I have taught guitar and drums for several years. Here is some advice for getting young people started in music.
A Music Teacher's Choice
After years of teaching guitar, drums, and bass to youngsters, I have some strong opinions about how parents should choose an instrument for their child. For drummers, I seldom recommend that they begin with a traditional acoustic set. A full drum set is big, expensive, and above all loud—many parents don't realize until it's too late just how even a pint-sized player can drown out all conversation in an entire house. It's much better, safer, and cheaper to begin with a basic electronic set.
The unit pictured above, the PylePro table-top electronic kit, has several advantages:
- Sounds and plays like an actual drum set at a fraction of the size.
- Play the drums to pre-recorded drum kits and songs or record your own.
- Connect to your computer using the USB cable so it will function as a MIDI controller for your favorite computer software.
- Powered by the included AC adaptor or you can go wireless and run on 6 "C" size batteries. Take your drum kit wherever you go!
- Play for a crowd or take advantage of the headphone jack and plug in your headphones for a personal drumming session.
- Edit and record: control center comes equipped with an LCD screen and a ton of audio configuration controls that will allow you to create some truly unique and customizable music.
The best part as far as I'm concerned is that your beginner can bash away to their heart's content, and you'll still be able to carry on a conversation in the same room.
My Experience With Instruments and Lessons for Kids
My experience with children's musical instruments and lessons goes back many decades. Over the years I have had plenty of first-hand experience with instruments of all kinds and students of all ages.
- 30 years as a professional musician.
- Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist; I have played and recorded guitar, bass, drums, and keys.
- 30 years of experience teaching kids as young as 7 on guitar, mandolin, bass, drums, and keyboards.
- 15 years of experience as rock band coach with kids as young as 8, including stage performance, arranging, and gear.
- A songwriter with 14 complete albums to my credit.
- Worked as a jingle writer and studio musician; clients include Budweiser, 7-11, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and many more.
Through studies of music and the brain, we've learned to map out specific areas involved in emotion, timing, and perception - and production of sequences. They've told us how the brain deals with patterns and how it completes them when there's misinformation.
— Daniel Levitin
How Much Should a Starter Electronic Drum Set Cost?
The short answer: A good electronic drum set for a beginner or young player should cost between $200 and $300. Less than that, and it's probably either just a toy or a really cheaply made instrument with poor customer service. More than that, and you're getting into the next-level sets, those intended for more serious, established players.
Electronic drum sets are a standard feature of many recording studios and more than a few bands. High-end electronic drums, which typically come with advanced recording and sampling interfaces, can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, we're not talking about those models here—a good, durable starter set that has basic features costs much less and is relatively easy to find. But you have to be a little careful since some electronic drum sets are little more than toys and will come apart with any kind of sustained use.
An Excellent Next-Level Electronic Drum Set for a Beginner
One manufacturer that I have had good experiences with is Alesis. Alesis makes some of the best-known and most-used electronic sets in the world. There is one affordable Alesis set that I have found to be just about perfect for my students, and it has an excellent confluence of quality, features, and price.
The Alesis DM6
I recently recommended this excellent and affordable Alesis electronic drum set to a high school rock band that I'm coaching. The band was just getting started and was having trouble finding a place to play where they wouldn't have constant noise complaints. The complaints were almost entirely due to the drums, as they almost always are, in my experience. You can't really turn down the drums—they're just loud.
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The Alesis kit has professional features, and in my experience, Alesis has both top-notch quality and great customer service. Here are some features:
- Realistic-feeling full electronic drum set.
- Everything you need to get started.
- Headphone and amplifier outputs to practice quietly or jam out live.
- USB-MIDI output for sending MIDI data to virtual instruments & software on your computer.
- Top-notch drum, cymbal, and percussion sounds.
- Includes kick, snare, tom, cymbals and a hi-hat pad, kick pedal & hi-hat controller.
Key Considerations: An Overview
Here is an overview of some things to consider when buying an electronic drum set for a child.
Money: How much do you have to spend? A good beginning electronic drum set doesn't have to cost a lot—there are really good options out there for under $300.
Age: How old is your child? For very young children, under the age of six or seven, you can easily find a "toy" electronic set that they can bash away on to their heart's content. Older children are more likely to take their instrument seriously and practice every day. For them, a more "adult" electronic drum set is appropriate, and, in some cases, necessary.
