Miking an acoustic drum kit is rarely the best way to capture a drum track in a home studio. It’s expensive and time consuming, and requires a lot of space and microphones. But there is a lot more options than clicking a pattern into a grid on your DAW. This article explores some of the alternatives.
Learning to play drums takes a lot of practice and co-ordination - and playing the alternatives is no easier. Drum parts can be played fairly effectively on keyboards (preferably unweighted), pads you hit with your fingers (like the Korg nanoPAD or the pads on an Axiom controller keyboard), and pads you hit with sticks (like the Roland Octapad).
The more accomplished rhythm players below look comfortable and sound natural. They’ll probably make a real drummer laugh, but they’re playing is quite believable. And the instruments they play require less space than a drum kit, and are a lot easier to plug into your DAW.
What do you think of their playing? And what do you find the best way to input your rhythm tracks?
Drumming on a Music Keyboard
Playing drums on a music keyboard is incredibly handy: you probably have one lying around, you can achieve a fairly good result (even if you build up a track one drum at a time), and many keyboard players feel very comfortable using their fingers. As the videos below show, some people get incredibly good at this.
1. Let’s start with a tutorial on how to play drums on the keyboard. This tutorial is from Revolutionaudio and covers the General MIDI keyboard layout.
2. This clip, modestly called “The Best Drummer in the World on Keyboard”, shows someone playing keyboard drums along with some recorded music.
3. Here’s a clip of someone playing drums on a Korg Triton along to some 80s-sounding music.
4. The samples are great, the playing is good, and the keyboard is cheap.
5. Here’s a guy playing drums onto some music he’s sequenced. All sounds come from the Roland Fantom S.
Drumming on a Korg nanoPAD
Korg nanoPADs (and similar devices, including the pads on an M-Audio Axiom keyboard controller), make drumming with your fingers a little easier: the pads are larger and have a rubbery feel, the layout of the pads can be customized, and they are arranged in rows, making them easier to get to. These devices are small enough to be very handy, and watching David Haynes play makes me think of them as real percussion instruments.
6. David “Finger” Haynes manages to get some incredibly natural rhythms out of the Korg nanoPAD.
7. This video shows you the how to do flams and rolls with the nanoPAD’s X-Y pad.
8. Here you see musician Jamiroquai playing nanoPAD drums to the song “If I Like It I Do It”.
9. Here’s some brush jazz.
10. And here’s the nanoPAD with Reason’s Idris kit.
Drumming on a Roland Octapad
Roland Octapads (and similar devices such as the Alesis Performance Pad) are one step down from an electronic drum kit. They have larger rubber pads, can be played with sticks, and have inputs for additional pads and pedals, yet they are much more compact than the smallest drum kit. They would easily fit in most home studios.
11. Here’s someone playing the original Roland Octapad from the 80s.
12. The next version of the Octapad, the SPD-11, isn’t just for triggering sounds - it has hundreds of its own internally.
13. Here’s someone talking us through what the latest version of the Octapad, the SPD-20, can do. Most Octapads have inputs for additional pads and pedals.
14. And Octapads aren’t just for Western music.
15. The SPD-S is a sampler with pads attached.
Which alternate drumming method do you think looks most promising? Which performance did you enjoy most? How do you rate your own playing compared with the videos? And what do you real drummers think? Let us know in the comments.