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Author Topic: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process  (Read 3826 times)

SWriverstone

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Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« on: January 31, 2008, 08:52:54 PM »

My Zendrum arrived today, and I've spent a couple hours so far with it. I decided it might be interesting to other Zendrum owners—and informative to new Zendrum owners—if I started a thread here in which I describe my own personal process for learning and mastering this great instrument. I'll contribute to it over time. Take it for what it's worth, and please remember, this is my own personal process—and not a "tutorial" on how to do it. If it helps anyone, great! (And feel free to chime in!)

DAY ONE: Here's my setup, for now:
• Zendrum ZX
• Peavey KB-150 keyboard amp
• HP Pavilion zd7000 PC laptop (Pentium 4, 3ghz, WinXP, 2GB RAM)
• Echo Indigo DJ PCMCIA audio card
• MOTU FastLane USB MIDI interface
• Native Instruments Battery 3

I got everything hooked up, opened Battery 3, tapped a few pads...and nothing happened. After a couple minutes of scratching my head and checking everything, I realized the MIDI Thru button on the MIDI interface was activated—DOH! Aaah, that's better! My first impression of the Zendrum's pads is that they are definitely as touch-sensitive (e.g. velocity-sensitive) as the Roland HandSonic...and maybe a bit more sensitive (though they're both very close in this area, and both very sensitive—no complaints with either!) I actually like the feel of the harder plastic surface of the Zendrum better (rather than the HandSonic's softer rubber surface)...it seems more responsive to finger playing.

Like any MIDI controller used with software samplers/synths, the Zendrum isn't exactly plug-and-play. Battery 3 kits, for example, typically have many more instruments mapped than the Zendrum's 24 pads...and right out of the box they aren't mapped how you want them. This isn't a criticism of the Zendrum...but rather just a basic point of working with MIDI controllers.

So I quickly realized a couple things:
1) I need to figure out where I want the sounds on the Zendrum to be.
2) I need to figure out which sounds in a given Battery 3 kit I want to map to the Zendrum
(knowing of course that I can save as many different Battery 3 kits as I want)

As someone else here pointed out, it's definitely easiest to stick with Battery 3's existing kits, and simply use the MIDI "Learn" function to map a sound to a Zendrum pad. I realized that this is a little hard to do at first because there end up being duplicate note mappings (e.g. one pad triggers two sounds in Battery 3). So to get around this, I either need to edit the default MIDI note numbers on the Zendrum, or edit the MIDI note numbers in a Battery 3 kit, to give me a "blank slate" so to speak...that I can easily use the "Learn" function to assign sounds.

All this aside, I realized one very important "first task" for any new Zendrummer: you've got to figure out where your hands naturally work best on the pads. Some folks make specific recommendations, but I think this is a highly personal and variable thing.

So in my case, where I am now is this: I unplugged the Zendrum, and I'm just gonna sit and "play" it silently for an hour or so...just to explore various hand and finger positions. While doing this, I get rhythms going without (at first) thinking about what instrument is what---I just tap on the pads. Then, when I find a certain hand/finger position that feels natural and comfortable, then I start thinking about the placement of specific instruments (e.g. kick, snare, etc.)

I know it'll be a neverending process, and it's one I'm really looking forward to!  ;D

Scott
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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2008, 08:52:40 AM »

I whipped out my own Zendrum trigger map last night, just a simple schematic that prints large enough to easily write instrument names, MIDI note numbers, or whatever inside each of the circles. I also labeled each pad with the scheme posted in the Zendrum resources section (which I'm guessing is the "gospel" as far as pad names go?).

If anyone wants to grab this blank map to use, feel free. It's a PDF file and prints on one side (landscape) of an 8.5x11" page. The schematic is oriented so the pads appear as you would look at them wearing the Zendrum.
http://www.shadepine.com/music/zendrum_map.pdf

I'll be updating it over time, and if anyone has any suggestions for improving it, let me know (I can easily/quickly make changes in Illustrator).

