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Your Kids Can Learn the Drums in Silence With an Electronic Drum Set
For those of you new to the concept of electronic drums (also sometimes called electric drums), a brief explanation:
Regular drums are among the loudest acoustic instruments around. But electronic drums are almost silent. When you hit electronic drums—actually the durable pads—people around you only hear a soft thud or click. But if you're wearing the headphones, you hear the sound of an unbelievably life-like drum set. You can also choose the kind of drum set you're hearing with the push of a button. Electric drums are ideal for kids and beginners because they let them practice and get better without annoying other people in the house.
Other benefits of electronic drums are the self-contained recording studio that the newer sets offer and seamless connectivity to computers and other devices. Electronic drums keep getting more sophisticated and more practical for parents with musical kids, but they're also getting to be very affordable. They also make a pretty great gift.
1. Alesis: the Best Choice for a Beginner's First Electronic Kit
As a drum teacher and working musician, I often had students who wanted to play and practice their drums, but they almost never did. Their parents got them a nice drum set to practice on, and it just sat in the basement, unplayed. It turned out the problem wasn't the kids -- it was their parents. They didn't want to come home after a long day at work to listen their kids bashing away on the drums all evening. I began suggesting that my beginner students try an inexpensive electronic set, and those that did showed the benefits of frequent practice.
Alesis makes a good electronic drum set for right around $300 that will stand up to years of use. Even though it's appropriate for a beginner drummer, it's definitely not a toy. I have played this set and it's solid, well-built, and supported by an excellent warranty. Here are some other features that I like about Alesis electronic drums:
- Perfect size for a younger player, but big enough for an adult
- Built-in tools for practicing skills
- USB connection for sound recording and virtual-instrument control on computers and mobile devices
- Headphone jack for private practice and stereo outs to connect to a PA system, amplifier, or recording console
- 8” rubber drum pads with dual-zone snare and three single-zone toms; kick pad tower with bass drum pedal included; three 12” cymbals for ride cymbal, hi-hat, crash play
Note the USB recording feature. This means you are basically getting an entire digital recording studio with mixing-board visual interfaces and multi-layered recording. I love my digital studio, and I can basically take it anywhere I want to go with one carrying case.
2. Pyle's Excellent Table-Top Version of a Full Drum Kit
If you don't have the space for a full-sized kit, this compact, full feature table-top electronic drum kit made by Pyle is among the best options out there. As beginner drummers, my own kids got a great start with an earlier version of this kit. There seemed to be almost no end to what it could do, and this newer version is even more powerful. This drum set also has a built-in speaker, which I found to be a great way to listen to my kids play without having them take over the entire house. Sometimes your kids will want to show off a little and play for someone who can hear the drums without headphones. In this case, a speaker option is really useful.
This set is not a toy. It's a solid musical instrument that serves as a good alternative to a full electric drum set. It's also a lot easier to find room for and to store than a full kit, and you can carry it to your friend's house to jam in their basement (which is what my kids used to do). As a music teacher myself, I realize that the table-top option is not the same as a full kit, but beginners can learn virtually the same skills and reflexes using a table-top kit.
Here are some of the relevant features of this table-top electronic kit:
- Compact & portable.
- Hundreds of built-in sounds, songs, and types of drum kits. This means that in the headphones your kids drums can sound like John Bonham playing "When the Levee Breaks" or a Flock of Seagulls playing "I Ran."
- Record, save, and edit your recordings. Like the full-size kit, what this means is that you basically have a recording studio you can carry under your arm. Nothing like the old days!
- Connect to computer and unlock more sounds, beats, and recording features.
- Drum trainer, a learning mode perfect for beginners.
- Foot pedals and drum sticks.
- Built-in metronome.
The kit is made up of seven touch-sensitive drum pads capable of producing a wide range of realistic drum audio output. These pads, like all electronic sets, only make a soft thudding sound to everyone but the drummer. Listening as you play in the headphones, you'll hear an unbelievably life-like full drum kit, complete with effects.
Alesis DM Lite Kit
3. Alesis DM Lite Kit with Light-Up LED Pads: A Very Cool Set
I'm including this kit to show how much variety, in both price and features, there is when it comes to electronic drum kits for kids. You can easily spend $3,000 on an electronic drum set, but for beginners just getting started, or younger players who don't need a pro kit, there are excellent sets out there.
I really like this Alessis set for older kids, both because it looks cool and it offers some great features. Unlike the tabletop model above, this kit is mounted on a 4-post rack, which creates a much more realistic drum-kit-like experience. It has an impressive number of pre-loaded drum sounds -- 200 -- and a helpful drum coach feature that might eliminate the need to drop extra cash on a teacher.
Like other kits here, the DM Lite Kit connects to your computer via USB for integration with recording programs and MIDI recording.
