Electric or acoustic drums? That is the question! As a beginner drummer, you will undoubtedly have many questions on whether electronic or acoustic drums are the best option for you. Understanding the answers will help determine which product you choose to start this amazing journey!
Do electric drums feel the same as acoustic drums? Is there a big difference in price or quality? What are the pros and cons of electronic drums? Which brands are the best for beginner drummers? Are electric drums really noise-free? Fear not! We are here to help you understand the main differences between electronic and acoustic drums and help you choose the best option for your own personal situation.
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What are electronic drums?
We're already familiar with acoustic drum sets. These are what you would consider traditional drums, with wood shells (or often metal concerning snare drums) and metal cymbals. Electronic drums are pads with rubber, plastic, or mesh drumheads, and the sound is produced from a small box that we call a sound module. We then hear the sound through a headset or a speaker.
We first started to see mass-market consumer-level electronic drums in the late 1990s, with brands like Yamaha and Roland leading the way. Given this was somewhat new technology, the production and development costs were high, and the average price of an electric drum kit was beyond the reach of most beginner drummers. In the early 2000s, these two leading brands finally started to release models that came in at under $1000 US dollars for the first time. Since then, drumming as a hobby and the arrival of solid brands like Alesis have kept the market innovative and competitive, which is great news for beginner drummers.
Your surroundings should help guide your decision.
Our surroundings mostly influence whether to go for electronic or acoustic drums. Drums are loud, and in this Covid-19 era, we have to be even more mindful of people working from home. The sheer volume of acoustic drums can often rule them out of apartment buildings unless you have very tolerant neighbors or use the sound dampening options available to you. Even in houses, the sound can permeate outside and into your neighborhood. So if you are reading this and thinking that sound levels could be an issue, then electronic drums may be a great option. You can play using headphones or at lower volumes through a speaker. If sound control is your primary concern, please be sure to read our blog on this topic before abandoning all consideration of an acoustic drum set. Also, it is not accurate to assume that electronic drums make no sound when connected to headphones. While mesh head drums have helped address this issue, the sound of the sticks hitting the pads, plastic cymbals, and especially the bass drum beater hitting the bass pad can annoy non-drummers in the household.
Do electronic drums take up less space?
While some of the smaller-sized electronic drum sets take up marginally less space, the emphasis here should be on the term marginal. You really need a floor space of 6-7 foot square to accommodate a drum set and the drummer comfortably. Yes, that's right - don't forget the drummer! There’s nothing more annoying than being too confined or being forced to sit too close to your drums due to space restrictions. This can also affect your technique and posture and should be considered when determining where your drums will live. While some electronic drum sets have racks that can be folded, it will soon become cumbersome to set up and pack down your set every time you want to play.
How much do electronic drums cost?
While your budget can also dictate which direction you go in, the playing field has definitely been leveled in the last few years. Starter acoustic drum set packages where everything is included are often available from around $300-$500 upwards. Of course, it goes without saying that you could spend significantly more than that for mid-level and higher-end products. Alesis offers models starting from around $400 upwards, unheard of 10 years ago. A budget of around $1000-$1500 will get you a good quality introduction to the mid-range Yamaha and Roland models, but they too have entry-level models from $500 upwards. You could spend several thousand dollars on a high-end electric drum set, but beginner drummers are best advised to test the water first with an entry-level or mid-range model.
Do electronic drums give you the same playing experience?
Something to consider with electronic drum sets is that unless you look at the top-end models, the drum pads themselves are often undersized, with an average diameter of 8 inches. As these pads are mounted on a rack system that comes with the set, the net result is that the drums are compacted together. While you might think that this might have some advantages with saving a small amount of space, the downside is that the playing position becomes cramped, affecting your posture and how you approach the drums. Some manufacturers like Pearl and Roland are now producing electronic drum sets that use full-sized drum shells, and this is definitely a move in the right direction, but beware, these can be pricy options.
However, one of the main differences is the overall difference in feel. Pads made from rubber, plastic or mesh, do not feel the same as hitting a real drum head. They are closer than they ever have been before, but the pads that come with electronic sets can let you get away with certain things that acoustic drums will not. If there is work to be done on your technique, then acoustic drums will reveal those opportunities, whereas mesh heads can let you cover up all manner of drumming sins. You could use the analogy of running on a treadmill versus running on the road. The treadmill is great - it’s comfortable, controllable, and smooth. The road is testing, makes you work a little bit harder, but achieves better results.
Is it easy to transition from an electronic drum set to an acoustic drum set?
Drummers who regularly play and practice on electronic drums can often have a tough time transitioning to acoustic drums. The articulation of the cymbals, the drums' response, and the different dynamic approach to playing the set as a whole can take some getting used to. With that said, there is really nothing of note that can't be overcome with time, practice, and repetition. Whether you opt for an acoustic or electronic drum set, you are still developing the all-important foundations of rhythm, which is the most important factor when starting. The nuances of dynamics, musicality, and articulation will be honed along the way, regardless of which drum set type you initially prefer.
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