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Laying Down Drum Samples: Keyboard or Pads

One of the ubiquitous debates raging in many music production and beat making forums these days is the preference of rhythmic drum sequencing. On one hand, people are using standard MIDI keyboards that are otherwise used for synthesizers and instruments for their drum samples, while the other option that is pushed often is getting dedicated drum hardware like an Akai MPC.

Recently, a lot of cheap dedicated equipment has hit the music scene, leaving professionals with more room to switch and use hybrid set-ups, while amateurs and those that have not even gotten into the game can pick up a discounted drum pad unit from their local Guitar Center. These units, like the MPD32, have MPC-style pads for drum input and do no processing of their own, except for calculating the velocity of the finger tapping. The processing is left up to the computer equipment or music work-station.

On the keyboard side, we can see the advantages quite clearly. A lot of people already have great skills on the keyboard, making the transition to drum samples sequencing quite an easy choice. One of the major complains is that when hitting the keys, there is always that delay between strike and sound, something which doesn’t play a major role for most people – and it is indeed minimal – but this is where the pad solutions have an advantage: the pads are right above the sensor bed, not like with keyboards where the key needs to be pressed quite far down.

We can see that the trigger response is the final drawback for those on the edge of making a decision to switch to pad systems. With the sensor timing on the keyboard, one needs to be somewhat firm with their fingers to allow the sensors to accurately place the notes. However, if your timing is not perfect, it’s probably not the best platform to hone your skills on. Get some pads and at least try them out!

Devices with pads also have some issues, however. One major issue concerns the pad quality. Some of the best-received products have had a backlash of bad reviews due to pad degradation. You will probably need to shell out at least a few dollars for replacements if you’re going to go with something like the MPD range of drum inputs.

Lately, there has been a trend among manufacturers to combine the function of both devices into the same product. Therefore, we’ve been introduced to keyboard and pad hybrids like the Akai MPK, and these probably target those just getting into the production world. They do look very appealing, with pads above the keyboard and the keyboard being semi-weighted action in some cases, but mostly just velocity-sensitive (as in the case with the MPK). Still, some people have complained that this is going backwards. Simply put, apparently these devices are of a gimmicky nature, with neither the keyboard nor pads really good. They’ve been bashed as the worst of both worlds, a harsh criticism shared by top magazines, too.

If you’re after some great-sounding hip hop drum samples or simply want to know how to make beats, just remember that you shouldn’t settle for second best!