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In my opinion as a drummer, you cannot fully learn how to play drums on an electronic kit.
It’s possible to practice certain exercises on an e-kit, but it’s not going to provide the same benefit.
I say this because I’ve played drums plenty of times on both types of kits and some disadvantages stick out to me.
I would ask why is someone wanting to learn on an electronic kit? The main reason for me is to control the noise while playing in apartments or other heavily populated environments. In this case, it’s tempting to play an electronic kit, but I would still find a way to practice on acoustic drums.
I’ll answer some major topics about practicing on electronic drums, using electronic pads on top of your acoustic drums, and some pros and cons of using electronic drums.
The Christmas Party Electronic Kit (My Live Experience With An Electronic Kit)?
One time I attended a Christmas party in Boston. It was at my musician-friend’s house, and he had a small electronic drum set along with a piano, etc.
Later in the night, after plenty of food and drinks, some of the partygoers gathered around in the living room as we sat down to play.
We started playing some jazz tunes for the people there. I was on the electronic kit and noticed it was fast and bouncy on the electronic pads. It does sound decent with the amp, but let’s face it, you KNOW you’re hearing electronic drums and not the real thing.
I got up after a couple of tunes and let another drummer sit to play. I had enough and craved real drums.
Are Electronic Drums Good for Practice?
In most musical settings, you’re going to play on acoustic drums so why not practice on them too? Yes, you can practice rudiments and other exercises on an electronic snare, but that snare won’t feel the same. It will be bouncier and won’t replicate natural rebound on an acoustic set.
In addition, the kick pedal on an electronic kit doesn’t feel the same as an acoustic kit because the pedal is usually hitting a solid block and not something with flexibility like an acoustic bass drumhead.
Most electronic drum cymbals are stiff and don’t feel anything like real cymbals. There is no part of an electronic kit that I think replicates the identical feel of an acoustic kit.
For practice, I would rather play on acoustic drums because it requires a little more hand strength to achieve full motion of the drumstick. A lot of drum practice is pointed towards building your hand strength.
In fact, you can even substitute a pillow for an acoustic drumhead while playing rudiments because it forces you to use even more hand strength.
It’s akin to a boxer practicing with lead weight in his gloves.
Are Electronic Drum Pads Good for Beginners?
I would say acoustic drums are especially important for beginners because you should start out on the right foot. You could form early, bad habits by practicing on electronic drums, which could be more difficult to correct later in your playing career.
The only reason I would recommend electronic drum pads for beginners is if they are completely certain they want to play electronic drums the rest of their life rather than acoustic drums.
A beginner will be tempted to turn a dial or program a different sound when he or she doesn’t like the current sound. Conversely, playing an acoustic set will force to strike the drumhead differently or hold your stick differently to produce a different sound.
This provides long-term benefit to your dexterity and sensitivity to musical sound emanating from your bodily movements.
Electronic drums engender a disconnection from your body movements in regard to the production of different sound waves.
A progression to electronic drums should come AFTER you are well versed playing on acoustic drums. That is my advice in regard to playing electronic drum pads as a beginner. For me, it feels like cheating because the electronic surface might be easier to hit, and produce rebound.
It is similar to playing an electric guitar with really low action on the strings compared to an acoustic guitar, which requires more finger strength to hold down the strings.
Pros and Cons of Electronic Drums vs Acoustic Drums
Pros of Electronic Drums:
1. Electronic drums provide ability to program different drum sounds while experimenting with songwriting.
2. Electronic drums are smaller drums to transport in your car.
3. Electronic drums provide more versatility for different types of music genres.
Cons of Electronic Drums:
1. Electronic drums don’t sound like the real thing.
2. Electronic drums don’t provide the joy and intimacy of playing an acoustic instrument.
3. Electronic drums can’t facilitate bad technique and bad long-term drumming habits.
4. Electronic drums can be very expensive.
I’m sure there are some other pros and cons I could list, but these are the main ones that stick out to me.
Final Thoughts on Learning Drums via Electronic Kits
In short, I recommend learning on acoustic drums for the main reasons I outlined.
Of course, there are some musical genres or situations that require electronic drums.
Therefore, learning the basics of an electronic kit can be helpful.
You don’t want to be completely in the dark if a situation arises where you must play an electronic kit.
I think there is a certain experience on acoustic drums that you can’t replicate on electronic drums. There is an organic, primal connection you’re making when striking acoustic drums with a drumstick or your hand.
Some might say I’m old-school, but I have been open-minded while playing some electronic kits. I don’t believe training on electronic kits are going to product the same long-term progress compared to practicing on acoustic drum kits.
Tyler Marks is a drummer, writer, and coder in the Boston area. He is a graduate of St. Mary’s College of California. He has studied under several accomplished jazz drummers in Boston and the San Franciso Bay Area when he lived on the West Coast. He continues to be a rock and jazz enthusiast while mostly focusing on becoming a better jazz player.