Scott
« Last Edit: February 02, 2008, 04:56:39 PM by SWriverstone »
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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2008, 03:57:59 PM »

Here's another handy chart I whipped out for myself—one of those simple things that I've never had over the years...a MIDI note reference chart. In addition to the full chart of 127 notes, I also included references specific to the Zendrum containing 24 notes (C diatonic and chromatic).

http://www.shadepine.com/music/MIDI_note_reference.pdf

This makes it easier for me to edit MIDI note numbers on the Zendrum. The manual hints at a different way of doing it—just advancing the note numbers while listening, and stopping when you hear a sound you like for that pad. Nothing wrong with that, I guess you can call me a control freak, because I like my note numbers to follow a nice diatonic or chromatic scale.  :) (This is just for percussion mapping—if I were to set up a map for melodic playing, it would be totally different!)
Scott
« Last Edit: February 01, 2008, 03:59:48 PM by SWriverstone »
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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2008, 05:00:00 PM »

DAY TWO: Battery 3 is somewhat overwhelming, especially if you're a very eclectic musician who likes and plays many different styles of music from around the world (like I am!). As I thought about setting up a few good Zendrum maps...I began to think holy sh*t—Battery 3 has something like 15 different acoustic drumkits, and most of them have far more than 24 sounds mapped (especially when you take separate righthand/lefthand samples into account). And those are just the acoustic drumkits...I also want to set up maps for electronic kits, a good North Indian percussion kit...a good African kit...a good Latin kit...a good Middle Eastern kit...

So I'm basically looking at thousands of sounds to be whittled down to maybe 150 or so, LOL. I can see this being an advantage of something like BFD, which seems to have far fewer-but-better drumkits to choose from (though I suppose you can agonize over which mic setups to use!).

Of course I don't have to go through the entire Battery 3 library at once...but I do want to start off by creating one good all-purpose drumkit map for the Zendrum...and maybe one or two all-purpose world percussion maps.
« Last Edit: February 02, 2008, 09:44:28 AM by SWriverstone »
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Zennerman1

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2008, 08:02:49 PM »

Battery 3 is somewhat overwhelming, especially if you're a very eclectic musician who likes and plays many different styles of music from around the world (like I am!). As I thought about setting up a few good Zendrum maps...I began to think holy sh*t—Battery 3 has something like 15 different acoustic drumkits, and most of them have far more than 24 sounds mapped (especially when you take separate righthand/lefthand samples into account). And those are just the acoustic drumkits...I also want to set up maps for electronic kits, a good North Indian percussion kit...a good African kit...a good Latin kit...a good Middle Eastern kit...

So I'm basically looking at thousands of sounds to be whittled down to maybe 150 or so, LOL. I can see this being an advantage of something like BFD, which seems to have far fewer-but-better drumkits to choose from (though I suppose you can agonize over which mic setups to use!).

Of course I don't have to go through the entire Battery 3 library at once...but I do want to start off by creating one good all-purpose drumkit map for the Zendrum...and maybe one or two all-purpose world percussion maps.


Hi Scott,
Yes, Battery 3 can be a bit overwhelming. After you use it for a while it becomes easier. Yes, that first drum map can be a little tedious. Once you get a set working for you, it's pretty much cut, copy and paste.
I took one of the kits (pop kit) and just got rid of everything except the basics. Kick, snare, rim, 4 toms, ride, bell, and 2 crashes and hi hat. I mapped those out on my Zendrum where I wanted them. I then used that for my Battery 3 template starting kit. I then started switching sounds and added percussion or whatever I needed for a song. The basic sounds always stay on the same Zendrum triggers then.
I did a similar percussion kit for the Zendrum also.

Thanks for sharing your ideas. This is a good thread you started.

Cheers,
Steve
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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2008, 08:52:48 PM »

I took one of the kits (pop kit) and just got rid of everything except the basics. Kick, snare, rim, 4 toms, ride, bell, and 2 crashes and hi hat.

