BY STEWART JEAN
E-drums, hybrid drum sets, triggers, loops, pads—the world of electronic drums can be overwhelming. I get it, and it can feel like one of those everybody-is-doing-it kind of things, but it’s more than just a fad. Let’s start small and see how you can hybridize your drums with minimal gear and a gradual learning curve.
One simple unit is the Roland TM-2. This works for me because while I can get into something that suits my needs, I back off from the deep dive into Geekland. (I also enjoy playing the drums, not so much tweaking knobs.) I am fairly old-school but also very open minded. The TM-2 is a great place to start as it is user-friendly and does not overwhelm the beginner. In this lesson I present a practical use for the TM-2: triggering your kick and snare in an simple way with big results.
You do need to invest a little if you are going to go this route. The TM-2 runs about $200. You would also need two triggers such as the Roland RT-30H (snare) and a RT-30K (kick), and each trigger runs about $75. Add a few cables and perhaps a mount for the TM-2 and you’ve spent about $400. That’s not bad, considering that there are other options out there ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.
Once you have everything hooked up it’s easy to scroll through the bank of onboard sounds, which includes an impressive array of snare and bass drum samples right out of the box.
Let’s get into some ways of using this machine, starting with the kick. One use I discovered that I had not even thought of was using the TM-2 as a way to simply boost my bass drum sound. Raise your hand if you’ve played in a medium-sized room with your bass drum getting a thin sound with little bottom-end, and the engineer isn’t miking the kick that night. You can run the TM-2 through the PA and just add some low-end sweetness to the bass drum sound. I learned this from Racal Flatts drummer Jim Riley, and it can make a world of difference.
Of course there are some cool 808 sounds (From the famous Roland TR-808 drum machine) that you can add to the kick as well. There are also plenty of outside-the-box options to tweak your kit to fit the genre you are playing, which is especially useful if you are in a cover band that runs the gamut of styles on any given night.
As far as the snare, you have basically two nifty options. You can add a snare or handclap sound to your acoustic drum, and also play with a nice blend of the acoustic sound and the sample. With the triggers mentioned here, even if you only strike the hoop you will still hear the trigger sound without the snare, thus creating two options with little to no hassle.
One note on playing acoustic drums with triggers, you will find that any technique flaws or idiosyncrasies you may have can get exposed when using electronics. Don’t let this be a downer—just know that you may need to adjust your playing to a more deliberate style when using electronics as part of the kit.
Have fun exploring this starting point. Once you are comfortable with the kick and snare and have found your go-to sounds and uses, you can then move on to adding pads, splitting the stereo signals, and using an SD-card. We will get to that on the next one!
Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.