Soundfly

Home for the Curious Musician

Intro to Electronic Drumming: Adding a Drum Pad into Your Performance Setup

Craig Blundell plays Roland's hybrid drums. Image courtesy of Roland.
Craig Blundell plays Roland’s hybrid drums. Image courtesy of Roland.

Becoming comfortable with playing electronic percussion is a vital skill for the modern drummer, especially when playing contemporary, digital-heavy genres such as trap, neo-soul, and pop-rock.

Contemporary music production has a tendency to involve a combination of very specific drum sounds and completely electronic sounds that cannot be easily emulated by acoustic drums, and as a result, electronic percussion is used to fill the void between producer and drummer in live situations. Plus, when percussionists perform on electronic drum pads live, it gives these electronic sounds a much more human feel than simply pressing play on a quantized digital rhythm track.

Although at first it may seem daunting to add electronics into your performance setup, the best way to think about electronic percussion is that you are simply adding of a new set of colors to your palette. In this article, I’m going to introduce some concepts that are not usually covered in electronic percussion pad manuals and that might, hopefully, help you to enter into electronic drumming with some confidence.

learning-to-play-electronic-drums1

Commonly Used Sounds

The easiest way to introduce electronic percussion into your setup is using a percussion pad such as the Roland SPD-SX. The two most common starting points for playing the pad with your acoustic kit are 1) using it as backbeat replacement, or 2) layering the pad sound with your acoustic snare drum using sounds such as a fingersnap, clap, or a range of electronic snare drum sounds.

Another easy way of incorporating electronic percussion into your setup is to replace pieces of auxiliary percussion that may be too bulky to carry around to gigs, but are important to the music, such as cowbells, timpani, mallet percussion, toms, and gongs.

A less common, or I should say, less noticed, method for seamlessly blending electronic percussion into your music is to create transition sounds that help glue sections together in a performance. This works incredibly well when you need something more subtle than drum fill, such as wind chimes, rain sticks, reverse cymbals, cymbal swells, and white noise risers. A lot of those are usually made on synthesizers, but load those sounds to the pad as samples, and they’re ready to go!

I’m purposefully not mentioning the classic programmable drum machines, although they are tons of fun to use and work with and provide a huge range of sounds, because we recently ran a history of the Roland 606, 707, 808, and 909 series, but don’t be afraid to mess around with those, too!

+ Read more on Flypaper: “What Happens When You Mess with the Keys of Iconic Movie and TV Theme Songs?

Placement of Sounds

A good rule of thumb when using a percussion pad is to place the sounds that you use most often closer to you. For example, claps and snaps should be positioned nearest to you, whereas transitional sounds like wind chimes or rain sticks should be positioned a little further away. The next obstacle will most likely be memorizing where you placed each sound, so using a bit of tape to label where everything is will help you develop some familiarity with your new setup.

You’ll develop your own systems as you get more familiar, but feel free to experiment. You’re a musician, so you’re probably used to coming up with mnemonics and memory tricks, anyway!

roland-pad-labels

In addition to placing the sounds in a comfortable manner around the percussion pad, your placement of the pad itself makes a huge difference in your ability to perform fluidly. Some of the common positions for percussion pads include to the left of the hi hat, on the left side of the bass drum (where the first tom is usually placed) or to right of the bass drum, just in front of the floor tom.

oh-view-2

oh-view-1

oh-view-3

+ Learn more on Soundfly: Sync your electronic tracks with all the members of your band and their live instrumental parts with our new, free course Live Clicks & Backing Tracks.

Sampling

As you get comfortable using stock sounds on your percussion pad, eventually you’ll want to add your own sounds. Sampling is extracting a sound clip from an original audio source and placing it onto your pad digitally via your DAW so it can be triggered with an easy tap of the pad. By using samples, you can take loops or one-shots (short samples) that you’ve created from scratch, or that are part of a song recording, and using them in a live setting. Some examples of samples that are used in live settings include vocals, percussion loops, ambient synth pads, and full backing tracks.

Disclaimer: To avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit, make sure you have permission from the copyright owner before to use anything that you’ve sampled.

+ Learn more on Soundfly: Join our newest free course, “Making Music with Everyday Objects” and learn how to build a song in Ableton Live using nothing but a kitchen pan, with Youtube star Andrew Huang.

Additional Sounds

If you’re looking for some solid sounds and loops to get started with, check out these websites for a variety of both free and paid loops and one-shots:

That Sound

Samplephonics

Liveschool

Looploft

Do you have free drum samples that you love? Share them in the comments below!

Get the top Flypaper articles delivered straight to your inbox once a week.

Efa Etoroma
Efa Etoroma

Efa Etoroma, Jr. is a Los Angeles-based professional drummer, composer, and educator who is known for his stylistic versatility, expressive creativity, and his deep musical instincts. He performs and/or records with a variety artists including Moonchild, Sneakout, Ellen Doty, Bennie Maupin, A La Mer, BRNSTRM, The Writers’ Guild, and Sensae. In addition, Efa Jr. serves on the drum set faculty at the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, California and teaches songwriting and music production at Citystage LA. Efa Jr. uses Yamaha Drums, Paiste Cymbals, Promark Sticks, Humes and Berg Cases, and Remo Drumheads, exclusively.

  • Ajai Combelic

    Great article! Is there a way to get those triggered samples to sync to a click track?

    • Martin Fowler

      Ajai, do you mean to have a sample play in time with an external click, like in Ableton or something? What kind of sample are you hoping to trigger — a longer one like a backing track?

      • Ajai Combelic

        Martin, a backing track of sorts is precisely what I intent to trigger. It would be great to not have a computer on stage at all. Ideally the sample pad would be linked to another sample, the click, which would come out of alternate outputs or the headphone out so the drummer could get it in his in ear monitor.

        • Martin Fowler

          If the sample is already timed out to a click, and the drummer is the only one who needs a click, then that click could come straight out of the sample pad (if it’s an SPD or something similar with a click output and separate channel outputs), or their phone from a metronome app, or any click source you want. With the SPD, I believe you can even hit a sample and have that sample start the internal clock (and therefore the click!).

          Which sample pad are you working with?

        • Efa Jr Etoroma

          If you’re using an SPD-SX, you can link two pads together to make sure the click and back track start at the same time. The first pad will have a click track on it and this will be sent to the drummer’s headphones only and the second pad will have the backing track which will be sent to the PA as well as the drummer’s headphones. To get to the pad link function click MENU -> KIT -> COMMON and use the Pad Link function to choose with pads will be linked together. After that go to COMMON -> OUTPUT and adjust the output for the individual pads, so their sound goes exactly where you want them to go.

          If you’re using another brand of pad, Yamaha, Alesis etc, you can use the on board metronome and have it play at the same tempo of the sample and just hit the sample in time with the metronome from pad.