Ha! After spending an hour listening to all the drumkit variations, I settled on the Pop Kit too! That one definitely just seems to have the most punch and presence of all of them (at least in one convenient kit).

Quote
I mapped those out on my Zendrum where I wanted them. I then used that for my Battery 3 template starting kit. I then started switching sounds and added percussion or whatever I needed for a song. The basic sounds always stay on the same Zendrum triggers then. I did a similar percussion kit for the Zendrum also.


Yep, this is more-or-less what I have in mind as well. I've discovered, for example that the "F3" pad (lower-right large pad on the front face) is for me the perfect kick pad (or equivalent low bass sound), because I can easily play it with the side of my thumb, like a slap bass player would. So I'm guessing even for hand percussion kits, I'll still map the open bass sound (of whatever drum) to that pad.

Quote
Thanks for sharing your ideas. This is a good thread you started.

Sure—I figure if it's useful to anyone (now or in the future) it's worth it!

Scott
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Zennerman1

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2008, 09:33:42 PM »

It also makes it easier to remember what sounds are on what pad. Early on I would get confused and hit the wrong pad. It's pretty embarassing to hit what you think is the bass drum and you get a gong sound. Funny though.   ;D

Steve
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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2008, 10:00:27 AM »

DAY THREE: Alright! I have my first Battery 3 kit ready for the Zendrum. Of course I haven't actually mapped it to the Zendrum yet, but hey—it's a start!

When creating my custom Battery 3 kits, I discovered a very useful thing: the ability to open two separate instances of the Battery 3 application. You can it open twice, and both apps function normally...but there was one minor drawback on my system: both instances of Battery can't function with my audio card. The first open instance worked fine w/audio...but the second instance was "mute." But that didn't really bother me.

The reason this is so handy is clear when you look at the screencap below:



I opened up a first instance of Battery and loaded the kit I wanted to select sounds from. Then I opened a second instance of Battery with a new blank kit. Finally, I added a couple extra grid columns in the blank kit, giving me a total of 24 cells—specifically for the Zendrum. From there, it's simple: just audition sounds in the first instance of Battery...and when you find one you want to use on the Zendrum, just right-click, copy, then right-click on a cell in your blank kit and paste. The end result for me looked like this:



Presto! My first custom Zendrum kit from Battery. (A reminder: when you copy a cell in Battery, all multisamples and parameters from that cell are copied to the new location as well.)

When I first saw Battery, I wondered what the point of the cell/grid layout was? Now I know. It's not obvious at first...but by arranging combinations of sounds in rows or columns, you can quickly mute or solo one or more rows/columns. This has powerful potential, because (for example) you could create 2 or 3 full kits for the Zendrum in a single Battery kit. Make the first kit span rows A-B...and the second kit span rows C-D. Set the MIDI note numbers exactly the same for both kits...and then when you're playing the Zendrum, all it takes is 2 mouse-clicks to solo kit 1 (rows A-B) or kit 2 (rows C-D). This is pretty cool, and helps alleviate the problem of "There are too many great sounds in this Battery kit, and I've only got 24 pads on the Zendrum!"

Here's a view of this approach at work below—notice the lit LED's for rows C and D—that means those two rows are solo'd, while the rest of the kit is mute.



The adventure continues...

Scott

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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #8 on: February 04, 2008, 09:52:42 AM »

Between work, family, and the game yesterday I didn't get much done...but I did sit on the sofa wearing the Zendrum just playing it silently while watching the game, experimenting with different hand and finger positions, still working out what feels most comfortable...and what "reaches" around the instrument are practical for each hand.

I also clicked through and listened, one by one, to the entire collection of Battery 3's electronic/synthetic samples. My head was spinning after that, but I was able to assemble a custom Battery 3 kit (using the method above) that simply acts as a "placeholder" for all my favorite synth kit sounds (I just created a huge 16x8 blank grid, then starting copying my favorite sounds into it.)

