Acoustic vs electronic drums – which is better for a beginner?
Many people have asked the question – is it better to learn to play the drums on acoustic or electronic drums? The obvious answer is that it is best to learn to play on an acoustic drum kit. Nothing replicates the feel of a drum head more than an actual drum head! Nor is there anything in the electric world quite like bringing you stick done on a crash cymbal. That being said, due to their size, volume and host of onboard features, many potential players have to carefully consider whether an electric set would be better for them to begin their drumming journey.
Littered throughout this website are comments on the pitfalls of playing electronic, but this write up will look at the pros and cons of each. As always we will stress the importance of starting off with a practice pad which is an invaluable piece of equipment to begin, with whether you are learning on an acoustic set or electronic. In fact, this is something that you will keep with you even as you progress. If you ever need to practice a rudiment, test out a pattern or work on your speed you should reach for your practice pad.
- It’s the real deal – This is why you probably chose to play the drums. To sit behind the toms and snares with real heads and cymbals flanking you! When you go to play in a band, at school or in any professionals situation, you will be required to play on an acoustic set, so learning on one will set you up properly. As well as this, when you have lessons at school or elsewhere, the set-up and layout will be the same as yours.
- The feel and response – The bounce and response between your drumstick and the heads are what you expect and will help give you a feel for the drums much quicker than an electronic.
- Bang for your buck – You can get a pretty decent full kit at a reasonable price. Like for like they are cheaper than an electronic drum set.
- Easy to upgrade – If you don’t like a head, change it. If the cymbals aren’t great or you want a new snare, it is very easy to change one part without worrying about the rest.
- Did we mention it’s the real deal?
- Size – A full kit, even a 4-piece, is not, compact to say the least. They take up a lot more room than an electronic. Size is a constraint for many beginners as they don’t have a large practice room that they an occupy indefinitely.
- Noise – An acoustic kit is loud, very loud. 20 minutes of practicing without any dampeners and you will probably have a neighbor knocking on your door. However as mentioned, you can buy all sorts of dampeners, mutes and silencers to take away most of the noise so all that is left are the vibrations and thuds which you will experience with electric kits too. As we covered elsewhere, these can be dealt with using noise eaters.
- Durability and maintenance – So whilst a good drum kit, especially a new one, will be unlikely to break even in the hands of a beginner, they are of course more susceptible to damage then electronic kits. In order to avoid damage, the drums should be regularly cleaned with a dry cloth and once every 4 or so months a thorough clean – nuts, bolts, shells, etc in order to avoid damage, rust and so on. If too humid, the drum shells can be damaged so don’t store too near a radiator.
- Buying used – As we talked about at the end of the Under $500 reviews, there are quite a few things you need to consider if you are looking to buy 2nd hand drums and potential problems in doing so.
- Size – More compact than their acoustic counterparts.
- Volume control – Much quieter than acoustic drums as they are mesh or rubber pads, not heads. The sound feeds back through headphones. They are not silent as a thud will still be heard.
- Tuning – Unlike an acoustic set you won’t need to worry about tuning it. This is also a disadvantage as at some point you will need to learn how to do this, but it can be overwhelming for a new player who just wants to get going.
- Recording –Via the ‘brain’ you can record yourself playing and listen to it back which is great for practicing.
- Versatility – Thanks to the onboard functions you can choose various sounds for the various drums and cymbals. You essentially have a self-contained studio which means you aren’t limited to one sound or set of drums. You can explore different styles and this is incredible if you want to produce a song or play around with some ideas and genres.
- Add on – You can buy and install additional pads quite cheaply and easily as you progress.
- Durable – Unlikely to be damaged or require maintenance. You won’t have to replace drum heads and sticks are less likely to chip or break.
- Used – It is easy to buy used e-drums without worrying about problems such as rust, or wear and tear. The damage will be visible or obvious once you have struck each pad with the module on. (As a side note, if a part malfunctions for a used kit you will not be under warranty).
- The ‘feel’ – the bounce and response of the pads will not emulate an acoustic set.
- Accuracy – Especially with the less expensive models (which we consider anything under $1000) they are not sophisticated enough to pick up on how clean your hit is. You may not hit the center of the pad but the sound fed back to you will sound clean due to the lack of zones and receptors. So whilst it may sound like you are picking things up quickly it could give you a false impression. Same goes for pressure sensitivity.
- Bang for your buck – Electronic kits aren’t cheap. The most affordable functional kits are around the $500 mark and it will cost a lot more before you get into kits that emulate real drums, whereas with an acoustic you can get a pretty solid full pack like the Pearl Roadshow at this price.
- Volume – As above, if trying to perfect ghost notes or really go hard, the pads will not be able to pick up on the subtle gentle strokes and hit a wall with its max volume.
- Balance – This one can be avoided but if you mess around with the cymbal or toms balance, it will result in the sound being different from how you play it. So, for example, you may adjust a cymbal to be less sensitive so that you can hit it harder, but this will not reflect reality and so can throw you off if you come to play acoustic drums.
- Malfunctioning- Wires can come loose from pads, there can be crosstalk (when you hit one pad and another responds) or parts can break or become faulty. This is mainly a problem with the lower end kits and assuming you are buying new you will have a warranty in case anything goes wrong!
- Technique and adjustment – all of the above can result in poor technique and false impression of your playing standard. As well as this when playing on an acoustic set, the arrangement and the response from the drum heads may feel a little off, resulting in a tougher transition to acoustic.
So, there you have some of the biggest pros and cons of each that should hopefully help you decide which you are suited for. If you are looking to play in junior school band, then probably an acoustic. If you play the guitar and are looking to pick up the drums so that you can jam and lay down a rhythm, then electronic. Some people have no problem transitioning from e-drums to acoustic, it really depends on the player.
Either way, be sure to check out our guide to getting started and for one last time recommend that you pick yourself up a practice pad, regardless of what you choose to play – again, its a drummer’s best friend.