Should I Learn on an Electronic or Acoustic Drum Kit?

It’s the big day. You’re down at the Drum Palace, wad of crisp tenners burning a hole in your wallet, ready to blow the lot on a gleaming box-fresh acoustic kit. We hate to interrupt the most exciting day of your life, but back up there a minute. Before you make the knee-jerk choice of shells and skins, allow us to gently open your mind to the world of electronic drums.

Maybe you’ve never considered an electric drumset before. Perhaps you always worried it would be too complicated and costly, ruin your swing, kill your tone and one day enslave the human race. Not true. Whether you’re a first-time-buyer or an improving drummer after an investment kit, it’s time to scrub the stereotypes and learn what electronics could do for your playing.

More Versatility and Selection of Sounds (Drumkits)

So you’ve found an acoustic drumkit that nails the ‘thwack’ you’ve heard on Black Dog. That’s great – if you’re happy to be forever tied to that one tone. Electronic kits aren’t ‘better’, as such, but a good one will be more versatile, offering an onboard library of simulated drum tones that can nail the clatter of vintage Moon or the rifle-crack of modern Jordison. That flexibility is not only great for beginners chasing down their vibe and first band: it also gives more advanced drummers a bag of useful tones for sessions and live work.

Faithful Feel, Response and Feedback from Playing Electric Drums

Obviously, one of life’s great joys is leathering an acoustic drumkit. What you might not realise, until you take the blindfold test, is that the best modern electronic drums are just as satisfying, with ultra-sensitive multi-trigger pads and cymbals that detect and respond faithfully to every rimshot and ghost note. This natural feel helps beginners get their rudiments down faster, while letting improving drummers dive into more expressive and involved techniques.

Volume Control for Practise Time

Even without amplification, acoustic drums are louder than war, which is thrilling, but also kinda impractical. Decent electronic drum kits have a headphone jack – and can be further piped-down by drum sound isolation boards and noise-reducing pedals – which makes them an ideal choice for beginners practising in shared accommodation. On the flipside, more advanced drummers who are playing out should be aware that to amplify electronic drums, you’ll need a monitor.

Competitive Price for Every Pocket

A no-brand acoustic kit might still the cheapest way for a newbie to get onto the drum ladder – but don’t expect anything more than a shonky stopgap. At the high end, electronic kits can be investments, but you can secure a new V-Drums set from the £500 mark, and there are models at every price point. If you’re serious about drumming for life, digital isn’t beyond anyone.

Learning Through Drum Tutorial Features

Unless you’ve got Benny Greb on speed-dial or a tutorial book open on your lap, acoustic kits don’t give a whole lot back. Whatever your current skill level, many electronic kits include onboard programmes to boost it, from coach functions that improve your accuracy, timing and endurance, to instant record/playback features that let you self-assess your own drum passages after playing them. Ambitious players should also seek out an electronic kit with USB/MIDI ports, which let them hook up to drum tutorial software and free web-based chop-building apps like Friend Jam.

Adding Your Favourite Tracks for Solo Jamming

Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, advanced or Thomas Lang, playing alongside fellow musicians is one of the best ways to improve. Trouble is, if you’ve got an acoustic drumkit – and no band – it’s easy to find yourself paradiddling aimlessly into the void. You’re never alone with an electronic kit though, with good ones letting you connect CD/MP3 players, play back your favourite tracks, and invite the Foo Fighters into your front room for a bash through Monkey Wrench.

Quick and Easy to Record

Of course, it’s possible to get killer acoustic drum sounds down on record – if you’ve got Butch Vig on hand to sort out the microphone placement and post-production. From novices to studio anoraks, electronic drum kits make it cheap and simple, with higher-spec models including USB/MIDI ports that allow you to move audio files between computer and kit, or run straight to the desk without fear of a spaghetti junction. No mics, no live rooms, no £500-a-day producers.

Portable & Flexible

If you’ve got an acoustic kit, you’re tied to its location unless you’re prepared to laboriously break it down for transport. Electronic kits go up and down much faster, can weigh as little as 12.5kg (Roland portable drumkit, comes with its own bag),  and are really flexible too, letting you tailor cymbal heights, head tension etc to your posture, and add extra pads and cymbals as you choose. And if you really don’t want to leave the old-school behind, don’t forget the possibility of building a hybrid kit: an acoustic drumkit bolstered with a sound module and electronic pads (read our post on Hybrid Drumkits – Blending Acoustic and Electronic Drums).

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