E-drum troubleshooting

Today’s electronic drums are mostly plug and play. That is especially true if you buy a full kit – module, pads and cymbals in a bundle.

Of course, things can get a bit more complicated when you mix and match, especially when you combine new and used components from different manufacturers.

After years of fielding reader questions and monitoring the social media of the major e-drum companies, here are digitalDrummer’s top troubleshooting tips – and we’ve arranged them in a logical order based on the things most likely to go wrong.


Testing one, two

This may sound a bit obvious, but are headphones or amp plugged into the correct output and the volume turned up? More than once, I’ve heard of a “silent” module which just had all the faders pushed down. Or Direct Outs not feeding the amp because the Master Volume was turned off. So, before you panic, check everything is plugged in and turned up.



With the exception of one (now defunct) wireless solution, all kits require the pads and cymbals to be connected to the module with cables. The most common cable type is TSR, a ‘stereo’ connection designed to transmit dual-zone information from the pad to the brain.

If you hit a pad and don’t hear anything, start by checking that the correct cable is connected on both ends. Make sure the cable isn’t damaged and that the plugs are firmly inserted in the jacks. If this doesn’t fix the problem, try another cable.


Firmware check

Drum modules are constantly being improved and most manufacturers regularly update the internal software (firmware). Go to the manufacturer’s website and check that your brain is running the most up-to-date software. And remember that as modules become more advanced, they often have more than one firmware component. GEWA and Pearl mimicPRO, for example, have a trigger engine and a sound library – and you should try and run the latest version of both.


Module presets

Most modules are preconfigured to process specific signals. Start by checking that the preset you have selected is appropriate for the pad set you are using. If you have selected the right preset, the module should “know” what trigger types are being used on each input. For example, if you have an XYZ Pro II kit, make sure you select “XYZ Pro II” as the kit configuration. If you’re using a stock kit, select that kit as your default preset and see if that fixes the issue. In the case of a used module, a factory reset is recommended before you change the kit settings.


Individual pad type

Next, you will need to check that the correct “trigger type” has been selected. For example, different snare pads use either single- or dual-piezo configurations or piezo-switch wiring. If the module is expecting a piezo signal and instead gets a switch message, it won’t know what to do.

So, if you’re struggling with the triggering of a single pad or cymbal, make sure you have selected the correct pad type. Most modules these days list the pads and cymbals reasonably clearly, even those from other manufacturers. But if you’re unsure, try to determine the trigger type from the documentation that came with it and see if you can match that to one of the trigger presets.


Trigger settings

This is where things can get complicated. The trigger presets are generic starting points, and the stock parameters are designed for “average players”, whatever that might mean. Each of us plays differently – some hit hard, some soft; some play with a large dynamic range, while others hit with a constant force. So, you need to teach the module how you play so that it can translate your strokes into sounds you like.

Some modules have a set-up wizard that asks you to hit each pad hard and softly – and automatically adjusts for your playing style. But even that is a crude measure and you may need to refine it further.


Fine-tuning the trigger settings

Unfortunately, not all modules have the same editing parameters and even when they do, they might not have the same names.

Here are some of the most common – and most useful – parameters:

Threshold – this is roughly a measure of how hard you have to hit to make a sound. If it’s set too high, you will have to smash the pad to get any sound out of it. Too low and the drum will sound at the slightest vibration – like the bass player next to you or someone tapping on the floor. Trial and error will allow you to set a threshold low enough for ghost notes and high enough to mask out unwanted noises.

Gain – this is like the volume setting on your mixer; it amplifies the sounds from the module. Again, set too high, and your loudest hits will distort; too soft, and you’ll struggle to hear your quiet notes.

Sensitivity – this usually means what you’d expect – how responsive the pad will be. Low measures indicate less sensitivity while high numbers mean it will respond to a lighter touch.

Headroom – this is a measure of the maximum volume of a trigger. Set it too high and you will struggle to get loud hits. And if it’s too low, every hit could sound like a canon.

Trigger curve – if the previous parameters are not confusing enough, there’s one that is even more complex – curve. This adjusts the relationship between strike force and output level. Most modules have several curve options beginning with linear, where the harder you hit, the louder the sound gets. But there are more complex curves where the volume grows more quickly or slowly relative to the force. And some modules even allow you to edit the curve, which can be enough to do some people’s heads in.

There are many other parameters like retrigger mask and crosstalk cancel and you should check the owner’s manual to find out how they affect triggering.


Hardware issues

If you get no sound or erratic performance from a pad, it is possible that there is a hardware cause. So, connect another similar pad to the input you have tweaked and see if that makes a difference. If the issue disappears, you need to check the pad or cymbal, and while that may seem daunting, most e-drum triggers are fairly basic designs with uncomplicated components that are cheap and easy to repair or replace.


Brain failure

If the issue persists, then your module may be faulty and you will need to seek expert help. But, honestly, this is probably the rarest cause of triggering problems. Most troubles are more commonly caused by operator error – so, not the drum’s brain, but the user’s!