How to use Hybrid Drums to give yourself a competitive edge

Although the word ‘hybrid’ is widely used in drumming circles, the technology involved in bringing acoustic and electronic drums together often feels reserved for those with Einstein minds, or for drummers who play big stages with famous artists. However, this is far from the truth – and if you think hybrid drums are out of your reach, you’re missing out on a hugely exciting movement that could enhance your drumming tenfold. So, what are hybrid drums all about and how can they benefit you as a drummer? Let’s dive in and find out…

Musical tastes are ever-expanding, playing styles are crossing over and drummers no longer feel comfortable being tagged as just ‘rock’ or ‘pop’ players. Whether you’re a bedroom basher, a semi-pro drummer, or you’re moving to the next level, it’s essential that your drumming set-up is flexible and capable enough to deliver all the sounds your band or potential employer needs. That’s where hybrid drums come in.

The concept of the hybrid drum kit – fusing acoustic and electronic drums into one versatile setup – has been around for decades, employed by everyone from ’70s rock legends to modern day pop session stars to enhance acoustic sounds and bring loops and samples into the mix. More recently, electronic percussion technology has advanced. The hardware is easier to install and navigate, so more drummers are including it in their acoustic rigs to enhance live gigs and recordings. If you already own a drum module and an electronic trigger or pad, you’re well on your way to becoming a hybrid drummer.

There are three main applications for hybrid drums, and we’ll be taking you through each approach:

#1 Enhance your acoustic kit sound

A well-tuned acoustic drum kit can sound fantastic, but the overall sound is dependent on multiple factors, including the room you’re playing in and the heads you’re using. Introducing acoustic triggers and a sound module like the Roland TM-2 to your setup lets you blend electronic tonal elements with your acoustic sound, to ramp up the low-end of your kick, extract more attack from the toms, add extra crack to your snare and much more. In short, you’ll have a consistent, full and clean drum sound every time.

#2 Layer acoustic and electronic sounds together 

Your acoustic drum kit remains at the core of your sound, but a second, full electronic sound is layered on top via triggers and a module. The sound the module plays is entirely up to you – it could be a tambourine sample that sounds over your snare, or a big, reverb-drenched kick drum sample that triggers every time you play your compact 18-inch kick. In this video, Roland artists Michael Schack and Dirk Brand demonstrate how effective these approaches can be, starting with acoustic kits only, then electronic beats only, before jamming through a mix of enhanced, expanded and layered sounds.

#3 Expand the variety of sounds at your disposal

Every now and then a song needs a sound that you might not have in your acoustic arsenal. It might be something simple such as a cowbell or clave, a second snare or china cymbal, or perhaps something electronic like an 808 kick drum or a vocal sample. A single electronic pad and module could solve all your problems and open up a world of sonic possibilities to make you an indispensible drummer.

#1 Enhance your acoustic kit sound

“Introducing basic electronic hardware will enable you to quickly enhance the core sound of your acoustic drums”

Use a module and triggers to boost your acoustic drum sound

Whether on stage, in the studio or at home, drummers are constantly searching for ways to boost their acoustic drum sound and add life to the music they’re creating. Perhaps your budget won’t stretch to the best gear, or maybe you’re playing a gig where your kit won’t be mic’d up? Ultimately, there’s only so much tweaking you can do before things start sounding unnatural – and all that tweaking takes up valuable time that could be spent drumming.

Whatever the issue, introducing basic electronic hardware quickly enhances the core sound of your acoustic drums in any playing scenario.

At a basic level, a Roland RT-30K bass drum trigger and RT-30HR on your snare, connected to a Roland TM-2 trigger module, opens you up to a host of tonal enhancement options that can be mixed in with your acoustic sound. These tonal enhancements are available on-board the module and from your own samples via SD card. Want more room-filling sub on the bass drum or attack on the toms? You got it! Need your snare to sound warmer or to cut through more? Consider it done. Your drums will still sound natural, but your kit as a whole will sound fuller and cleaner without compromising volume. Now, let’s see that in practice…

In this video, Michael Schack is using a Roland TM-2 Trigger Module with an RT-30HR Acoustic Drum Trigger connected to it. The trigger is attached securely to the rim of the snare drum. When the snare is struck, the vibration from the drum head is detected by the trigger, sending a digital signal to the TM-2. The signal plays whichever sound the drummer has selected from the TM-2. In this case, the snare sound you hear is a sample of Michael’s own acoustic drum that has been recorded, mixed and loaded into the TM-2 via the on-board SD card slot.

