Technology for the Modern Worship Drummer

Zachary Solomon For Drummers, Musicianship 16 Comments

Ever since I was a kid learning to play drums, I’ve been attracted to the intersection of technology and music. Technology concerns itself with the newest inventions and drums are one of the oldest instruments known to man; there’s something beautiful about that dichotomy.

My goal for this blog post is to provide perspective. Perspective allows you to  understand your context and discern how you fit in. Before geeking out over all the details of how electronic technology can enhance a drum sound and transform a worship experience, let’s get perspective through a brief history of the drums.

Dating back to c. 6000 BC, Neolithic cultures communicated by hitting alligator skins stretched over large wooden hand drums. The use of drums spread throughout Asia, Africa, and the Mediterranean, and were used during war to communicate over long distances. In the 1300’s, we got tired of hitting things with our hands and created the drum stick (honestly, praise the Lord). By the 1800’s, during the Classical era of music, new forms of orchestral drums came into play like the snare, triangle, gong, marimba, and tambourine. Once the 1900’s hit, the drum kit as we know it today began to take form with foot pedals, cymbals, and Mylar heads.

Now here we are, in the 21st century, with 512 GB iPhones and cars that can drive themselves. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the way we play drums.

As we dig into the details, there are three main ways drummers can incorporate electronics in worship, and I’m not talking about the Roland kits from the 90’s. I’ll start by explaining each of the three and then give you a rundown of my personal setup at the end.


I’ll be brief here since we already have a few blog posts about running tracks. Using a click, tracks, and in-ear monitors can tighten up your band to increase the level of excellence and professionalism of your worship team. At Austin Stone Worship, we typically have drummers run tracks. Since drumming inherently brings form and dynamic to a song, it feels natural to have the drummer orchestrate transitions between the end and beginning of songs.

There are two main programs we use to run tracks live: Ableton Live and Playback. Ableton is a powerful music processing app that can basically do anything you throw at it. If you’re new to this program, we have a blog on Running Click and Tracks with Ableton Live.

Personally, I use Playback to run tracks. It’s a mobile app made by that works on your iPhone or iPad. I prefer Playback because it was designed specifically for worship leaders, so it’s intuitive and doesn’t take an engineering degree to figure it out. Playback has a lot of useful features that allow me to program automatic song transitions, crossfade live into another song, or move to different song sections on the fly. As a drummer who occasionally plays with other worship leaders, I know that having an up-to-date tracks rig can elevate and modernize your sound.


One-shot samples are not only really effective for creating textures and layers in drum grooves, but you can also use them for alternate snare or kick sounds to lay down a groove. When playing with Jarryd Foreman, the band loves incorporating these sounds into verses or breakdowns to bring a fresh sound and keep up the energy. A verbed-out tambourine, sub drop, and 808 kick are the ones I use the most. If you’re looking for samples, That Sound has a free pack of 500 samples to get you started. For most worship songs a catalog of 15-20 sounds should fit your needs. If your worship team records your own songs, ask your engineer to export all the individual drum sounds so that you can create song-specific kits.

To give you an example of how I would use these, listen to verse two of Austin Stone Worship’s song “In The Hands of Christ My King.” You could surely play the song without the drum samples, but incorporating them fills space that otherwise would be left empty.

Once you have some samples to use, you’ll need a drum pad. There are lots of options on the market. Here are four at different price points and a brief review of each one:

Roland SPD-SX ($699)

  • Pads: 9
  • Internal Memory: 4GB
  • Trigger Inputs: 4
  • Foot Switch Inputs: 2
  • Built-In Sounds: 140
  • Import: Flash Drive or Wave Manager Software through USB.
  • Pros: Great interface navigation. Excellent dynamic range. Built-in effects.
  • Cons: Price.


Yamaha DTX Multi 12 ($599)

  • Pads: 12
  • Internal Memory: 64MB
  • Trigger Inputs: 5
  • Foot Switch Inputs: 0
  • Built-In Sounds: 1000+
  • Import: Flash Drive
  • Pros: Good dynamic range. Lots of built-in sounds. Mobile app available.
  • Cons: Complicated interface navigation. Low internal memory.


Alesis Sample Pad Pro ($249)

  • Pads: 8
  • Internal Memory: None
  • Trigger Inputs: 2
  • Foot Switch Inputs: 0
  • Built-In Sounds: 200
  • Import: 32GB SD cards
  • Pros: Price. 4-Pad model available.
  • Cons: Less edit and navigation options available. No internal memory.

Roland SPD-One ($189)

  • Pads: 1
  • Internal Memory: 4GB
  • Trigger Inputs: 0
  • Foot Switch Inputs: 0
  • Built-In Sounds: 22
  • Import: Computer from USB cable.
  • Pros: Can be used as a stomp box. Low profile. Built-in effects.
  • Cons: Only 12 kits.


Once you have a drum pad, there are 2 ways to play the sounds live. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. You can choose either to store the samples on the internal storage of your drum pad or to use your drum pad as a MIDI controller and run drum samples through Ableton Live.