Lessons: You need to consider how your child is going to actually learn to play the instrument. Do you have someone to give your child lessons? Like many music keyboards for young people that include a "tutor mode," some electronic drum sets have a feature that serves as a kind of lesson set for beginners. I honestly don't know if this is effective or not since I have yet to encounter a student who actually makes use of the feature. In any case, the more serious you and your child get about their instrument, the more appropriate it is to consider connecting with an actual human for regular lessons. A good teacher can change a child's life!
Volume: This is usually more of an issue with non-electronic drums than anything else, but I have seen students with potential undone by their parent's intolerance for noise in their house. Fortunately, this is the exact issue electronic drums can address. Since the only person who can really hear them is the one wearing the headphones, noise is really not a problem. The people not wearing headphones only hear a soft click or thud from the stick hitting the soft rubber pad of the drum.
I have a drum set in my dressing room. I play drums to relax and have some fun.
— Queen Latifah
The Versatility of a Good Electronic Drum Set
One of the coolest things about this kind of drum set is the power of digital sampling. These kits contain hundreds of drum and cymbal sounds, including full kits that sound exactly like classic drum kits from all of rock history. Add in the recording features, and the connectivity to your laptop, iPad, or other devices, and you have a truly impressive instrument.
From the manufacturer: "The Alesis DM6 USB Kit brings the best of Alesis’ 20 years of experience in professional electronic-percussion gear to the aspiring musician in need of a versatile drum set. The DM6 module features an internal collection with 108 quality drum, cymbal, and percussion sounds. You can edit and save your drum kits for custom sounds using 10 presets and 5 custom slots... You can also connect your smart device or CD player through the DM6’s stereo input jack to play along to your favorite songs. This five-piece kit gets you started on a dual-zone snare pad for two-sound compatibility. The DM6 USB Kit also comes with three tom pads, an upright kick-drum pad, and hi-hat, crash, and ride cymbal pads. It even comes with an Alesis bass drum pedal and the kick pad is compatible with any single or double bass drum pedal for your personal feel."
How Big Should a Starting Electronic Drum Set Be?
Drum sets come in many different sizes, from "baby" all the way up to full-sized adult kits. So which one is the right choice for your child?
If you have a child younger than 12 who has not yet begun to grow the long arms and big hands of adolescence, then you should consider a drum set designed for younger players. These are not difficult to find, and if you are having trouble it's also possible to move and adjust the drums and hardware so they're within reach of the young player.
In general, a drum set with a kick drum that's 12" is good for very young children, and a set with an16" to 18" kick drum is well-suited for kids under twelve. Once they get their growth, a full sized kit can be adapted to work for their size.
Ear protection is a major issue with some instruments, especially regular drums. For these instruments, I have always insisted that my students -- and that includes my own kids—always wear hearing protection in the form of headphones. I have had drum students as young as eight years old who could REALLY hit the drums and definitely needed ear protection.
Electronic drums, however, present the opposite problem—you can only hear the drums through the headphones that are plugged into the kit. It's necessary, therefore, to wear headphones when playing. The problem is that it's possible to turn those headphones up pretty loud. When your child starts playing his or her electronic drum kit, it's important o set some very firm rules about headphone volume. And, as you know, kids love to edge around rules, so it's wise to periodically check in on just how loud they have those headphones set. Having them wear headphones might buy you a little peace and quiet, but they can also pipe high-volume sounds right into your child's ears.
Music is love, love is music, music is life, and I love my life. Thank you and good night.
— A. J. McLean
If you're buying an electronic drum set for a child or beginning player, then you'll need to consider getting them lessons of some kind. Your solution will depend on several factors, many of them specific to your family or your children. In general, a good drum teacher will cost about $50 an hour; if you have two kids in one family taking lessons, you may be able to arrange a package deal. I used to charge $60 an hour for music lessons, and never had a shortage of students, but I was a bit more experienced than other teachers in terms of rock and roll and recording experience.
Many electronic drum sets appropriate for kids have a lesson or tutorial mode that can get things started. However, I have not had great experiences with these lessons modes, beyond dexterity drills and some basic beats. For some young children, it's simply not exciting or interesting enough. A good drum teacher can get your child started on actual beats and actual songs, which in my experience really increases buy-in.
The following sources were consulted for this guide: