Starting with Virtual Drums

virtual drumsLet’s say you just woke up one morning and decided that you want to pick up the drums. Where do you start? Do you need to buy a drum kit right away? How do you choose the right drum kit? Should you even try to master the instrument if you’re not 6 years old?

Do not despair: virtual drumming is here to be your éclair, simple and sweet. This site was created just for you and it will cover most of the challenges and issues you will face after you’ve thrown down the cushion for the percussion. If you have any questions that aren’t covered in the material, please let me know. I want to make this as comprehensive resource as I possibly can.

I’ve spent a ton of time researching drumming and drums, and on top of that I actually picked up drumming myself completely online. Through my personal experience, I know where you’re coming from and I can explain to you the situation.

App or Pad

Have you ever heard the phrase: “Isn’t there an app for that?” In this day and age there is one for pretty much anything. When it comes to drumming, you would naturally assume that tapping the screen of your phone won’t be of much help. Well, yes and no.

Most people assume that the first thing you need are drum sticks.

Vic Firth and other brands of drumsticks come in various shapes and forms and you usually spend about 6-40$ for a single pair. Of course you’ll need to hit something with those. A drum practice pad will set you back 15-60$. If I take mid-range prices for both items we arrive at about 60$ total.

Or you can download a drum app on your tablet or smartphone for 1.99$, 0.99$ or even for free. What would you do with such an app? Drum apps typically give you an interface that looks like a real drum kit. As you tap different sections (tom, crash, snare drum etc.) of the kit on the screen, it sounds as if you’ve hit those drums on an actual kit. It can look like this:

There’s no shortage of drumming apps in the App Store or in Google’s Play Store. Ratatap, Drums! and Real Drum are just three examples of popular drumming apps, all of which allow you to record what you play on its virtual drum set. With most of these apps you can usually choose from multiple drum kits, tune your selected kit or create playlists from the songs stored on your device so you can drum along with your music. All of this can be performed for a mere spec of the price of what you’d have to pay should you attempt something similar in real life. You can check some iOS apps here or Google for the Android ones.

Of course, if you want to become a great drummer no virtual drums will suffice and a practice pad will need to become your best friend for developing your dynamics and overall stick control. But there is more to drumming than developing lightening fast chops. A handy app can help you develop your sense of rhythm and timing amongst other skills and perhaps give you a better idea of what do you want your drums to sound like when you decide on finally getting your first kit.

If you’re just starting out and window shopping for a possible, start with an app.

App +

  • Cheap
  • Convenient
  • Portable
  • Customizable
  • Large selection of drum kits

Practice Pad +

  • Great for developing stick control
  • Gives the more realistic feel of actual drums
  • Develops rebound control
  • Less noise
  • Soft surface will not stress your wrists and hands through hours of practice

How to sing better and play drums simultaneously

Oh, the glamour How to sing better while drummingof the diva… the swag of the lead man… I think it is safe to say that everyone at some point has entertained the thought of being the singer in the band that’s just blowing up on the radio. It’s not just about the singing. You have a powerful message and a strong voice, and you will take it beyond a simple musical performance. Truly mastering your vocal skills requires dedication, practice, instructions, vocal discipline and time.

Unlike some other instruments in a band, drums are not played according to the specific key of a particular song. They are the rhythmical heartbeat of every musical piece, but cannot be used to produce melody and therefore will not offer much melodic support.

Sticks and voice, it’s your choice

So you think it would be cool to sing and play drums, eh? Singing while drumming is a rare combination of skills and it is hard to come by, especially on the professional level. Trying to play your instrument and sing at the same time presents many challenges even more so for you than for your fellow band mates. This is due to the rhythm-oriented nature of a drum set. You simply cannot use drums to help guide the melody of your voice as you can do with a keyboard or a guitar. Melodic instruments have the advantage of leading your voice to the desired note. For instance, it is not a stretch to see how much easier it is to know that a particular lyric is to be sung on the “C” note over the C chord. Using your cymbal or a kick drum to mark a particular pitch in a song is much less effective. Since it is impossible for drummers to leverage our instrument to support the notes, we need to “hear” the music on the inside.

Singing and drumming at the same time is not easy by any stretch of the imagination and it often results in either simplifying your groove or not singing to your fullest potential. There is obviously a lot of value in a musician, who can handle several tasks in a band. It can not only expand the band’s sound and repertoire, but it can also save money that might otherwise be spent on another vocalist, for instance.

Even if you can sing already, you may still be wondering how to sing better while tapping out to the groove in your head. Luckily, there are a few steps you can follow that should help in this precarious endeavour.

Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that there are real physical obstacles that have a lot to do with your drum set. Since you are sitting when you play, you need to keep in mind the proper posture for singing. Your chest should resonate when you sing, and this is more easily achieved when your back is straight. Make a note to not lean forward or stretch while playing.

Secondly, you want to know your part really well. You can learn it, or simply pick a song that you have already been playing for some time. Don’t try to improvise when you’re in a vocal passage, either.

The next step would be to start humming along to the song you’re playing. Ideally you want to start with a song that has a simple beat and a repetitive chorus. When you feel comfortable enough with this you can start inserting actual words. If this is too hard, do not be afraid to slow down the beat as much as you need to.

Gradually, you will add more lyrics and bigger chunks of the song until you have the whole thing. Practice this as many times as you need and make sure you’re completely comfortable with it, before you try to pick up the pace and eventually match the song’s original speed.

If you hit a roadblock or plateau, slow it down, break it down and practice some more. Speed should be the last thing on your list. You are trying to use all your limbs, your mouth and breath simultaneously to produce a quality level of performance all around. This is a challenge.

As drummers we know that what we hear behind the kit can sometimes be quite different from what people in front of it hear, and so I would recommend, as a last step, you ask someone their opinion about your drumming + singing.

+

  • Acquiring additional skill
  • Having an advantage when looking for a band
  • Increasing the potential repertoire of the band
  • Becoming a more versatile musician

  • Time demanding
  • Cognitive strain
  • May need to invest in a voice coach
  • High level of coordination required

Sticks and voice, it’s your choice

How to play bass guitar: A relationship with drums

The term “bass”How to play bass guitar typically refers to the electric bass guitar. Its acoustic brother/sister is known as the “acoustic bass” or “ABG”. As you would expect, the bass resembles an electric guitar in construction and appearance, but it has a longer neck and scale length. It can be difficult to hear an ABG even among other acoustic instruments, and so it often utilizes amps or, like in traditional Mexican bands, it has a very large body. Although the most common is a four-string bass, there are in fact four, five, six, or eight-string versions. The four strings of a bass are tuned one octave lower than the lowest pitched four strings of an electric guitar. The bass guitar’s standard tuning from the lowest to the highest string is E, A, D, G. The bass belongs in the rhythm section of a musical piece, and similarly to drums it’s meant to anchor the beat. Although there are a few choices, the electric bass guitar is the most common pick and a good beginner’s instrument can be purchased for about $250 – 400.

Sticks and Strings

While I was doing my research on this article, different versions of one phrase kept popping up: “Locking in with the drummer“; “How to lock bass with the drummer”; “Bass and drums locking in” and so on. They’re referring to the fact that both instruments give the music its pulse and “foundation”, and as Joseph Patrick Moore puts it, it should be a happy marriage. When executed properly the two instruments combined have a great level of groove at their disposal. One way to create a good relationship is to craft bass lines that fit naturally with the drummer’s kick and snare drums. Using octave root notes can be a fantastic way to do this; the low octave correspond to the kick drum and the high octave hit with the snare, usually on beats two and four (sometimes called the backbeats).

The guys from Drumeo have a great lesson on this:

Because they are so closely linked, the bass player and the drummer can help each other a great deal. Most professional bassists and drummers understand well the importance of beat and beat placement. They can play and experiment with little subtleties such as playing slightly ahead of the beat, in the middle of it or slightly behind it. A bassist can aim to play with your kick drum, but (s)he may prefer to play around it instead. Moreover, both of you should aspire to use dynamics with precision timing to support and enhance the music by giving it the right levels of tension and release. Playing together can help the bass player with his/her technique while stimulating the drummer’s creativity at the same time. It can be an amazing opportunity for the both of you to grow.

Of course, your bassist doesn’t always have to sync up with the bass/kick drum, but it should always be sensitive to what the drummer is playing. Both the drummer as well as the bassist can occasionally diverge rhythmically or play complementary but not exactly the same patterns. Context and communication is king here.

Playing together +

  • support
  • inspiration
  • broadens your horizons
  • even if only the drums and bass are solid, the band is pretty good

Playing together –

  • laziness (thinking the other player will keep the time)
  • hindering each other if the chemistry is wrong
  • being intimidated if one has significantly more experience

Drumming with a 12 string guitar

Much 12 string guitar like its little 6 string brother/sister the 12 string guitar can be either acoustic or electric. One of the major differences is that, due to its larger number of strings the 12 is in effect a guitar with a natural chorus effect. Its strings are usually placed in couples and tuned one octave apart in the bass, but in the treble course are tuned in unison. This means that the E, A, D, G pairs will be tuned one octave apart, whereas B and E will be tuned in unison. As a result the 12 string produces a much fuller sound and allows for a more complex play. You can hear it when listening to The Beatles, The Byrds, Tom Petty, Extreme or others.

