So you’re looking to get yourself a drum kit, but the insane amount of options out there is just overwhelming, right?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered!
In this YMI essential guide you will learn:
- What Are The Differences Between Acoustic Vs Electric Drums?
- Which Type Of Drums Is Right For Me?
- What should I look for in a drum kit?
And much more!
Acoustic drums, electric drums, rock setups, fusion setups, compact kits, full kits...the choice seems endless, and it can be very easy to get lost in what you need as a new drummer.
In this article, I’m going to take you through all the pros and cons of the two main drum kit camps: acoustic and electric drums.
This will give you all the tools you need so you can make the right choice to start your journey on the best instrument in the world! (I’m a bit biased in know).
So, if you want to learn how to choose the best drum kit for you, keep reading below to hear our recommendations!
What Are The Differences Between Acoustic Vs Electric Drums?
Essentially the act of playing acoustic and electric drums is going to be the same. They both have the same arrangements of drums and cymbals, so transitioning between the two will often feel pretty seamless.
However, they both have very different attributes that will appeal to different people, depending on your practice space and what you intend to use the drum set for.
I’m going to examine both types of drum kits using the criteria of their volume, playability, ease of recording, and their use for gigs and jamming with other musicians.
Acoustic drums are the original drum set instrument. The acoustic drum set as we know it started its life in the early 20th Century as a means for one percussionist to play multiple instruments simultaneously.
The acoustic drum kit has since become a staple in pretty much all modern musical styles, from free form jazz to progressive rock and beyond.
The word ‘acoustic’ refers to the fact that the instrument doesn’t need electrical amplification for it to be heard. When you strike the drums or the cymbals they are vibrating and moving air to create sound.
The very nature of these types of drum kits being ‘acoustic’ means they have the capability to be very LOUD.
This is one of the inherent joys of playing the drums, but also one of the biggest challenges facing drummers that want to practice their instrument.
Sound intensity is measured in decibels (dB) and an acoustic drum kit can range from anywhere between 90-130dB. To put this in perspective a Jet Plane taking off is around 120dB, so imagine that going off in your living room!
This needs to be taken into consideration if you’re someone that lives in close proximity to neighbors or even other family members.
However, there are options to reduce the overall volume of an acoustic drum set.
Low volume cymbals and mesh drum heads being an effective solution to help keep your neighbors sane.
Though these options can sometimes change the playing experience somewhat, which can lead to less enjoyment when rockin’ out on your kit.
This is where acoustic drums really shine in comparison to an electric drum kit.
The range of sounds and dynamic expression you can get from an acoustic drum set is huge and being able to manipulate these sounds is an integral part of being a good drummer.
For example, when you hit a snare drum in the center of the drum head you will get a very clear punchy and dry tone, whereas moving the stick closer to the edge will elicit a ‘ringier’ sound with more of the overtones of the drum coming through.
Being able to use and manipulate these tonal variations is part of playing the drums well.
Unless you spend thousands of dollars on a top of the range electric kit, it will be very difficult to find the same level of dynamic expression as an acoustic kit. Although some e-drums get pretty close!
Good playability and drum sounds are also reliant on your ability to tube your drums (yes you can tune drums).
Tuning drums is a skill that takes a long time to master compared to a guitar that has clear set notes to tune to. Tuning a drum kit depends mainly on personal preference and musical style.
However, there are some fundamentals that will help you get the best sound out of your acoustic drum set:
Recording an acoustic drum kit is often much harder than plugging in your electric drum kit to your computer to record those sweet grooves.
It requires a range of microphones to be able to mic each individual component, as well as a good understanding of acoustics and audio software to get effective results.
Drum kits are notoriously the hardest instrument to record and takes dedicated practice to get good at.
There are however some simple solutions to micing a drum kit using only a couple of microphones, which I’ll be covering in my ‘How To Mic Drums’ article, so keep an eye out for that.
Gigging and Jamming
Acoustic drums are still the standard when it comes to live music situations. Unless you play in a heavily electronic-based pop band or 80’s synth group, you’re most likely going to be playing on an acoustic kit.
Acoustic kits are designed to be portable.
They have collapsable cymbal and tom stands and all the drums can pack into specially designed cases for transportation to and from the gig or rehearsal space.
Electric drum kits are primarily designed to be set up in one place for practice or rehearsal purposes.
This doesn’t mean you can’t gig them however, as many people do, but they are more awkward to set up and pack away night after night.
In a live setting, however, electric drums do have the benefit of being much more manageable volume.
Giving the sound engineer a lot more control. But for me, there’s no substitute for the sound of a well-tuned acoustic drum set in a live music setting.
An electric drum set is a series of electronic drum and cymbal pads that are connected to a sound module (also called a Brain).
