Chris Eaton: How I Use E-drums

Chris Eaton mixes the old with the new.

I started learning drums in junior high and continued through high school, playing in symphonic, jazz and marching bands as well as local rock groups. My passion for music motivated me to earn my Bachelors degree in Music from San Jose State University under the direction of professor and author Anthony Cirone and electronic music composer Alan Strange. I have toured throughout the USA and had the privilege of performing with Bobby McFerrin, Sheila E, Jerry Garcia and Chris Cain.

I am currently the percussion instructor for our local high school and middle schools in California’s South Bay and perform with the South Valley Symphony.

I have two self-produced CDs of original music and just finished my second drum book introducing new concepts and techniques to help the electronic drummer function as a percussion ensemble.

My interest in electronic drumming was sparked when I saw a video of Terry Bozzio playing a post-modern slab-like drum kit and watching him inspired me to convert. As I studied how the technology worked, I knew I wanted to pack a lot of different sounds into a small area and decided to get two Roland Octapads to trigger 707 and 727 drum machines.

Wanting to expand the range of sounds at my feet, I added a set of MIDI bass pedals and assigned double-bass  drums and a hi-hat to them. I then put a cowbell on one and a snare on another, not realising how much that decision would contribute to the evolution of my playing. With a snare drum under my left foot, I was able to play a complete drum beat without using my left hand and, after perfecting my left foot with exercises, I could play a variety of beats and styles.

As I became accustomed to playing snare with my left foot, I realised I had the opportunity to layer more percussion instruments into my beats using my left hand – which required me to develop additional techniques to accommodate new forms of independence. I started by adding a quarter-note cowbell over a basic beat and then experimented with various triangle patterns.

After plenty of practice, I achieved the ability to layer in complex auxiliary percussion parts or a conga drum solo while playing a full drum beat. I was beginning to function like two percussionists.

Although these discoveries were great, the thing I don’t like about electronics is the increased risk of something going wrong – like the night I drove over an hour to a gig only to realise I forgot the power adaptors for my drum machines. I spent the night playing cheesy electronic drum sounds on my DX7 keyboard. It was bad – and embarrassing. However, while driving home, I realised the potential of using my fingers to trigger drum sounds.  While working on right-hand keyboard technique, I found that I could play some pretty intricate multi-percussion parts.

I then incorporated two 25-note keyboard controllers into my kit so I could access several octaves of any instrument, avoid mapping samples to pads, and have the option to add melodic lines to my beats. Now I play the main drum beat with my feet, complex percussion parts with my right hand, and a conga drum solo with my left!

I incorporate electronics into my playing in numerous ways, including real-time control over effects and tuning, use of iPad apps, velocity cross-switching, and cutting sample loops into performance fragments. I have stumbled onto different approaches, concepts and techniques working with this technology over the years and wanted to share some of my discoveries. As I began writing my second book, “Evolutions For Electronic Drumming”, I thought about how technological advancements to the drum set have had a huge impact over the years. The invention of the bass drum pedal allowed a single musician to play two drums at once. With the introduction of hi-hats, drummers could use both feet to play. These inventions offered new possibilities but drummers had to realise, learn and practise new techniques in order to incorporate them. With ongoing advancements in technology, the modern drummer can continually evolve beyond traditional techniques and function as an entire percussion ensemble.



Chris’ gear:

3 Roland  Octapads

MalletKat Pro Percussion Controller

4 Roland PD31 pads

2 Roland CY-14C cymbal pads

2 Roland KD-5 pedal triggers

2 DW5000 pedals

2 M-Audio axiom pro 25 keyboards

2 M-Audio expression  pedals

2 M-Audio sustain  pedals

Apple MacBook Pro

2 iPads with over 100 music apps

2 iPhones with over 100 music apps

MOTU Ultralite Audio Interface

MOTU MIDI Timepiece Interface

Lexicon MX-400 Reverb

Korg KP3+ Kaoss Pad

Behringer Xenyx X1832 Mixer

Native Instruments Battery, Kontakt & Reaktor

Propeller Head Reason

For more information about Chris, visit