Scott
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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2008, 07:37:36 AM »

DAY FOUR: Number of sounds versus playability. That's the dilemma for me over the past couple of days. I've been playing the ZX for a couple days...and I still can't decide between:

a) a different sound on every pad?
b) duplicate (right-left) sounds on multiple pads?


It's a big difference, because being able to use a finger on either hand to play the same sound is a real advantage...compared to having to squeeze two fingers onto one pad...or just not playing 16th-notes on the same sound.

My style of finger/hand playing is much closer to a tabla player's style than a drumset player (though I'm not even close to being a good tabla player!). I'm also heavily influenced by rudimental snare drum (I was a drum corps player for years)...which means I'm all about paradiddles, flams, drags, diddles, etc.. I work these kinds of riffs into my rhythms often. But to play rudiments with your fingers means having the "space" on the instrument to use multiple fingers on one sound.

The HandSonic was easier in this regard, because it required less accuracy (in terms of finger placement). I find the Zendrum requires me to be much more precise, not unlike a piano player. Sure you can just whack at the pads with your whole hand...but again, if you play like I do (lots of diddle-laced rhythms) you can't really whack---you've got to place each note. (Again, this is like playing tablas, where even in the middle of blazing 32nd-note passages, every note is deliberately placed---those guys don't just throw their hands at the drum!)

So...no matter what, I can tell the ZX will take some practice. That's a good thing, because it's been a while since I felt challenged musically. I guess you could say I like practicing (I did it for years learning to be an orchestral percussionist). I'm thinking about developing a series of rhythmic exercises for my fingers, using one hand at a time, as well as both hands (to work on independence). If/when I do, I'll try to post them here (possibly using the notation system elsewhere on the Zendrum site).

Scott
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loosesnare

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2008, 02:44:59 PM »

Interesting tabla comments ...... I play tabla and got my ZX just before Xmas so I'm also experimenting with playing styles. The left hand (baya) fingers are nice and strong and coordinated but I feel quite a 'conflict' when playing my right hand/fingers in a way that goes against the taba strokes that I've spent so long refining. The worst is when breaking the convention of  Te (first finger) and Te (2nd, 3rd, 4th finger) .... playing any of the second Te fingers at the same time as the first finger feels sooooo wrong - and then after a while of playing it that way it then feels weird to go back to tabla playing!

However playing any kind of triplets as 'Te, Te, Ge' feels very natural with perfect dynamics though so it's swings and roundabouts  :)
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timecutter

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2008, 10:49:38 PM »


Another consideration with regard to duplicating sounds on the ZX: you can have a left hand sample under the left hand and a right hand sample under the right hand.  This eliminates machine gunning, potentially sounds more natural.  Several of the Battery 3 kits have right and left handed hits for some of the pieces.  For most of my setups I "duplicate" four or five pads on the ZX. 

Mark

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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2008, 04:33:16 PM »

Hi Everyone:

It's been a few weeks since I last posted. Work has kept me too busy to post here before today...but I've been working with the Zendrum and Battery 3 regularly. I've learned a lot more and come a long way. Here's the latest on what i've done and some observations...

My main goal for the past month has been to get a variety of kits together to cover a wide range of musical and cultural styles. Using the methods I described in earlier posts, I started with existing Battery 3 kits...then selected my favorite sounds and copied them into 24-cell kits for the Zendrum. One problem I encountered early on was MIDI note mapping. Here's the approach I used:

1. First, I assembled the 24 sounds/multisamples I wanted to use for a given kit.

2. Then, I mapped the Zendrum's 24 triggers to the lowest possible MIDI notes (C0, C#0, D0...etc...up through B1). Once I established that note mapping for the Zendrum, I'll never change it---easier (for me) to "fix" the Zendrum's note mapping and just work with the software.