- Complete 5-piece, 3-cymbal electronic drum kit
- LED illuminated drum and cymbal pads
- DM Lite Drum Module with built-in drum coach with play-along patterns and 30 songs
- Pre-assembled, collapsible 4-post rack
- Integrated drumstick storage slot
- USB connection for use with audio recording software & virtual instruments
Notice that the light-up feature isn't just to look cool (though it does). The lights are integrated with the drum coach feature, so learners can "follow the lights" as they learn beats and patterns.
One of the best features, and one that you will also find on pro-level electronic kits, is the pressure-sensitive kick drum pedal. This means that when you hit it harder, it gets louder. My drummer idol, John Bonham, had a kick foot like an anvil. You can hear the power he transmits to the kick drum on virtually every Led Zeppelin track, but you can REALLY hear it on the intro to "When the Levee Breaks." With a pressure-sensitive kick pedal, you can make your own thunder by leaning just a little harder into that kick drum.
One for the Little Kids
4. First Act FD213 5-Pad Electronic Drums
This is a pretty great toy, perfect for kids ages 3 and up. Get your absolute beginner started out learning the coordination and musicality that early training brings. This cool kit has many of the same features that a real electronic drum set has, including pre-loaded sounds and rhythms, as well s recording capabilities. This is one cool gift for practically any little one.
Research has provided support for the positive effect of drumming experiences on social behaviors, grief, self-expression, self-esteem, group cohesion, and learning for children and adults
— Kimberly Sena Moore Ph.D., Psychology Today
New Technology Means New Features
Newer versions of electronic drums, including basic models suitable for young and beginner players, have an array of cool features that kind of boggle the mind. For example, on some you can add in reverb to make it sound like you're playing in any kind of room, from a subway station to a cathedral to a tile bathroom. You can also dial in delay, echo, pitch shift, tuning subtleties, drum make, size, and model. The effects available depend on the model, so if this is important to you (or your kids!), be sure to read the fine print on the Amazon listing.
Most models also allow you to play along to your iPod or computer and record your parts as well. Those that link to your computer often come with updates to the sound and effect bank, so you don't need to buy a new set every time the technology advances.
You can replicate virtually any sound of any drum ever made, add effects, record, play to music—everything.
The endorphin-filled act of drumming increases positive emotions and leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.
— Oxford psychologist Robin Dunbar
Electronic Drums: What YOU Hear vs. What THEY Hear
Drums Don't Have to Be Loud
I wish someone had told me this sooner. As a stay-at-home dad with two strong young boys who both loved to play the drums, I spent a lot of time in a house with thunder in the basement. My kids would practice fills, rolls, beats, and cowbell parts all the time. Sometimes it was literally impossible to think, but it was important to us that our boys learn everything they could about music, and the fact that they were curious and motivated made a big difference too. So our tolerance level for our kids drumming noise was high.
Turns out, it didn't necessarily have to be. We could have invested less money than we did in a traditional set, picked up an excellent electronic drum kit, and spared ourselves the noise. While I did love hearing them play, I think we would have liked to have had the option of silent practicing now and then.
Beginners Can Practice Drums in Near Silence
The idea behind electronic drums is simple: Use the strike of a drumstick as the trigger for an electronic sound. The same idea has been used in electronic keyboards for decades. The sound, which can be a drum sound of any kind, is either created digitally or pre-recorded and then triggered by the stick hitting the surface. As you can imagine, the possibilities of an electronic drum set are essentially endless. Any sound from any set or recording can be triggered by the strike. The technology is now affordable and widely available, from beginner sets to hgih-end pro sets.
A Good Drum Video Using Electronic Drums
That's what you get with electronic drums—silent practicing. The drummer smacks rubber or plastic pads and the sound goes to headphones. It's pretty amazing when you compare the minimal sound produced by a beginner tapping the pads with the power that you hear on the headphones. Digital samples replicate the sound of real drums down the tiniest detail, because they recreate the sound wave produced by a real drum. It sounds like a drum kit is filling the room, when in fact the room can be filled with conversation, other music, or, even better, silence.
I had to include this because it's just amazing.
Learn New Tech Skills
If you're like me, you came a long a little late for much of the digital revolution, at least in terms of affordable musical instruments and effects that rely on digital technology. But many young kids today are ready for the challenge, and electronic drums are an excellent way to offer experience in advancing tech. Depending on the model and the features, they can learn to record multiple digital tracks, handle compression and other effects, work with and understand the limitations of the medium, record and bounce tracks to your computer, make your own remixes, and more.
More Information About Drums for Beginners
- Tips for Choosing Drums for Kids and Beginners -- This guide to buying a beginner drum set gives you the information you need before you decide which kind of child's drum set to buy.
- How to Choose Electronic Drums for a Child -- More information about electronic drums and the options for kids and beginner players.
- Drum Kit Basics -- How to avoid mistakes and make good decisions when you're thinking about buying a drum set.
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