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What Are the Different Types of Digital Percussion?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 23, 2024
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Percussion instruments create loud, distinct sounds, and they are one of the most popular forms of musical expression. Technological advancements have made methods for playing these instruments — like digital percussion — more versatile. Digital technology has in fact been applied to nearly every member of the percussion family, including cymbals, xylophones, and various drums. Some types of digital percussion operate via computer software, while other forms use electronic equipment that converts sounds into digital signals. Another common form contains the sounds of digital percussion within small digitized pads.

Digital technology operates via digital signals, which differ from traditional signals in that they switch between two primary frequencies rather than operating along a continuous spectrum. This setup makes digital signals less prone to environmental interference like static.

Most types of percussion instruments can be digitized. In general, a percussion instrument includes any device that makes a sound when it is struck or otherwise experiences vibration. Some objects may be clashed together, such as cymbals. In other types, a small stick may be used to hit an object like a triangle or a xylophone. Various kinds of drums — which consist of a thin covering placed over a hollow surface — constitute a large percentage of percussion instruments.

Drums are perhaps the most popular form of percussion instruments, and thus they are abundant in digital percussion markets as well. In general, these are cylindrical or rounded objects that produce a loud sound when they are struck. For electric drum varieties, the instruments are plugged into other devices like amplifiers, and sounds cannot be produced without this added device. Some varieties of electronic drums may use digital technology in order to produce and modify emitted sounds. Digital electric drums operate by digitally processing programmed sound bites that are created when the drum is hit.

Computers offer another abundant playground for digital percussion. Both software packages and certain online sites offer programs that digitally mimic the sounds of percussion instruments. Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) files are one common means of achieving these effects. Many of these programs even provide graphic designs of actual percussion instruments like drums. The needed percussion strike is usually recreated with a mouse pad, with the keyboard, or even with specially attached equipment.

Some digital percussion instruments are also offered as small, keyboard-like devices. These digital pads usually contain speakers and various buttons or touch-sensitive areas that a player can push or hit to produce certain sounds. Versatility is also high on these devices, as they can mimic various percussive instruments. They use the same systems found in other digital percussion methods.

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