3. Finally, using my MIDI keyboard, I remapped the MIDI notes in each of my custom Battery 3 kits to the highest possible MIDI notes (C8 down to C#6). This ensured there is no overlap in MIDI note mapping between the Zendrum and my custom Battery kits---giving me a "blank slate" to experiment with various note mappings.

4. I saved the resulting Battery kits with the tag "unmapped" on the filename (e.g. "North_Indian_01_unmapped.kt3"). From this point, it was easy to open one of my "blank slate" unmapped kits and start assigning sounds to Zendrum triggers using the MIDI "Learn" function. Sometimes I'd get the mapping to where I liked it pretty quickly...and if I didn't like a certain mapping, I just wouldn't save the file, then reopen it to take me back to a blank slate again.

---
Using this technique, I created a variety of awesome-sounding kits, including...
Javanese Gamelan (with authentic Slendro tuning and matched interference beats!) - for this kit, I used the fantastic Roland HandSonic samples for the bonang, gender, and saron...as well as the HandSonic's Thai gong, which is a "must" in my book. (I recorded high-quality HandSonic samples before selling mine!)
North Indian percussion - All Battery 3 samples for tabla, ghatam, finger cymbals and riq...plus the HandSonic's Thai gong
Middle Eastern percussion - All Battery 3's awesome samples of darabuka, doumbek, tar, and riq
African Balafon  - using a sample set I recorded a couple years ago from a friend's excellent balafon from Cameroon
East Asian percussion - using all Battery 3's awesome taiko and lion drum samples, as well as beautiful gong sounds
Electronic drumkit - an all-purpose synth kit for general dance and electronica
Acoustic drumkit - based on Battery 3's excellent "Pop Kit."

This took several days of intense listening to all the Battery 3 samples and choosing the best ones for each kit (and of course I always had to leave a few out I really liked, but I'll eventually create alternate versions of each kit with the sounds I couldn't use in the first one).

Then I took several more days just playing each kit...this was the fun part!  ;D It's where I really began to appreciate the power of the Zendrum and what you can do with it. For example, I quickly discovered that the Zendrum (in my opinion) offers MUCH more possibility than the HandSonic in terms of playing combinations of multiple sounds at once, since you can touch triggers with any part of your fingers, hand, or forearm. I found that in the middle of a jam or a groove, I'd stumble across some amazing "embellishments" to the groove just by bringing in a little forearm or letting my fingers get a little "sloppy" and strike two pads at once. I'm sure longtime Zendrummers know all about this...but the possibilities are staggering to me...very much like playing a piano.

My latest fun experiments have involved saving out duplicates of the kits above with effects applied---reverb and delay. I've always love playing with delays, and it's a real challenge to do it, because it's basically like playing with a metronome---if you get sloppy with your time while a delay's running it's obvious!

---
So far, my only minor complaint with the Zendrum (which might be just as much an issue with Battery 3) are the velocity curves. As a rule from years of working with MIDI, I've found that with almost any kind of controller, the only usable velocity range is from approximately 40 or 50 up to 115. I've never found a controller that let you effortlessly alternate between velocities of 20 and 40, for example (e.g. those velocities are usually too far below the general noise floor to be useful).

I've spent lots of time trying out the different Zendrum velocity curves...as well as spent time tweaking Battery 3's limited velocity curve control. More frustrating is that velocity varies a lot from kit to kit and sample to sample---it's just the nature of the sounds. In other words, a "90" on a china boy cymbal isn't going to be the same loudness as a "90" on the kick drum (sort of obvious I know, but it's just to point out the tweakking you have to do to get an authentic sound and feel).

