Having been a drum teacher for over 10 years, and using both Digital and Acoustic Drum Sets during that time I think that this is a subject which I can present some useful information for you.
Electronic Kits have their advantages, and their disadvantages – so in this article I’ll just outline the pros and cons of both digital and acoustic drum sets for students.
Firstly – Acoustic Kits:
1) The entry-level price is quite low (you can pick up cheap, student model drum kits for under $300), however, that being said you won’t get much for that! An acoustic drum set that you gradually “add to” is like a money pit – you’ll add bits and pieces to it over the years, and you are really far better off buying a good one to start with! (there’s enough for another whole post on this topic, which I’ll do at a later date)
2) Your child can have an excellent musical expression with an acoustic drum set. The Acoustic drum set provides the best possibility for musical expression, as its dynamic possibilities are completely endless. You can play really soft, really LOUD and everything in between with acoustic drums
3) Your child can learn good sound production techniques. Sound production is really important for drums – the cymbals and drums have a large variety of sound possibilities that are infinite on an acoustic kit. On an electronic kit, the sound production is different – You don’t learn to place the cross sticks in the right place and play the bells of the cymbals in the different ways to make the variety of sounds.
1) Acoustic drum sets are LOUD! There is no way around this fact. In fact, if your child is learning Rock Music, they simply won’t be able to “play soft” due to the nature of the music they are working on. It’s very difficult to soundproof a room for a drum set – I’ve tried to do it and it’s very expensive and difficult to do. If your child is really serious about playing you’ll have to really find a way around this problem. A certain amount of soundproofing is possible by putting them in a room with solid walls and then lining the walls immediately around the drum set with Mattresses – but even still the drums will still be heard in the rest of the house, and even outside the house.
2) Acoustic drum sets are very expensive to get to sound good, and they require a maintenance budget! Sticks and Skins are the most important factor, and they are still really expensive. Just a full set of skins for a drum set can cost over $200 – and they really should be replaced every year, depending on the amount they are played of course!
3) With their metal rims, acoustic drum sets also are more wearing on sticks than electric kits. Rock Drummers have been known to go through a pair of sticks every rehearsal or gig, because of the Rimshot sounds they use on the snare drum.
4) if your child gets to doing Rock Gigs in a band you’ll have to deal with getting a good sound on stage – with Mics and PA systems… Its really not an easy thing to do to get an acoustic drum set to sound good, particularly in a small room with a budget sound system and no “sound guy” to look after it.
Electric (digital) drum sets
1) You can use headphones to practice! This advantage is huge – this means that you can practice at Midnight if you really get the inspiration, and someone in the next room might hear one or two little thuds – but you certainly won’t disturb the neighbors!
2) Electric (digital) drums are really easy to amplify for gigs – you simply plug them in and you should be able to get a good sound through the PA system. Particularly if playing in a cover band this is a huge advantage – its quick to set up and you can get a good sound every time.
3) Electric Kits are pretty low on the maintenance budget! They usually don’t require replacement skins and they are quite easy on sticks (compared to acoustic kits and their metal rims!)
1) they are quite expensive, even at the entry-level. The cheapest electric kits will still cost you more than an equivalent acoustic, or if they don’t they are just a toy! If you really want a good electric kit you want one that has mesh heads, rather than rubber, as these feel like real drums to play, and they don’t make much of a “hit”. Some of the rubber style drums make so much noise they’ll still annoy the neighbors and others in the household, even if the drummer is using headphones!
2) Students don’t learn the variety of sound production techniques that they can learn on an acoustic drum set. The musical expression that they can learn is severely limited by the sounds that the drum set can produce. Even though they are getting better and better there really is only one or two sounds per drum – and its impossible to reproduce the musical possibilities that the acoustic drum set provides.
So.. the bottom line?
If you’ve got less than $1000 – and you don’t live in an apartment, and you’ve got space to put a few mattresses around its still better for the beginning drum student to use an acoustic.
1) Money isn’t an issue and you would like to give your child a good practice instrument.
2) you live in an apartment or situation where noise is going to be a major concern then a digital drum set may suit your child to learn with.