Hybrid Drumming Basics
3 Contemporary Scenarios That Meld Electronics and Acoustics
by Donny Gruendler
Many modern record producers have replaced the acoustic drumkit with programmed electronic textures from various physical and virtual drum machines, like the Akai MPC, Native Instruments’ Maschine, and Logic’s Ultrabeat. While the result of that change in direction helped resurrect the clean, cutting, synthetic, and thumping tones heard on classic pop/R&B tracks from the New Jack Swing era of the early 1990s, it also put into question the need to hire a live drummer.
But have no fear! The music business still needs live acoustic drummers. Many of today’s most successful pop and hip-hop artists are using the sampled production textures heard on the recordings alongside a live drummer whose responsibility is to augment and add excitement to the stage show. These players are being asked to trigger samples from hybrid drumkits that incorporate acoustic and electronic elements. This article will help you understand the pieces most often used within different contemporary hybrid setups.
A hybrid drumkit combines acoustic drums and electronic elements in one cohesive outfit. This can involve electronic pads and triggers, which are attached to either a multipad (sometimes called a percussion pad) or a drum module. Additional trigger pedals are often utilized within these kits as well. Let’s take a look at each item in detail.
A drum module, also referred to as a brain, is a digital musical instrument similar to an electronic keyboard that contains a memory of sampled drum, cymbal, and percussion hits, both electronic and acoustic. The device interprets the incoming signal from triggers or pads and then plays a corresponding sound from within its memory.
A multipad combines a drum module with several playable rubber surfaces. Most multipads have inputs on the back to allow you to connect triggers, additional pads, and pedals.
A signal trigger is a type of sensor that fastens to an acoustic drum. This device converts each strike of the drumhead or rim into an electrical pulse, which is sent to the drum module or multipad via an instrument cable. Some triggers attach to the drumhead with adhesive, while others come with a plastic or metal housing that clamps to the hoop. The bass drum trigger is usually positioned at the top of the head, and the snare trigger should be placed so that it doesn’t interfere with rimshots or rimclicks.
Some players also add remote trigger pedals to provide more sound options for the feet.
In addition to signal triggers, many hybrid setups incorporate electronic drum pads. These are synthetic surfaces that are usually made of rubber, mesh, or silicone. Each type of pad has a slightly different feel, so it’s a good idea to investigate to figure out which fits your playing style best.
Now that you understand the various components of a hybrid drumkit, let’s take a look at a few options for different musical situations.
This setup is designed for a pop band that requires a thumping kick, a cracking snare, an electronic snare, and various percussion sounds. Signal triggers are placed on the acoustic kick and snare, and there’s a synthetic trigger pad for a secondary electronic snare option. A multipad is added for the various percussion sounds. When a kit of this type is miked up, you’re able to perfectly blend the acoustic and electronic elements into one cohesive sound.
In this scenario, signal triggers are added to each tom so you can blend acoustic or electronic samples with those tones in your mix. This setup allows for dynamic playing while still achieving a very powerful and cutting sound via the drum module.
In electronic music, it’s common to use multiple kick and snare sounds. Therefore this setup is a full hybrid configuration that employs signal triggers on the acoustic kick and snare, a second acoustic snare in the floor tom position (also with a signal trigger placed on it), two electronic pads, two kick drum trigger pedals, and a multipad.
Think Big but Start Small
If you’re looking to get into incorporating electronics, you may be wondering how you should get started. Rather than taking out a loan or maxing out a credit card to buy everything listed in the setups above, we suggest that you either seek out new entry-level gear from a prominent manufacturer or find some older modules and triggers on the used market. When you’ve gotten the most out of those, and you’ve learned the ins and outs of how to make electronics work with your acoustic kit, a larger investment in some of today’s more advanced products may be warranted. Enjoy the journey!
Donny Gruendler is the director of performance programs at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. He has performed with DJ Logic, Rick Holmstrom, John Medeski, and Rhett Frazier Inc. For more info, visit donnygruendler.com.