Douglas Lippi: How I use e-drums

Douglas Lippi recently augmented his acoustic rig with electronics for a musical theatre production.

I play in tribute bands, cover bands, a church and in musical theatre productions, using both electronic and acoustic drums. The set-up here was for the musical Beauty and the Beast. When I’m hired to do a musical, the first thing I ask the music director is whether they prefer acoustic or electronic. Since this was a more traditionally orchestrated musical, he requested all acoustic.

The list of percussion instruments required was extensive and I did not have a set of four timpani, chimes, a bell tree, castanets, sleigh bells and a gong in my acoustic collection. The original plan was to borrow them, but that fell through at the last minute. No problem, I could do these electronically.

The main challenge was going to be the timpani. I had done electronic timpani before, using a Roland TD-9 and a Roland SPD-30 Octapad. However, this time, there were so many different pitches plus all the other percussion happening at the same time. Physical space turned out to be much more limited than we originally thought, so there was no longer enough room for a xylophone and I’d have to handle that electronically, too.

My world was shrinking in on me fast! To add to the challenge, both my TD-9 and SPD-30 were in use for a different musical at a different theatre in a different town. So, I had to come up with a different solution.

I looked through my e-drum collection and ended up using the rig you see here, which satisfied all requirements and in a small footprint.

Why the TD-8 from 1999?  I do have modern modules in my collection, but the TD-8 is small and had all the required percussion sounds and backing instruments! Modules from those days came with backing instruments, which means via MIDI you can play pitched instruments simultaneously with drums and percussion. In my case, I used glockenspiel and chimes backing instruments triggered via the ControlPad for the runs consisting of more than four pitches. The four PD-7s would be assigned to timpani, a four-pitch xylophone run and the other percussion instruments as collections of kits.

Why the ControlPad from 2004? Since I was using the TD-8 to run backing instruments, I could have opted to use a keyboard MIDI controller instead of the ControlPad. However, the switch between playing drums with sticks to playing glock with fingers on a keyboard was too fast. I used the acoustic glock for all other passages, but this one was better suited to the ControlPad and TD-8 due to the notes needing to be staccato and not having a dampener on my acoustic glock.

Why PD-7s from 1992? Prior to the release of V-cymbals in 2000, PD-7s (and PD-9s) were actually used as both drums and cymbals in all Roland e-drum sets. By grabbing the edge, you can choke the sound assigned to that pad (as long as the module and input jack both support choking). In timpani playing, it is important to be able to mute the timpani to produce staccato notes. I mimic this muting by using this choke feature. I also used this technique for choking gong and cymbal rolls.

The FS-5U footswitch (a staple since forever) was a key component of this set-up as well, since I needed to change the electronic sounds during songs and while sticks were in hand. It was configured to advance the kit number by 1, but I also made sure the TD-8’s + and – buttons were within reach in case of emergency! I ended up creating 26 different kits on the TD-8 and two on the ControlPad in order to pull it all off.

Yamaha EAD10 came to the rescue for ease of micing the acoustic portion of the rig since space was so limited. I also used the built-in kick trigger to get an old big band-style bass drum sound. The audio engineer loved it!

Playing this rig was loads of fun, and getting it all working in the first place was a satisfying technical challenge! Go to my channel at for more on this and other interesting e-drum setups, performance videos, and tutorials.