All You Wanted To Know About Drum Triggers

The Setup – Parts Is Parts

There are a myriad of different options for both drum triggers and trigger interfaces/sound modules, but have no fear – Trigger Man is here to save the day. Well, if not save the day, at least to help you more clearly understand what’s needed to trigger drums.

Take a look at Fig. 1. This is the most basic trigger setup. It contains three items: the drum, the trigger mounted on the drum, and the trigger interface. There are two different types of trigger interface, those that have sounds on board (often referred to as “drum modules”) and those without sounds (often referred to as “trigger-to-MIDI” converters). They both do the same thing – turn a trigger pulse into MIDI. The choice of which one to use depends on your situation. Fig. 2 shows the setup for a trigger-to-MIDI converter and an external sound module.

If you already have an electronic drum set, chances are that you have a drum module that will function as a trigger interface. These could be older drum modules like the Roland TD-5 and Alesis D4 or DM5, or newer drum modules like the Roland TD-6, TD-8, and TD-10, or the Yamaha DTXtreme. If you already have a drum module, you have the most expensive part of a drum trigger setup. How cool is that? But, for those of you who don’t, let’s look at what is available.

If you don’t have any kind of trigger-to-MIDI interface or drum module, I would suggest getting a drum module. It not only acts as the trigger-to-MIDI interface, but also contains the sounds you’ll trigger. There are many drum modules out there, both new and used, at all price levels. But I always look for the best bang for the buck. So, there are two on the less expensive side that I’d recommend, one that can be found on the used market, and another that’s probably only available as a new item.

Electronic Triggering

As far as used gear goes, look for an Alesis D4, D-5 or DM-Pro. They’re easily found in the $100 to $200 range. I used a D-4 in the late ’80s/early ’90s as part of my studio rig, and it performed adequately, although you do give up some features for the low price. First, the drum sounds are, well, about 15 years old. Back when it was designed, memory and processing power was expensive, so some sounds don’t have the longest ring out, especially cymbals and toms.

Some might argue that they are a bit dated, but hey, that can be a good thing. The first thing you’ll notice is that trigger response time is long. That is to say, the time between when the drum is hit until the audio comes out is very noticeable. The amount of delay is in the range of what we use to layback or get on top of the beat, so the delay can be a little disconcerting. This delay is most notice-able on the kick drum. Because of the sharp attack of the kick, when you put the acoustic kick together with the triggered sound you will hear some flamming. But, for the price, it will get you started in the world of drum triggering.

If you have a few more dead presidents that you want to put back into the economy, I’d highly recommend buying a Roland TD-6 drum module. It has massive bang for the buck. First, it’s one the newest drum modules on the market, and one of the least expensive. It has more than 1,200 sounds and real fast trigger response. There is no flamming on the kick drum like with the Alesis module. I’ve seen it in the stores for around the $500 range.

If you already have an external sound module, you just need a trigger-to-MIDI interface, and there are a couple of good ones out there. On the used side, look for a midiKITI by KAT. It may a bit hard to find, but the search is well worth it. Because it is a solely a trigger-to-MIDI interface it doesn’t have any sounds on board, and will have to be connected to an external sound module with a MIDI cord. The midiKITI’s user interface is a bit cryptic, but its advanced software settings handle triggering from acoustic drums very well. A good buy if you can find one used.

If you want to stop by your local store and buy a new trigger-to-MIDI converter, get Roland’s TMC-6. It’s about the size of a paperback book and the interface couldn’t be more user friendly. The triggering is derivative of the TD-Series drum modules, therefore very quick and sophisticated. It sells for around $250, and can be found readily at your local music store. As an aside, the TMC-6 can be used to expand the number of inputs on your existing drum module – just connect the MIDI out of the TMC-6 to the MIDI-In on the drum module.


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