The coming of Drums

Although drumming is one of the most ancient forms of musical instrumentation in human history, the drum set is actually a relatively new invention. Perfected by twentieth-century jazz musicians such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, drum set technique has evolved into a very broad array of styles. And as they continue to evolve, drums are concurrently transposed into different contexts and formats, and can reasonably be broken down into three main categories – acoustic, electronic, and programmed.

  • Acoustic drums make up the traditional drum sets – excluding triggers, amplification, and embedded technology.
  • Electronic drum kits generally have all of their sounds triggered by way of hardware that looks and behaves similarly with acoustic drums.
  • Programmed drums are drum sounds manipulated within computer software.

The elements of an acoustic drum kit can be broken down into the following basic categories: shells, skins, cymbals, beaters, and hardware. Not all drum set components fit easily within one of those three groups (such as cowbells, for instance) but most do.

The shells are the round, wooden objects that are designed for acoustics. The skins (which are tightly attached to the tops, and usually but not always the bottoms of the shells) are the surfaces that the beater (also known as the mallet) strikes to make a desired sound. Generally speaking, the larger the shells (and thus, the skins as well) the deeper the tone is produced through striking. Cymbals are thin, typically round, and slightly concave alloy plates that sit freely on stands (which are hardware that incorporate wing-nuts for cymbal fastening) surrounding the kit, often used to accentuate timing and rhythm with mid to high-frequency embellishments.

The diversity of drum hardware is vast, particularly in acoustic drums.

Electronic drums are essentially triggered pads all connected to a central drum module. The module (often referred to as the “brain”) is the central hub from which sounds are managed and assigned with each sample. A sample is basically a recording that is re-used in a musical context (try the FLVTO – Fast YouTube Downloader to gather your own custom samples online).

Triggered by the pad strike, the sample carries the sound through an amplification system (which is generally separate from the kit, but not exclusively). While designs for electronic kits have remained similar in their minimalistic replications of acoustic drum sets, pad sensitivity has evolved rather dramatically over the years. While early electronic drums experienced a great deal of latency (which is devastating to the electronic kit’s intended use), they have become increasingly sensitive, and now there are consumer-level kits that can virtually duplicate live drums with little to no latency.

Concurrent with the rise of electronic drum kits has been that of programmed drums. Unlike acoustic and electronic kits, drum programming refers to creating drum arrangements entirely within a digital audio workstation (DAW). These virtual audio studios are graphic user interface based environments that simulate traditional recording hardware configurations on the personal computer – sometimes with accompanying musical hardware (such as a MIDI keyboard or sample pad) but usually sufficient with the standard keyboard-mouse setup. Programmed drums have come in many different iterations and software packages over the years, and like electronic drums, are rapidly improving their ability to emulate naturalacoustic drums.

All forms of musical instrumentation are gradually merging with our personal computing devices. Browser-embedded software gives users easy and immediate control over digital audio elements, as the DAW becomes the central hub of music production. But when deciding between programmed, electronic, or acoustic drums -- there are many different factors to take into account like the quality of output required, the setting, the skill of the individual, etc.

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