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Within the field of music composition and recording, a digital drum kit can be a few different things, depending on the context in which the digital drum kit is being used. It can be a set of electronic drums that a drummer hits to make digital sounds, or it can be a collection of digital sounds used to compose an electronic drum part. A digital drum kit can also be a name for any device or software program that plays digital drum files. This term can also be used to indicate a set of electronic digital drum sounds, which would be in contrast with a drum kit that sounds like live drums.
More common names for digital drum kit devices include digital drum synthesizers or drum machines. These devices are usually standalone devices that, when connected to a speaker, play a synthesized beat that has been customized using the controls on the device interface. Digital drum synthesizers play sounds that are either stored on the device or transferred to the device using a removable media card. Software drum machines perform the same basic functions as a drum machine device, but are run using a computer. Once the beats are created or programmed, they are usually recorded or transferred to an audio file type for use in a completed piece or song.
Digital drum sounds have some advantages for use in the studio and during live performances. On a track in progress, they can act as a placeholder for recorded drums while recording the rest of the instruments and parts in the song. In a live application, digital drums can be used in place of a drummer. Portable digital drum kits take less time to set up than actual drum kits, and can be a more reliable and timely musical partner than a person.
One disadvantage to using a digital drum kit system in live and recorded music is that it lacks a personal touch. When a drummer is making music with a group, she is able to adjust her tempo and volume for impact, or if the tempo of the band starts to get off course. Pre-programmed digital drums cannot make these adjustments on their own, and require that the other musicians in the group follow the course of the digital drum kit. A skilled digital drum programmer can mimic these effects by manipulating the drum program, but programming digital drums that mimic human drumming variations can take a great deal of time and tweaking before the effect seems authentic.
I have a drum set app on my phone. It has different pads that represent all the different drum sounds and the sounds fire every time you touch the pad. It works surprisingly well. You can make some pretty cool beats with just your fingers.
But in the same way that playing guitar hero is not at all like playing the guitar, my digital drum kit is nothing like playing the drums. It is all in the fingers so there is none of the coordination between the hand and the foot.