. If conventional percussion gets boring, then try experimenting with a series of melodic presets involving piano, bass, vibraphone, strings and steel drums. You’ll soon learn that every player is replaceable because of this technology – not just the drummer. Once you’re more comfortable working your way around this compact kit, you’ll eventually feel at home with pad assignments for cross sticking, vibraslapping, splashing (of cymbals, that is) and other effects that are triggered when you hit the beveled lip of each drum.

Of course, there’s no escaping the drawbacks. It’s much tougher to control dynamics with e-drums, while some cymbal sounds have a phony ring to them and prolonged crashes are nearly impossible to pull off at the end of songs. But the caveats pale in comparison to the joy and wonder of playing electronic drums.

Although e-drums are associated mostly with practicing and recording (the DTX can be used as a sound generator when playing back MIDI data using a PC or external MIDI sequencer), they’re a blast in performance. You should have seen the blank stares, furrowed brows and pursed lips in the crowd at an outdoor keg party I performed at last year when my happy hands triggered car crashes, thunder, record scratching and "get funky" howls from a rapper as part of a wildly imaginative hip-hop preset. One witness to this musical madness later came up to me and said he thought the keyboardist was the one behind the controls.

What sweet revenge when the drummer can replace the piano player – even if it’s for a three-minute solo.

Bruce ShutanAbout the Author: Bruce Shutan, an L.A.-based freelance writer, has been playing the drums since 1970. He has performed and recorded in numerous bands and occasionally pounds his cast-aluminum, Egyptian dumbek along Santa Monica’s chic Third Street Promenad.

AboutOnlineRock RecordsPress RoomContactAdvertisePrivacyShop