Roland Hybrid Theory Series – Pt 1

“Craig Blundell explain the hybrid concept and the theory behind it”

In the first of a new Roland hybrid series, we explain how fusing acoustic and electronic percussion can vastly improve your sound and approach to the kit

We’ve teamed up with experts at Rhythm Magazine to bring you a series of features on Hybrid; bring electronic and acoustic percussion together in one drum kit. We’ll be exploring what hybrid is, how to do to it, but more importantly, what you get with hybrid – how it solves everyday problems for the drummers out there. Not just that – ‘how to’ videos with Craig Blundell will accompany each part each month!

What is hybrid?

The word ‘hybrid’ often means compromise. A hybrid bike isn’t quite a mountain bike and not quite a road bike, a hybrid car isn’t quite an electronic car or a petrol car… so perhaps ‘hybrid’ drum kit – the incorporation of acoustic and electronic drums –
isn’t quite the right word.

Hybrid here is the best of both worlds, not a compromise between them;

  • If you want a purely acoustic kit, you can
  • If you want only electronic sounds you can do that too
  • The beauty of hybrid is you can merge the two, reinforcing or affecting your acoustic sounds with no compromise
  • Add to this the ability to bring in loops and samples to the show and you are suddenly bringing a whole new level of sounds to your band’s performance and adding new tools to your arsenal.

You may be wondering how this might apply to you, but hybrid set-ups have useful applications for everyone from the bedroom drummer to the semi-pro player and beyond. We’ll be lifting the lid on just some of the cool things you can achieve with hybrid over the coming issues.

Origins

The commercial development of the electronic drum kit in the late ’70s and early ’80s by companies such as Simmons saw many drummers from many genres dabble with the hybrid kit, from Zappa alumni Terry Bozzio to INXS drummer John Farriss.

However, the refrigerator-sized racks of gear and an understanding of electronics required to a) get the equipment to talk to each other in the first place and b) build a reliable rig for the road, put many off. Hybrid pioneers such as Rush’s Neil Peart, Tackhead’s Keith LeBlanc and Tool’s Danny Carey spent time developing the skills needed over many years to the point where their hybrid set-ups have gained near legendary status, allowing access, live and on the fly, to original sounds from the album, backing samples, harmonic and melodic sonics – you name it – at the tap of a pad. Since the mid-’80s there’s been a host of technical developments, with electronic drums becoming more stable and playable so now access to the expensive wizardry of yesterday is available to all – cost effective and right out of the box.

The hardware

If you are new to the concept of hybrid kits, getting started can be daunting and seem extremely involved, so here we aim to break down some basic ways of incorporating electronics into your acoustic set-up. Whether you are playing to 15 or 15,000 people, originals or covers, there’s a lot to add to your band’s sound by dipping your toes in!

So, you have an acoustic kit – a great start! Now let’s look at the other composite parts of the hybrid kit. There are two main ‘hubs’ or ‘brains’ that you can use as the centre for your set-up.

  • Firstly there’s the drum module. Most people’s first experience of electronic drums comes from an electronic drum kit, whether it’s at school, drum lessons or a personal purchase to keep the noise down at home whilst practising. While most people don’t take the electronic kit to gigs and continue using an acoustic kit for shows, the module itself can be used to enhance the acoustic sounds (via triggers) or to expand the drum kit with electronic sounds (via pads).
  • Secondly there’s the sampler module or trigger module. Using a sampler will allow you to incorporate your own sounds into your acoustic set-up, from individual sounds like drums, cymbals and effects, through to whole sections of songs, backing vocals etc. The Roland SPD-SX has built-in pads, and also has inputs for triggers and pads to expand the options.

BT-1-bar-trigger

Pads and Triggers

Aside from the in-built pads on the sampler modules, the other two main ways to physically access the sounds are via pads and triggers.

  • Pads are many and varied – usually made with either a rubber playing surface or topped with a mesh head that is struck with a stick – and near silent on stage allowing you to access the electronic sound on your sampler or drum module without any acoustic sound present. The type of pad you’ll need depends on what you’ll be using it for – for example if you are firing a single vocal sample then a basic single-zone pad will be fine, but if you’re accessing a drum sound and need velocity, dynamics and variation in tone then a high quality pad will be needed along with a drum module that can handle it. Nearly all V-Pads have dual zones so you can assign different sounds to the rim and the head of the pad. Mounting these pads is usually done with an accessory clamp and an L-arm, anywhere on the drum kit.
  • Triggers attach to your acoustic drums and can be used to ‘trigger’ sounds or samples from a drum or sampler module and will allow you to play acoustic and electronic sounds together. Fitting is critical to getting a clean trigger signal without double triggering (where the trigger thinks that the rebound of the head is another stick strike) or cross talk (where the vibrations from a nearby drum causes the trigger to fire). Two top tips here for avoiding these issues are to adjust the trigger sensor of your RT-10 trigger using a drum key and to use good quality cables that are dressed (or positioned) carefully as the cable itself can cause misfiring.