Having played acoustic percussion instruments for 20+ years, I can say that as great as the Zendrum and other MIDI controllers are...they're still not "there" yet as far as velocity granularity and control. I can produce a far greater range of loudness on a real marimba or real doumbek, for example. But hey, that's ok---it's the nature of MIDI and we just work with it, right?  :)

---
In closing, I'm happy to report that as a primary sound source, my HP laptop setup (Pavilion zd7030, Pentium 4, 3.0ghz, 2GB RAM, Echo Indigo PCMCIA audio card, MOTU FastLane MIDI interface) has been 100% reliable. I've spent hour after hour wailing away with Battery 3 kits and the Zendrum, and not once have I gotten stuck notes, dropouts, computer crashes---it's been flawless! Based on this, I'd say I'm completely comfortable using my laptop for performances...

...except...I have to admit that if my laptop ever died for any reason during a performance...that's it: GAME OVER! LOL so obviously the ideal setup is to get a second laptop set up identically to the first.

I'm sure many will say "Get a MUSE Receptor!!!" My response to that is...I'd love to! But honestly, as great as the Receptors are...I can buy two highly capable laptops (and therefore have a fully redundant setup) for the price of a single Receptor. Those things are just too damned expensive in my book. and from what I've seen, to really work with sounds in the Receptor, you still need (at least initially) a monitor and a mouse and/or keyboard...so at that point, I'd rather just have a laptop. But I'm open to arguments for why I'd be better off with one Receptor than 2 identical laptops!  :D

Scott
« Last Edit: March 04, 2008, 04:35:37 PM by SWriverstone »
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Geosphere

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2008, 08:23:52 PM »

2. Then, I mapped the Zendrum's 24 triggers to the lowest possible MIDI notes (C0, C#0, D0...etc...up through B1). Once I established that note mapping for the Zendrum, I'll never change it---easier (for me) to "fix" the Zendrum's note mapping and just work with the software.

Although I understand exactly why you did this, I would strongly caution other users against this practice.  This "mates" your Zendrum to your software.  You will not be able to use it on another sound generator without reprogramming that module/software.  Keeping notes to the MIDI standard of Acoustic Bass drum at note 35 means that if something happens and either you upgrade or switch to another module, you simply plug in the Zendrum and it is still the acoustic bass drum.  This allows chaining and switching of modules (as well as borrowing and having backup equipment) by customizing the Zen to the standard.

While there are many reasons to drastically change the note mapping in the module, once you do it, you ALWAYS have to do it, and can't simply drag the Zen into a music store to test drive something new.  The 45 standard MIDI drum notes are held pretty much on 90% of the equipment out there just so it is easier to switch hardware/software.

Again, everything is customizable and has reasons.  But this is very much like having a car that runs on hydrogen.  Great if you always have hydrogen available where you travel.
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SWriverstone

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Re: Mastering the Zendrum: The Process
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2008, 09:09:11 PM »

That's a good point Geosphere...and I'd certainly have followed your advice if the majority of my Zendrumming was traditional drumkit playing (which I suspect it is for most Zendrummers).

In my case, almost none of my Zendrumming is a traditional kit. Almost all of it is on kits like the Javanese gamelan or North Indian tablas and ghatam, which have absolutely nothing in common with the GM spec. It just seems pointless (speaking for my case only) to pretend that the hi-hat is a bonang at C#...or that the kick drum is a Thai gong. When your entire instrument set is radically different from the kick/snare/tom/conga/ride cymbal paradigm...what's the point in maintaining that? (In fact, I dislike even using the word "kit" because that's another holdover from the traditional drumkit paradigm. "Ensemble" would probably be a better word in my case...)

Put differently, I would never plug my Zendrum into a different box, because there would be nothing on that box I'd likely want to play. I'm certainly not bashing the use of traditional drumkits on the Zendrum...just saying it's not what I do.  I'm also not faulting other hardware/software; between Battery 3's enormous range of world percussion samples...and it being an open-ended sampler, it will serve any/all my needs as long as there is a computer (and OS) to run it.

But for traditional drumkit and Latin percussion...absolutely---stick with the GM spec!  :)

Scott
« Last Edit: March 04, 2008, 09:15:04 PM by SWriverstone »
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