We’ve assumed so far that you’re using headphones, plugged directly into the drum set’s sound module, when practicing privately. In any recording situation, your performance will also be heard through headphones. Your drum set will be mixed with the performances of other musicians playing with you and/or with tracks that are already recorded.

What we’ve discussed about electronic drum sets for recording is again applicable for the stage or rehearsal studio. The very important additional aspect we must consider is how to amplify your drum set. Live, it’s another story!

Electronic drum sets are sprouting up in live music situations everywhere. They are being permanently installed in live music venues such as nightclubs, catering halls and
churches that feature live worship music. More drummers are venturing out with electronic drum sets all the time for touring, club dates, rehearsals and more. There are several major advantages to this:

  • The drummer can have drum sets pre-programmed and available at the push of a button that are specific to any style of music; a rock kit, a jazzy kit, a hip-hop kit, latin drums like congas, bongos, ad infinitum. The drummer can easily change kits from song to song and play the sounds that are in the style and spirit of the song. It’s like having dozens of different drum sets that you can jump behind in a flash!
  • A drummer using an electronic drum set can also create pre-programmed drum sets that will be his or her own ideal drum set! You can pick sounds in the module that are most like how you would want your acoustic drum set to sound in an ideal situation and have that kit or kits always at the ready!
  • Using an electronic drum set in a live performance where your electronic drum set is being played through a sound system, allows a sound engineer to far more easily balance all of the band’s sounds and create a very produced and well-balanced mix for the audience’s enjoyment. The drums are never too loud nor do they get lost. They don’t need baffles or sound screens and they don’t need the elaborate and time-consuming mic placement and balancing required by an acoustic drum set.

Electronic Drum Amplification

Using an electronic drum set in a live music situation will often be convenient for the drummer if the band, the club, the hall, or the church has a sound system, often referred to as a P.A. system. The sounds created by electronic drum sets are BIG, DEEP and HIGH and a vocals-oriented, small system without some big speaker cabinets, a good mixer and a powerful amp might not cut it! If the performance is to be run through a hefty sound system that can handle all kinds of instruments, then you’re good to go. Remember that the loudest instrument heard in modern popular music is the bass drum, often called the kick drum. You are going to need to give the audience that kick!

In a live performance, running your electronic drum set through a sound system, you will need to hear what you’re playing within the band’s performance. This is accomplished by the use of a monitor, which is a speaker that points directly at the performer and plays that performer’s instrument as well as the vocals, the other instruments or a balanced mix of the entire band, depending on the sound system’s capabilities. A monitor will usually be supplied to you as part of the band’s or venue’s sound system but you may be required to have your own.

For monitoring purposes, drummers often use headphones or special in-ear monitors, which are like a super-set of earphones. A small powered monitor speaker or instrument amplifier will be appropriate as long as it is not expected to play at full performance volume but is used only within close range of your ears. Better yet, both Roland and Yamaha, as the leading makers of electronic drum sets, have designed electronic drum amplifiers for general playing and personal monitoring. These work great and sound great and will cost from about $280 up to about $700. These amplifiers are either wedge-shaped, to be pointed right at you or they are designed to be two small speakers mounted onto your drum rack or otherwise pointed at you along with a low-end speaker cabinet that sits on the floor nearby.

If you are to use your electronic drum set without having access to a sound system, you will need to have and carry your own amplifier! Whether for live performance, rehearsing, jamming or if you just want to play without wearing headphones, there is a variety of amplifiers available that will do the job, but to play at a typical performance volume, you will need something big and powerful in order to reproduce drum and percussion sounds. Think about how loud acoustic drums are and you will have an idea of what kind of amp is needed!

Firstly, guitar amps are just no good at all. They are not designed to reproduce the wide frequency range of other instruments. Bass guitar amps work fairly well, they handle the lows and mids easily but you will miss the sizzling highs of cymbal sounds. The Fender “Rumble” series and bass amps by Hartke and Peavey are good, low cost amps for electronic drums usage and will be useful for small bands, small venues and/or low volume music and as a monitor.

But realistically, you will need a full-range combo amp with a 10” speaker, bare minimum but better, an amp with a 12” speaker or best, a 15”. Good and powerful general purpose amps, capable of delivering electronic drum sounds are designed as keyboard amps and include models by Roland, Hartke, Peavey, Behringer and Ultratone. These models will cost in the range of $250 to $600.

Some drummers will have a portable PA system of their own or to share with their partners such as keyboard players, singers and mic’d instrumentalists. These systems include the Samson Expedition series, Yamaha Stagepas, Fender Passport, JBL Eon and Peavey Messenger. These systems can satisfy the requirements of bands playing small to mid-sized gigs but still may require an additional powered sub-woofer (a speaker that produces the very low end of the sounds) to deliver the full range of kick drums and other large, deep percussion sounds. A very good one designed with the Roland KC-series amps in mind is the Roland KCW1.