Playing with a hybrid drum kit

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Playing with a hybrid drum kit

Hybrid Drum Kit
Words by Mixdown staff

Blending acoustic and electronic sounds can make for a hugely dynamic performance, offering a wider array of sounds than deciding on a more simply one approach route.

I’ve had a fascination for a long time with the concept of adding electronic sounds to my existing acoustic drum kit set up. I had to think why this was so. This is a little embarrassing but many, many moons ago I went to a Craig David concert. Yes, I admit it. Hear me out though. As it is with many R’n’B artists, they often bring out a band full of serious session musicians and this was no exception. It was perhaps the first time I’d seen a drummer really combine the two drumming worlds well. One minute I was hearing his frankly awesome sounding DW drum and the next moment I was listening to an 808 electric drum kit. The impact it had on the vibe and the music was fantastic. I still vividly remember that concert.

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Craig David

The drummer was also the MD (Music Director) and he was all over it – perhaps another factor, but I digress. So clearly, depending on the genre of music, electronic drum sounds can really enhance the gig. The actual reality of creating a hybrid instrument is a little more confusing than I once thought and really, this is why (many, many moons later) I’m only really starting to dive in.

Three Options For Adding New Sounds

Before we really look at some considerations after you have your set up, let’s firstly explore some different ways to approach adding these cool sounds to your kit.

The first way and perhaps the easiest, is to buy a sample/percussion pad such as the Roland SPD-SX or Octopad. These units have built in memory and are a self-contained unit with sounds and actual pads on them. They can be attached to an existing cymbal stand or be free standing next to your kit. The SPD-SX also has sampling abilities so you can add loops or sounds of your choice.

The next way is to have a self-contained unit as above but combine the use of triggers. These are little sensors that clip onto the acoustic drums themselves and trigger pre-set sounds on the unit every time the drum is struck. This means though, that you have the electric and the acoustic sound at the same time. The third and final way to get into this is to have physical rubber or mesh pads/triggers set up as part of the kit. E.g. Two acoustic rack toms and then a rubber pad next to that or a separate kick drum pad.

Depending on the number of extra pads, this requires an electronic brain to trigger all the sounds. Some players will just use the brain from an existing electric kit. So in a way, you could literally combine and electric kit around an acoustic kit. The brain doesn’t have any pads at all; it’s literally just the computer and link to the PA.

I’ve just bought a Roland SPD-SX. I’m starting the journey with the first of my three options. The reason being that I thought having a smaller self-contained pad cluster next to my hi-hats was a simple way to get started with a hybrid drum kit – adding some hand claps, 808 kick drums etc. where appropriate. This unit however, has the added ability to add some external triggers (effectively a combination of options) so the next step will be to add these at some point and who knows where to from there. The thing is, my whole setup and procedure for gigging now has changed. Let’s talk about some of the changes.


Since the electric pad requires amplification, it’s really important to get the balance of the samples and the acoustic kit the same. You’re so used to hearing loud drums coming at you, if you don’t get the electronics a similar volume, you won’t be able to play comfortably. This also means use of monitoring such as a fold back speaker or headphones.

Bear in mind though, if someone in the band is not being run through the PA, you won’t be able to hear them as well in your headphones. Not ideal. The point is, the monitoring needs to be considered and a solution decided when you start to gig with the hybrid kit. The fold back speaker is perhaps the best. The rest of the band can hear the sounds then too.

Bringing a speaker and electronic pad to every gig means more things to load in. If you’re a one-trolley load guy like me, this means more trips to the car. Is it worth it? Your call.

Finally, I’ve found the electronic world quite overwhelming – there are so many sounds you can have and so many options as to where you play them in the music. How far do you go? Again, your call. For me, I still want to get it happening. I’m interested.

The additional sounds really enhance the gig and the vibe and you can really capture some of the production sounds from the original recordings. When monitoring is sorted, it’s just so fun. So, I’d encourage you to get into it. Funny how a Craig David concert influenced my drum kit. You never stop learning.

Keep reading about Roland’s SPD-SX here.