The sound module houses a load of pre-recorded samples of acoustic drums, cymbals, and percussion instruments (as well as electronic synth percussion sounds).
When you strike one of the drum pads with a stick, it ‘triggers’ the corresponding sample to play.
Depending on how advanced your e-kit is, there may be over 100 samples for a snare drum alone, going from whisper quiet to ear bleedingly loud (and everything in between).
This is all in an effort to give the impression that you’re playing a real acoustic kit. Cheaper entry-level electronic kits will feel less realistic as the quality and amount of samples they have per drum is limited.
This is the electronic drum kits trump card. They are MUCH quieter than an acoustic drum kit.
I personally use a Roland V-drum set at home because it means I can practice and play anytime that I want. If I set up my acoustic kit in the same place, I would probably have some angry knocking at my door within minutes!
This means that electronic drum kits excel at being effective practice instruments. So many of my students wouldn’t be anywhere near where they are today without being able to put the hours in on an electric kit.
Be aware however that electronic drum kits aren’t silent. You will still have the sound of the drum sticks tapping on the trigger pads (rubber pads being considerably louder than mesh heads).
But the main issue you should consider is the thumping of the bass drum pedal on the floor. If you’re on the ground floor this may not be such a problem, but if you live with neighbors below you, they may not appreciate you practicing your double bass drum chops at 3 in the morning!
Luckily there are some pretty easy DIY solutions for this problem:
This all comes down to the electronic kit that you have. As mentioned earlier, better electronic drum kits will have more advanced pads, sounds, and features...which provide a more realistic playing experience.
However, in my opinion, unless you spend thousands of dollars you’re not going to be able to compare to the feel and sound of a real electronic drum kit.
But I should mention that most mid-range e-kits do get close enough to still be enjoyable to play!
One massive bonus with electronic kits is that they often have loads of added coaching and connectivity features that can improve your drumming and increase overall enjoyment.
Most modern e-kits will come with a metronome, some coaching functions as well as audio connectivity, allowing you to connect your iPhone, laptop or mp3 player to play along to your favorite tracks through your headphones.
These features are great for learning new skills as well as rehearsing new songs for your band or for an upcoming audition. (great for professional drummers too).
Recording drums with an electronic drum kit has never been easier. For a detailed step by step guide on the ways to do this, check out my article about just that!
Almost all modern e-drum sets coming with USB-MIDI connectivity, which means connecting your electronic drum kit to your favorite piece of recording software is a breeze.
Recording electronic drums is easy, but compared to an acoustic drum set, the resultant sounds can often sound mechanical and a bit false.
This is where the use of a drum VST comes in.
A drum VST is simply a piece of software that emulates the sounds of acoustic drum sets.
These pieces of software can be used to replace the sounds that come built-in to your sound module as they tend to be much more detailed, dynamic, and expressive, therefore more realistic and natural sounding.
Steven Slate Drums 5 is a great affordable drum VST and even has a free stripped-down version to use straight away!
Gigging and Jamming
Fundamentally, most electronic drum kits aren’t designed for the gigging drummer. They’re mostly designed to be set up in one place as a practice tool in a studio, bedroom, or rehearsal space.
This means that setting up and packing away an electric kit, with its mountains of wires and individual pads is pretty impractical and time-consuming.
However, jamming with other musicians with an electric kit can be fantastic. Due to their low volume and large variety of sounds, having an electric kit makes jamming and playing with your musician friends more feasible in your home environment, without driving the neighbors crazy.
As a teenager, I would spend hours jamming with my friends until the early hours of the morning as we’d all be on headphones!
Which Type Of Drums Is Right For Me?
If you’re someone that doesn’t have close-by neighbors, or you won’t have any issues with making excessive noise, then I would highly recommend getting an acoustic set.
Acoustic drum kits are the real deal and every drummer needs to have experience making one sound good!
Also if you’re looking to play in a band at music venues, or tour, then an acoustic drum set is essential.
However, if you’re in a situation where you need a quieter solution for practicing drums at home or rehearsing with your band at a reduced volume, then an electric drum set is the way to go.
Another solution is to have an electric kit at home for consistent practice, then getting some sporadic time on an acoustic kit at a music rehearsal facility.
Most towns and cities will have a load of music studios that have acoustic drum kits set up, these can be hired for individual drums or band practices for as little as $10 an hour.
That way you’re getting the best of both worlds!
No matter which type of drum kit you decide to choose, drumming is one of the most enjoyable and beneficial activities you can do.
Remember you can learn drums on both electronic and acoustic drums, so no matter which you choose, as long as you’re drumming and having fun doing it, it’s the right choice!
So there you have it! My in-depth guide into the world of acoustic and electronic drums.