Triggers have gained popularity in the metal world over the years for allowing a solid reinforced or enhanced sound to be created easily and reliably. Being able to trigger an electronic or sampled kick sound alongside an acoustic sound adds a huge amount of weight to the sonics both in an arena and in a pub gig environment.

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Some have taken this to the extreme, such as former Sikth drummer Dan Foord and Garbage’s Butch Vig, who use acoustic drums to trigger sampled sounds only. Butch Vig filled his drums with polystyrene packing ‘peanuts’ to kill all of the acoustic sound.

Other more practical uses for the working drummer include providing a simple way to add reverb or delay without feedback issues, or making an 8″ drum sound like a 16″ floor tom, muffled bass drum sound like Bonham’s kit or a 10″ popcorn snare sound like a 14″x12″ tuned-down monster.

So, how can I get started?

If you own an electronic drum kit, you can get started straight away! By using a couple of pads and your drum module in addition to your acoustic drum kit you can start to access a world of new sounds.

  • An easy way to start is by simply adding a snare pad and module to the left of your hi-hat so you can easily add sounds such as additional snares, FX or sounds that you would otherwise only use once in a set. Perhaps add an extra pad over your floor tom or bass drum hoop for additional ride, hi-hat or cowbell sounds.
  • Further to this, with the addition of a couple of triggers (primarily kick and snare) you can begin to reinforce or enhance your acoustic sound. Even with a moderate venue and PA, the addition of this extra layer can clean up the band’s sound and add weight without volume. Begin by adding reverb and other effects to sounds and changing the snare and kick sounds to complement the songs you’re playing – you can go from a low-pitched open bass drum and deep low-tuned snare to a muffled tight kick and highly-tuned snare at the touch of a button.
  • If you have a sampling pad or the latest TM-2 Trigger Module, you can do the same as above in regards to pads and triggers but with the added bonus of being able to use your own samples. For example, if you have the kit samples from an album you’ve recorded then you can import them and use the actual sounds from the track (you can isolate the drum sounds on some records too – great if you’re in a covers band).

There are some creative ways that you can add FX in real time as well. When V-Drums demonstrator James Hester was playing live drums with Malakai, the band wanted to add delay, reverb and distortion to the acoustic kit, but attempting this in rehearsal led to horrific feedback issues from the kit mics. The solution was to sample the acoustic kit and then trigger it (effectively triggering the same sounds from the sampler as were being played acoustically) but then feeding the output through the effects – because there were no mics within the loop, there were no feedback issues. A simple but effective solution.

You can also think about triggering whole sections of songs. Again, if you’re playing original music you can spend time recording sections or ask the producer to mix certain sections for you. For a covers band you can recreate sections or edit from the original. Anything goes here. If you’re a three-piece band and there are five-part harmonies, put them on a sampler – the same with acoustic guitar backing or keyboards etc – this applies to anything you can’t recreate live.

Right on time

For the samples to work, this obviously has timing connotations for everything to lock in perfectly. There are a couple of ways to make this work. The first method is to run the whole track from start to finish from the sampler with gaps in the sections where you don’t need any backing – the issue here is staying in time. You will need to use one of the outputs for the backing track to be heard by the audience and with another output sending a click track to be heard just by you. Roland’s SPD-SX allows you to have a sub output and a main output on the same pad, meaning that you can send a stereo track or signal from the the main outputs (to the PA) and send a click track on the sub outputs that only you will hear on in-ear monitors (IEMs) or headphones – an incredibly useful function. Reverend and the Makers drummer Ryan Jenkinson uses this feature all of the time for their live shows. Want to see exactly how this is done – Ryan’s completed a series of ‘how to’ videos on using the SPD-SX for backing tracks and click tracks.

The other option is to have all of the sections cut up and assigned to individual pads – you then play to a click in your IEMs and fire in the samples as and when. This takes a while to incorporate the requisite co-ordination but does allow for some flexibility in the structure of the song live – if the crowd is loving it, you can go around the chorus again, no problem.

These are just a handful of ways hybrid can add extra weight to your sound and expand your vocabulary behind the kit. Over the next few months, we’ll demonstrate how by incorporating electronic elements into your acoustic rig, you can drastically enhance you drumming experience live, in the studio and in the rehearsal room.

In part two of the series, we show you how to put hybrid into action.

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