The TM-2 output is then sent to the mixing desk, along with the kick drum microphone, before the engineer mixes the TM-2 and acoustic kick mic sounds together. Notice the significant difference when Michael briefly turns the TM-2 sound off then back on. The SPD-30 Octapad to the right is playing Michael’s backing music.

#2 Layer acoustic and electronic sounds together

“Layering means your trusty acoustic kit remains centre-stage, but you can change your kick, snare and toms from song to song”

Mix your acoustic drums with full samples for a bigger sound

What is Hybrid?

In this video series, we’ve introduced you to the concept of enhancing your acoustic drum sound by using triggers and mixing in additional tonal elements via a module, and expanding your drum sound options by incorporating electronic pads and a module into your setup. Now it’s time to delve into the world of layering.

Layering is a great way to further augment the sound of your acoustic setup. You’ll use the same electronic elements as if you were enhancing your acoustic sounds – triggers on the drums, connected to a module. So if you’re set up to do one, you can actually do both! Rather than just blending subtle tonal elements into your acoustic sound, this time we’re taking a full sample of a sound or drum and mixing it with your acoustic drum sound. This could be anything from an 808 snare drum, to hand claps, tambourine or even a mixed sample of your own kick, snare and toms from your band’s latest demo.

Layering represents an amazing tool for gigging drummers, particularly if you play cover songs. You will always be limited by what you can achieve with a 20 inch kick drum or a 14×6 inch aluminium snare, and you certainly won’t be able to recreate the drum sound of classic recordings crafted in multi-million pound studios. Layering means your trusty acoustic kit remains centre-stage, but you can change your kick, snare and toms from song to song.

You’ll find plenty of high quality samples on-board Roland’s modules to fit all styles of song, or you could sample the drum sounds from the original recordings (being respectful of copyrights, of course). Layer those samples over the top of your acoustic sound and you’ll be as authentic as the originals – imagine sounding like Blondie’s Clem Burke one minute, having the perfect Charlie Watts tone on Brown Sugar the next, before finally laying down some Daft Punk dance grooves. You’ll be consistent from gig to gig, regardless of venue acoustics or size. This attention to detail will place you and your band ahead of the game.

In our video, Roland artists Michael Schack and Dirk Brand both play killer 30-second examples featuring acoustic sounds layered with full electronic samples. The results are striking. Michael has a Roland TM-2 with an RT-30K kick trigger and RT-30HR triggering snare drum head and rim independently. He’s layering a melodic note on the kick drum, a gated snare sound on the snare head and a clap sound on the rim. You’ll notice a couple of hits on the Octapad too, but he’s using that for additional sounds rather than for layering.

#3 Expand the sounds at your disposal

“Adding just a few elements of electronic gear to your acoustic setup will present you with limitless sound options for making music”

Use hybrid drums to expand the sound options available from your drum kit

Drummers are like magpies, amassing vast collections of shiny things to bash. Sometimes, though, the sounds available to you from acoustic drums, cymbals and percussion aren’t enough to meet the demands of modern music. Adding just a few elements of electronic gear to your acoustic setup will lighten your load and present you with limitless sound options for making music, without cluttering either your acoustic or electronic sounds.

Expanding sounds with a hybrid setup is different to enhancing your existing acoustic sounds as we covered in our first video. When it comes to expanding, you’re not blending acoustic and electronic sounds using triggers and a module. Rather, you’re introducing small, independently placed pads, like the Roland BT-1 bar trigger or PD-8 Dual Trigger pad, to your acoustic kit and assigning any sound, texture or backing tracks you want via a module. Your song might need a cowbell, a soaring vocal sample, or an 808 kick and snare in the verse. No problem, simply set up your pads and trigger away.

If you’d like to expand your sound options in a more stripped-back way, the Octapad or SPD-SX are convenient and powerful self-contained tools with on-board sounds and a large number of pads built-in, ready for you to play those sounds. The SPD-SX features nine pads and the option to add up to four auxiliary pads, plus the facility to create samples natively and introduce your own sounds via USB.

Dirk Brand’s setup is a little different. Here he’s playing a groove on his acoustic hi-hat and using a Roland PDX-100 pad and KT-10 pedal for the electronic snare and kick sounds. Both the PDX-100 and KT-10 are triggering sounds from the TD-30 module with the backing track provided by the SPD-SX. If there are electronic songs in your band’s repertoire, this is the perfect hybrid setup for you.

