In this age of digital drums, they seem to be everywhere – but what is a drum trigger?
The age of the digital drum is undoubtedly upon us. These days, however, many drummers use a mixture of real drums and digital drum sounds. How do they do it? Well, it’s all down to drum triggers. But, what is a drum trigger?
A drum trigger is, very simply, a device that allows a drummer to use acoustic drums with digital drum modules, instead of having to use dedicated digital drums. These typically clip onto the rim of the drum, either providing either a playing surface to be hit with a stick, or coming into contact with skin, and allowing the drummer to play the kit as normal. These are then commented to a trigger module. This is often a drum module from an existing digital drum kit, but there are dedicated trigger modules available.
How does a drum trigger work? In some ways, it’s very similar to a piezo pickup on a guitar. The trigger has a sensor built in, which is a type of transducer. When it vibrates, in changes the vibrations into an electrical signal, which can then be transferred via a cable to a trigger module.
The trigger module will interpret these electrical signals and, if it has onboard sounds, use these to play them at the point the drum, or trigger, is hit. If it doesn’t have any onboard sounds, the trigger module will typically have MIDI connections. This will convert the trigger input to be converted to MIDI data, such that it could be used with any MIDI compatible synth, sampler, or sound module.
How can a drum trigger be used?
There are many, many uses for drum triggers. At its simplest, a drummer could have his full kit rigged up with triggers, which are connected to a drum module. By doing this, he gets the sound, and feel of his full kit, but when plugging the module outputs into an amp, or PA, he can dial in as many different sounds as his module has- from acoustic recreations to synth sounds- massively extending creative potential.
When used with standalone triggers, such as the Roland BT-1, which don’t connect with the drumhead, a drum trigger can be used to trigger additional sounds, samples or effects. Say, the recording of a particular track begins with an ambient effect or sound, the drummer can start it by hitting the BT-1. Or, it could be used to add other drum sounds to the mix. The limit is your imagination.
One of the most frequent uses of drum triggers is within Metal and Heavy Rock. Here, a kick drum sample is often triggered, to provide a more even, tighter sound when complex patterns are played. It also makes it far easier to mix.
Hybrid set-ups are becoming increasingly popular- something that Roland has recognised by launching an all-new trigger module: the TM-2. This has 100 onboard sounds, with an SD slot for loading additional content. This has two trigger inputs along with MIDI I/O, making it a great way of adding new sounds to an acoustic kit, whether that is via those loaded to the module or via another piece of MIDI equipment. This new tool is an affordable and flexible way of expanding your percussive palette.
You can find a full range of drum triggers and modules in our online store here.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.