Learning On Electronic vs Acoustic Drums

We have received this question countless times from prospective students trying to pick up drums on the impact of learning on electronic vs. acoustic drums. Modern technology for electronic drums has come a long way compared to 10 years ago. What this means for a lot of us in Singapore is that we can practice to a higher degree of accuracy in both feel and sound (than ten years ago) while our neighbors in HDBs can enjoy their peace. Most drummers in Singapore own a set of electronic drums at home for practice purposes. If that’s the case for most drummers, wouldn’t it make sense for us to replace acoustic drums with electronic drums for convenience’s sake? Not really. Today we dive deep into this topic to allow you to understand the difference between learning and practicing on electronic drums vs. acoustic drums.

*For the uninitiated, acoustic drums refer to the standard drumset that we all love and know, made of wood and metal

Content

Electronic drums are not electric guitars.

One perplexing statement that we often get is that people often compare electronic drums’ with the electric guitar.

In a nutshell, the modern-day electric guitar has had a long history line, being an instrument that is inherently applied differently from an acoustic guitar. The development of the electric guitar was (almost) at the start independent of the acoustic guitar and rightfully so, as the freedom of tones and sounds of the electronic guitar, along with the ability to use different effects and amps to deliver a wide range of effects, has helped shaped decades of music, independent from the acoustic guitar. This sound development has developed to a stage that is irreplaceable with the acoustic guitar we know today. 

Today, we think of the electric guitar and the acoustic guitar as different instruments with different playing styles and techniques that help the player achieve different effects, complimenting the genre they excel. The acoustic guitar cannot replace the electric guitar and vice versa.

However, the electronic drums did not share the same fate as the electronic guitar. The fundamental purpose of the development of the electronic drums is to serve as a practice platform for acoustic drums, a more convenient alternative for acoustic drums, so to speak. That is why manufacturers have spent decades trying to improve the technology in electronic drums to try to mimic the feel of the acoustic drums, even today, to serve that purpose better. 

That is not to say that electronic drums have not had their moment to shine. With the increasing popularity of using digital effects on or as drum tracks in varying genres of music in the 80s/90s, more producers and artists similarly require these effects and sounds to be present in their live shows. In comparison to electronic guitar, the key difference is that electronic drums were almost always a complementary addition to the acoustic drums, instead of being developed as an individual instrument, as had happened to the electric guitar. 

*Using the electronic drum pads complementary to the main acoustic drum setup is also termed – a hybrid setup.   

Almost no exclusive techniques were developed for the electronic drums to achieve different sounds (as with the electric guitar). Even with the rampant development and era of digital music, most live show producers, drummers, and artists requiring live bands, still rely heavily on acoustic drums to carry the show.  

TLDR; Electronic drums are developed mainly as a practice tool for acoustic drumsets. Although more people are starting to use them for live shows due to the development of electronic music, they are used in a hybrid setup instead of being an independent instrument. You also do not require special techniques to play electronic drums. All of these are unlike the electric guitar, which as today, is viewed more of a separate instrument than its acoustic counterpart.

-> Watch how George from Pantheon Percussion simplifies drum tuning.

Practicing on the electronic drums

Now that we understand a little more about the relationship between the electronic and acoustic drums, is it suitable for us to buy electronic drums to practice at home? Absolutely! We highly recommend buying electronic drums at home to practice. The electronic drums are convenient and fun to play and practice on; the only drawback is that their feel (touch and rebound) might not be the same as the acoustic drums.

We dive deeper into this topic in our previous article

There will be no issues in changing between electronic and acoustic drums for seasoned players. However, for absolute beginners, you might want to practice on the acoustic drums once in a while as certain bad habits might form due to the lack of sensitivity of tones in the electronic drums.

Drawbacks to learning with electronic drums

With the housing and malls structure here in Singapore, we can expect to see way more electronic drums than acoustic drums all around compared to other countries. This is because the cost of soundproofing rooms is way higher (at least 10 to 15 times) than purchasing an electronic drum. With proper guidance, however, you should be able to avoid most of them. 

However, if you are self-taught on electronic drums, you might want to watch out for some of these items, all of which are common bad habits that we had seen students develop when they first joined us: 

Hitting the rims instead of the drum itself

Electronic drums work based on the force they receive on the pad (drum), which then sends out a signal to the drum module, which triggers the sound that you hear. This means that even if you are hitting the side (rim) of the drum, it will still trigger the sound of the pad (drum) (this is especially true on single zoned pads). As a result, the student often develops a sloppy technique, angling the stick too much that it only hits the rim. You can imagine how that translates over to the acoustic drums. 

Weak dynamic range

Playing drums is like any other art, visual or sonic; it requires a lot of contrast to accentuate and develop tension. In music, this contrast can be very often found in dynamics. Dynamics is the control of the loud and softs in your playing. There are many different forms of dynamics in music, which we will explain in future articles, but the dynamic range here refers to the overall volume of playing while on the acoustic drums (both loud and soft).

Electronic drums also have dynamic features; they can detect your soft notes vs. your louder notes and trigger the volume accordingly. However, they also have an overall volume function, allowing users to increase or decrease the volume artificially. While this function is incredibly beneficial to not disturbing your neighbors, it compromises your ability to comprehend and execute dynamics via proper techniques and stick control, which will be a problem when you translate your skills to acoustic drums.

Unable to replicate techniques efficiently on acoustic drums

Although the ability to mimic the feel of the acoustic drums has significantly improved across the years, there is still a distinct difference between the rebound, feel and touch on the electronic vs. acoustic drums. This means that beginners might have difficulties translating what they think they know over to the acoustic drums and might need time adjusting to get comfortable with it. 

These are just some of the most common issues that might develop if you have spent all of your time on the electronic kit only. Again, these issues can be easily solved with proper instructions and periodically getting on the acoustic drums to “recalibrate” your playing. You will probably not face this issue if you are a much more experienced drummer, as your ability to control your techniques is innate.

Summary

Electronic drums are a great way to learn and practice. But if you are doing so without proper guidance, you need to identify early on what you need to look out for to allow the most effortless transition onto acoustic drums. It is also highly encouraged that you regularly try to spend some time on the acoustic drums properly condition yourself.