Choosing Your Hybrid Sound Source

Which sound module do you need for your hybrid drums setup?

By now, you’ll hopefully be clear on the three concepts of enhance, layer and expand – and you’ll know which approach will suit your band and setup. Now, you just need to choose the right gear for the job. Whether you plan to beef up your acoustic kick, trigger samples or stack sounds, it’s vital to choose a sound module that can deliver the goods. And that’s where the next three video tutorials come in – with session warrior Craig Blundell taking the technology for a joyride.

Let’s say you’re in the enhance camp, and looking to reinforce your acoustic drums with digital tones from a sound module. For that job, you won’t find a more powerful or intuitive unit than the Roland TM-2: a compact twin-input trigger module loaded with pro sounds and effects to bolster your kit. You’ll see just how devastating the TM-2 module can be in this video, as Craig uses it to provide kick and snare ‘elements’ – alongside Roland’s RT-30 Acoustic Drum Triggers – and create a fat, stage-ready drum tone. Maybe you’re also looking to enhance your acoustic kit with your own samples. For that, you’ll want the Roland SPD-SX, which fires off pre-loaded samples when you strike its nine velocity-sensitive pads. Be aware that Roland’s Octapad and V-Drums modules aren’t intended for sampling or element sounds, although the latest V-Drums TD-50 series allows you to load in your own samples.

Layering drum sounds takes a different kind of hybrid setup, and in this second video, Craig showcases the best gear to choose when you’re stacking the percussion. Central to his killer layered sound is the Roland TD-25 V-Drums module, whose SuperNATURAL sound engine offers you a selection of powerful pro sounds that trigger each time you strike your acoustic drums. You’ll see the TD-25 module working with Roland RT-30 triggers on the toms to create a huge-sounding tone, and you’ll also want to check out how Craig uses the Roland TM-2 to add an electro flavour to the sound of the acoustic kick and snare. Though they don’t feature in Craig’s setup, you can also layer sounds using the Roland SPD-SX Sample Pad and Roland SPD-30 Octapad.

Finally, let’s say you want to expand your setup, and need to assemble a kit that can deliver the sounds in your head. With its powerful onboard tone and instrument libraries, the Roland SPD-30 Octapad has every sound you could need, and in this third video, Craig demonstrates just how easy it is to use this unit to create a live phrase loop. This time, instead of fitting RT-30 triggers to acoustic hoops, Craig’s expanded setup has dedicated Roland PD Pads, plus the CY V-Cymbal and KT-10 Kick Trigger Pedal – all linked to the powerful Roland TD-30 V-Drums module that gives access to 1000+ onboard sounds.

Choose How To Play Your Sound

Which triggers do you need for your hybrid setup?

What is Hybrid?

Your choice of trigger is not an afterthought. It’s a critical decision for any hybrid drummer, making a major impact on the look, feel and performance of your setup. By this point, you’ll already know what you want to do with your hybrid drum kit – enhance, layer or expand – and also the sound module you need to nail the sound in your head. Now, it’s time to choose your trigger type from Roland’s comprehensive range – with a little help from two video tutorials featuring session heavyweight Craig Blundell.

Acoustic drum triggers are a speedy, simple and inexpensive way to enhance or layer your setup. In recent times, Roland’s RT-30 series of triggers has become the industry standard thanks to their high sensitivity, easy attachment to acoustic drum hoops and latency-free hook-up to compatible sound modules. This video demonstrates that this simple addition can spark some hugely adventurous sounds, with Craig using RT-30 triggers (with a TM-2 module) to bring in an enhanced kick and a layered snare sound. For inspiration, Roland’s SPD-30 Octapad is also on hand to supply one-shot melodic notes.

When you want to expand your setup, meanwhile, there’s a lineup of Roland V-Pads, V-Cymbals, kick trigger pedals and bar triggers that will fit around the elements of your acoustic kit and hook up to your chosen sound module. For an idea of how your hybrid kit might look – and what it might be capable of – check out this final video, as Craig sets up the Roland BT-1 Bar Trigger Pad, PD Pads, KT-10 Kick Trigger Pedal and CY V-Cymbal, before drilling into the sound library of the Roland TD-30 V-Drums module. The Roland SPD-30 Octapad features once again, this time setting off verses and choruses.

If you want to dive deeper into the exciting world of hybrid drums, then sign up for our free guide book to hybrid drumming. It’s full of useful info covering setups ranging from basic to advanced and includes tips to get the best from your hybrid setup once you’re up and running.