In the first of a three part series on acoustic drum triggering, drum specialist Matt gives you an overview of triggering. Matt touches on how triggers work, the differences between types of triggers and the modules that power them.

Wembley Music Centre - Acoustic Triggering Blog

Put simply, acoustic drum triggers enable you to play electronic sounds with your acoustic drum kit. Do you want to layer a clap sound over your snare drum? Or maybe you want to beef up your kick with a sub bass layer underneath it? Maybe you want your toms to have more attack, like 80’s tom sounds? Is your double bass drum speed incredibly fast, but your bass drums lack the full sound as a result? If the answer to any of these is yes, then acoustic drum triggering could be the thing for you!

How They Work

Trigger clipped to drum

The drum trigger clips onto the hoop of your drum and rests a transducer (sensor) on the head of your drum. The trigger will then be connected to a module, which registers the signal and plays a sound at the same time as you hit the drum. The module will then need to be connected to a PA system, or some form of amplification, so it can be heard over the acoustic drums. The signal is velocity sensitive, so the triggered sound will react dynamically. Hit your drum quietly and a quiet sound will play through the module. Hit it hard, and the sound will play back loudly to match your dynamics.

Different Types of Triggers

Assorted Drum Triggers

Acoustic triggers are generally divided into 3 different types: Single Zone, Dual Zone and Bass Drum Triggers.

The Single Zone is the standard type of trigger. When the drum head is struck, it sends one signal to the module to trigger one sound. The Dual Zone adds a separate sensor for the rim of the drum. This means that you can trigger two different sounds; a clap sound for the head of the drum and a rim-click for the rim of the drum, for example. As a result, a Dual Zone trigger is the trigger of choice to put on a snare drum.  Finally, Bass Drum Triggers are bigger in design to accommodate the bigger hoops you get on the standard Bass Drum. They also feature a bigger sensor to handle the lower frequencies and different volumes produced by a Bass Drum. Furthermore, they are also single zone, sending only one signal to the module when activated.

Electronic Drum Modules

Roland TD-30 Module Close Up

So once you’ve got your triggers, you’ll need a module to program the sounds you want the triggers to play. Most electronic kit modules will work, but it’s best to brand match your triggers to your module, or to test your triggers on a module in our shop before you choose which one to get, just to be sure they will behave as you expect!

The individual module from an electric kit can be quite expensive to buy, if you don’t already own one it is perhaps better to buy a module designed for live use with acoustic triggers. I’ve been using the Roland TM2 for over a year now and I couldn’t recommend it enough to someone looking to get into acoustic triggering! It has 2 Dual Zone trigger inputs (which can be converted into 4 Single Zone inputs with a ‘Y’ splitter cable), can run on battery power and is incredibly portable. It comes pre-loaded with sounds/layers, but you can easily add your own samples via its SD card slot.

If you’re looking for something more sophisticated, you could check out something like the Yamaha DTX Multi Pad 12 or Roland SPD30 . These are contained units featuring built in pads, sounds and a lot more functionality than the aforementioned TM2. Both come loaded with sounds already to use, however the DTX can have a small amount of your own sounds loaded onto its internal memory, whereas the SPD30 can’t. If you were looking to solely use your own sounds, I would recommend something like the Roland SPDSX as it has 2GB worth of internal memory to use (approximately 360 minutes worth of mono sounds). If you’re brand matching your triggers, make sure you adjust the settings in the module so it matches the triggers you’re using; it will work at its best because it will automatically calibrate the response and sensitivity settings to the assigned trigger.

Alternatively, you can use the triggers to activate sounds in DAW software on your computer. You will need a module (for simplicity and cost effectiveness, I’ll recommend the Roland TM2 again), an interface that has a MIDI input and Audio output, a computer with DAW software and some kind of Sampler plugin within the software to organise the sounds. Plug your module into the interface via MIDI, load up the software (with the TM2, it should automatically sync itself with the software, but you need to adjust some settings), then load up your Sampler. You can use the Sampler as you‘re used to, but play the sounds using triggers. Finally, you need to take the audio output from your interface into some kind of amplification so it can be heard, speakers, monitors and headphones will all work well.


Acoustic Kit with Triggers

Here ends your crash course in acoustic triggering! There is much more you can achieve with this technology at your disposable, but that’s a conversation for another blog. However, here are a few things to consider as you get into the world of triggering:

You can mix and match acoustic triggers with standard trigger pads. So if you wanted to trigger a sound without hitting one of your acoustic drums, you can plug a standard electronic trigger pad into your module on a separate input for the ultimate hybrid setup.

Communicate with your sound engineer before your gig. Do you want your triggered sound to only play during a certain section of a certain song? Do you want you samples panned in the stereo mix? Then it will be up to the sound engineer to make this happen, so be sure to speak to them before your performance. Particularly if you’re dealing with an in house engineer you don’t know, perhaps write up a set list that clearly states when and where you need the samples up in the mix.

Do you actually need samples in your set? Sometimes, layered up sounds can be overkill if not thought about properly; where they are in the song, what they sound like and how they are processed. Take some time to prepare them, try them out in rehearsals before you take to the stage!

Graduating from Westminster University in 2013, Matt is a Drummer and freelance Sound Engineer/Producer based in Hackney. When he’s not playing or recording with his band Shadow Culture, he is engineering and recording gigs for Sofar Sounds.  Matt is one of our Drum Specialists here at Wembley Drum Centre, where you’ll most likely find him drinking coffee and talking about time signatures…