How to Learn Drums on an Electronic KitPosted by Ben Heckler
Learning drums on an electronic kit is no different from learning drums on an acoustic kit, however there are some things we should take into consideration.
Let’s start by looking at how one can start learning drums immediately, and then some of the things that we should take special note of being an electronic kit.
How to learn drums on an electronic kit 101
The first thing to do is to familiarize yourself with the kit you’ve boughten. To do this, let’s do double strokes all across the pads of the first kit.
A double stroke is a series of drum strokes that start with your dominant hand (say your right hand) and after doing two strokes switch to your non-dominant hand for two strokes.
This is to say: RRLL (right, right, left, left).
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Hit all the pads in this way, using two strokes for each pad and switching around all the pads to hear the sounds that come out of it (including your bass drum!).
Next, switch the kit and try the next one. Really try to familiarize yourself with the kit selection and which sounds are placed where. Hit the pads loudly and softly, does hitting the pad a certain way change its sound?
Now, we’ll want to learn a simple beat. Here is the drum notation of a simple beat.
The hi-hats are the ‘X’, the bottom notes are the bass drum and the mid-range notes are the snare drum. The way that you play this is with your right hand crossed over your left, and you play the hi-hats with the right and snare with the left.
This is the traditional way this beat is played, practice it until you get comfortable with it.
Now, take this same pattern and play with it around the kit. For instance, keep everything the same except move your right hand to the ride cymbal and play the beat. Then move your hand to the crash cymbal. And now the floor tom.
Feel how each of these beats creates a different emotion, and we’ve only been moving around the right hand.
Keep moving around your right hand, playing it on the rack tom and the rim of the snare drum for some ideas.
Next move around your snare drum note. There are two snare drum notes in this pattern, let’s alternate between the rack tom and the snare. We’ll play the first one on the rack tom and the second one on the snare drum.
Experiment with changing all these notes around the kit, so that you understand that even with one pattern you can make a lot of different sounds and evoke a lot of different emotions!
Getting more complicated with grooves
Even if this pattern I just explained still feels a little shaky when you start moving around your hands, you probably still feel yourself longing to make it more complex.
Let’s add one note to that phrase then.
So now we have another snare drum note right before the second bass drum hit. However, this note is played alone. We can think of this note as being played exactly between the hi-hat note and the bass drum note.
Adding this note is important for a couple of reasons. We understand the difference between eighth notes and sixteenth notes.
Eighth notes are the notes we are playing with our hi-hat. They are called eighth notes because 8 of them can fit inside one measure of 4/4.
We can count these eighth notes (our hi-hat) in the following way:
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + (the ‘+‘ symbal is said ‘and‘ aloud).
But now we have added a sixteenth note. Sixteenth notes land directly between the eighth notes, in equal distance. Sixteenth notes are counted in the following way:
1e+a 2e+a 3e+a 4e+a
Let’s add another sixteenth note to our phrase and show where are all the sixteenth notes are in the phrase.
As we can see, another bass drum note has been added on the ‘a‘ of the first beat. Everything else is the same, the snare drum note stays on the ‘a‘ on the second beat and bass drum and snare drum remain directly on the 1,2,3 and 4 (these are called downbeats)
So far we have added notes on almost all parts of the sixteenth note subdivision. We have notes on directly on the beat (bass and snare, 1,2,3,4). We have notes on the & of the beat (the hi-hats). And we have been adding notes on the last sixteenth note of the beat, the ‘a‘.
Now let’s add a note on the ‘e‘ of the beat, the part of the beat between the downbeat and the & of the beat.
So in this example, we are playing on all the parts of the beat, the downbeat, the e, & and a.
Let’s take a moment to analyze which beats are being played. One thing I like to do when I am trying to get a beat to sound natural and very tight is to break the beat down and just play it with my hands.
Playing alternating strokes on the snare drum, we can mimic the above rhythm. We will play the accented notes (the notes with the symbol ‘>‘) louder and the rest of the notes play them quite soft.
The bigger the contrast between the notes (the accented notes very loud and the unaccented notes very soft) which will come in handy when we start to study dynamics. But we will want to play this to a metronome and see how tight we can get it.
Once we feel we’ve gotten the snare drum pattern very tight with the metronome, go back to the full beat above and notice how much better it sounds.
Accents and final thoughts
As I’ve said before there are advantages and disadvantages to learning with an electronic kit, but the methodology is still basically the same.
One thing that we really want to emphasize when learning on an electronic kit is the importance of dynamics (how hard or soft you play the kit). This is a huge part of drumming and it often gets lost when playing on an electronic kit (because the sensitivity of the pads is not like an acoustic drum).
So in order to practice accents with the hands we are going to do one more exercise like before. This is the same exercise as before except for the only accents are on 2 and 4. Every other note on the hand is a ghost note (a note that is played really soft).
You should notice that this beat is now way more funky. It’s because we are now giving emphasis to the 2 and the 4, which are the driving parts of the beat.
The ghost notes are felt but not overpowering or distracting. They help everything propel the groove forward.
So can you learn drums on an electronic kit?
But remember above all to practice your dynamics and accents when you practice on an electronic kit, as the playing surface and responsiveness of electronic drums is the biggest difference between this and an acoustic kit.
Ben Heckler is a multi-instrumentalist and musician from Portland, Oregon. Currently Ben lives in Barcelona where he teaches drum lessons, writes and records original music for his band Sea Fuzz as well as playing drums for one of the biggest Beatles tribute bands in Europe, The Flaming Shakers.
Ben is constantly creating and composing various types of music, video, and artwork for a multitude of projects that come his way. He hopes to use his platforms to share, help and inspire others to create in their own ways.