Rock and a hard place

Drummers tend to get a hard time. Not only do other musicians ridicule drummers as luddites, they have a problem with portability and practice. The fact is, a drum kit can’t easily be strapped on ones back like a guitar, or put in the corner of the room to be picked up and played. It means learning and practicing the drums brings a considerable amount of logistical difficulty.

It means drummers tend to exercise and express their musical verve by being habitual tappers, making impromptu percussion instruments out of their surroundings, from thighs to tables.

The other thing that is a challenge is the volume of drums. A drummer going full tilt can be heard several miles away, meaning that next door neighbours tend to not like having a drummer next door… or even nearby.

The challenge

The challenge this month, is therefore to come up with a way for drummers to practice anywhere using a minimal amount of equipment, and without making too much noise. A full drum kit of obviously out of the question, but making the experience more realistic could be the use of actual sticks.

The use of electric drums has also advanced considerably since the 1980s that ‘emulated’ most percussion sounds by sounding like a dustbin lid. It means that a database of real drum sounds is available, and could be used as part of the solution.

Part of the challenge is going to be triggering the sound at the right time. While an array of sensors can be used, remember that one of the goals is to make a system that is not bulky, and is easily transportable.

Any solution should also not involve too many wires, at least not that need to be plugged in by the user, as remember, we are dealing with drummers that have a natural tendency to be confused by technology.

As usual, we have a solution in mind that we are certain drummers are going to be a fan of, and we will reveal our thoughts in the next issue of Eureka. In the meantime, see if you can come up with something better.


Our solution to come up with a portable but effective way of allowing drummers to practice anywhere comes from Kickstarter start-up Freedrum.

The company say they have produced a drum kit that fits in your pocket and all you need is a smart phone, a pair of headphones, a pair of sticks and the Freedrum attachments.

Freedrum is described as a virtual drum kit that uses sensors that fit over the drumsticks, and two others that slip over your feet. These pair with a phone or tablet that provide ultra-low latency drumming audio, and the user air drums until their heart is content.

Inside the enclosure there's a PCB with a gyroscope that detects movements and interprets them as hits on a drum. Together with the detected force and a few other magic parameters it is then translated into MIDI. The MIDI signal is sent via Bluetooth to the connected app (e.g. Garageband on an iPhone) which then plays the actual sound via headphones.