A Band of Two

My ultimate goal is to play in a band and serve as a backbone and more of that band. By definition that means I will be playing with other musicians and other instruments. We’ve all heard that a drummer is the rhythmic heart of the group, the beat of the band. Although I understand the message behind those words, it is not specific enough for me.

As corny as it sounds, communication seems to be the key. Once you’ve been playing with someone for a longer time, the more complex relationships between your instruments will eventually take their place. However, this is not where I’m at just yet unfortunately, and so I look at where such a relationship starts. To keep it simple let’s just consider drums and a guitar (and yes it can be a 12 string one).

When starting to play with drums a lot of guitarist will most likely try to follow your kick/bass drum, but seeing that the bass drum with the snare are where drummers do their improv, some guitarists suggest listening to the hi-hat or the ride instead. A common pattern is that a crash cymbal is hit on the first beat of a measure, especially after a drum roll, so timing it right with the hi-hat/ride should ensure the guitarist and the drummer are in sync.

Drumming alongside an acoustic guitar, no matter how many strings it has, will require more skill as everything you do needs to be played a lot softer. Especially when the guitar is unplugged, getting a different pair of sticks like brushes, hot rods, tala wands or even putting a towel over your snare drum might be unavoidable.

As a drummer your primary role in a band is to make people dance. Seriously, people dance to your basic beat, that primal rhythmical bang. There’s actually much discussion about a drummer’s role in a band. You should be able to keep the tempo, stay in the pocket and thus drive the band forward. It doesn’t matter how big or small the band is.

Probably the easiest guitar to drum along with, and therefore the logical first step is the bass. This is because both the drummer and the bassist are considered the rhythm section of a band. If we’re talking about a band of two, this duty falls solely on the drummer as there won’t be a bass. The guitar serves to give your music a melody and singing provides the message. It can be more challenging when a 12 string is involved as it has a larger spectrum of sound, which can translate into more sophisticated melodies with overtones and riffs that may catch you off guard if you’re not used to it. Some 12 string guitarists like to double up on the same wound gauge string on the 3rd course for instance. All that being said it should not be of huge difference for the drummer’s role. Then again, it’s always easier said than done.

12 string +

  • Larger sound
  • Bigger melodic spectrum
  • Something unusual/special
  • Makes playing with 6 string easier

12 string –

  • Less common
  • Can get confusing
  • More difficult to sync with its melody

Fender amps in the drummer’s world?

Drummers Fender ampsdon’t need amps! You’re right. Amps or amplifiers are not traditionally associated with drums or so I thought at first. It didn’t take long, however, until I realized that this could be one of the many “everybody knows that” ideas, which are usually wrong. Besides monstrous concerts in sport stadiums, there are also electronic drums after all, and they have to use something to produce the right sound.

An electronic amplifier, or amp for short, is simply a device that increases the power of a signal. For musical purposes some factors are especially important, namely frequency response, power output and distortion.

Frequency response: in addition to frequency range, the signal level should vary so little that the human ear notices no difference. For example, an in-tune guitar should sound exactly as in tune with or without amplification. A typical specification for audio amps can be 20 Hz – 20 kHz +/- 0.5dB.

Power output: the power level that is achievable with little distortion, to obtain a sufficiently loud sound pressure (dB=decibel) level from the speakers.

Distortion: all amps distort to some extent, but you want relatively low levels of distortion to avoid affecting the harmonic content of the sound more than the human ear can tolerate.

Fendering off Marshall

There are a lot of brands that produce well-made and affordable amps these days. Most of them, or at least the most well-known names like Marshall and Fender amps, are associated with electric guitars and, to be fair, it makes sense. Unfortunately, if we look at them from the drummer’s perspective, they don’t offer that much. Although some have tried, guitar amps are largely unsuitable for your electronic drum set. More specifically, guitar amps are geared for a high-pitch instrument in terms of sound frequency. Bass amps on the other hand are made for low-pitch instruments. So with one amp your snare and symbols could sound great, but not your toms and kick drum, or the opposite with the other amp. Not to mention you’d be running the risk of damaging the amp itself. Some drummers however are successfully using a keyboard amp like the Peavey keyboard amps.

If you want to go with proper amps intended for electronic drums (usually for about $200-400) you won’t go wrong if you look at the manufacturers of electronic drums themselves like Roland, Alesis, Yamaha or Simmons. Especially Simmons seems to have products that are well-loved by drummers, as they offer great sound for a price just a little above $300.

 Amp +

  • Big sound
  • Volume control
  • Sound “colour” control

Amp –

  • price
  • portability issues (even if they’re smaller, they still weigh something)