1. Storing Samples in the Drum Pad

Personally, I use the Roland SPD-SX with sounds stored on the internal memory. Since I often rely on my SPD-SX for samples and for triggering my kick and snare (which we’ll get into in the next section), I like having the peace of mind that all my sampled drum sounds are coming from a dedicated hardware unit instead of a laptop running Ableton. Since I use Playback to run tracks, I like to know that if something were to happen to my tracks rig, my sampled drum sounds keep running.

2. Storing Samples in Ableton Live

An alternative method is to use Ableton Live to store your samples. It’s a great option if you already use Ableton for tracks and are on a budget for a drum pad. When you run samples through Ableton, you are essentially using your drum pad as a MIDI controller, which means that any drum pad will do the job. This option also allows you to easily change kits/sounds mid-song or switch between kits immediately when you launch a new scene in Ableton by sending MIDI notes to your drum pad. Philip Ellis, drummer for Aaron Ivey, has created a great video about how he uses drum tracks in Ableton for his electronic sounds.

Whether you store your sounds on your drum pad or create drum racks in Ableton, my advice is to find a solution that works for you and gives you the most confidence when you perform.


In addition to using one-shot samples from my SPD-SX, I also have the ability to run a kick and snare trigger on my acoustic drums, along with an external bar and kick triggers to expand my SPD-SX. Triggering the kick and snare allows me to send FOH a clean kick and snare sample that they can use for mixing the mains or in-ears. If you’ve never used a kick trigger sample instead of a kick microphone in your in-ear mix, you’ve been missing out. My stock sounds are a natural/dry kick sample and a slightly verbed deep snare sound. If I’m playing Hillsong Young & Free or something more upbeat, then I’ll use an electronic kick and a distorted snare sound. You can also use triggers on the toms so that FOH can use them to open and close the gates.

Roland has great triggers for the price. They have amazing dynamic range and sensitivity and they connect seamlessly with my SPD-SX. I use the Dual Trigger on the snare, the Kick Trigger on my kick, and the Single Triggers on the toms.

Roland Kick Trigger RT-30K ($89)


Roland Dual Trigger RT-30HR ($89)


Roland Single Trigger RT-30H ($89)


Roland BT-1 Bar Trigger ($110)


Roland KD-7 Kick Trigger ($150)


What do I use?

Let’s be honest, sometimes you just want to copy and paste. Now that I’ve given you a lot of options for how you can incorporate tracks, samples, and triggers into your drum setup, I’ll show you what I use week-to-week. It’s important to note that I don’t use everything all the time. For instance, in the picture above I wasn’t using the BT-1 Bar Trigger or any of the acoustic drum triggers. If I’m setting up a house kit for a large church auditorium or I’m at a week-long camp with a great FOH console, then I feel comfortable sending more lines and giving the engineer more control. Here’s a list of everything I would use for a full setup:

iPad Pro w/ Playback
iConnectivity PlayAudio 12 Interface
Balanced TRS to XLR Snake
Arturia MiniLab MIDI Controller
Roland SPD-SX
Roland BT-1 Bar Trigger
(2) Roland RT-30H Single Trigger
Roland RT-30HR Dual Trigger
Roland RT-30K Kick Trigger
Roland KD-7 Kick Trigger
(2) Hosa 1/4” Splitter

I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple and because I travel so often with my kit, I like to bring the least amount of equipment with the most functionality. My motto tends to be, “Everything you need and nothing you don’t.” I only use one cymbal stand to mount my SPD-SX, MIDI controller, and iPad. I call this my “mission control center” for anything relating to tracks, samples, or triggers.

I attach my iPad to the bottom of the stand and run a USB cable to the audio interface, a USB cable to the MIDI controller, and a lightning cable to keep the iPad charged. Playback instantly recognizes my interface, the iConnectivity PlayAudio 12, and remembers my bus routing from the last time I used it. Out of the interface, I run a balanced TRS to XLR snake so you can plug right into your stage snake and not have to use a bunch of DIs.

Because Playback is running on my iPad, I don’t like to touch a screen while I play or transition between songs, so I use an Arturia MiniLab MIDI controller. I assign functions for starting and stopping tracks, navigating song sections, looping song sections, turning off and on the click, turning off and on the guide, and whatever else I need to control. I mount the MIDI controller above the iPad on my cymbal stand.

Above everything is my SPD-SX, which has built-in samples stored on the internal memory. I have three kits labeled “WRSHP 01,” WRSHP 02,” and WRSHP 03,” as well as a few song-specific kits. I like to think of the kits as increasing in intensity from WRSHP 01 to WRSHP 02 to WRSHP 03. “WRSHP 01” is my kit for an acoustic/stripped set. It has some organic tambourines, claps, snares, and kicks. “WRSHP 02” is my go-to Sunday morning kit. It has a tight electronic kick and snare, a verbed-out electronic kick and snare, a glitchy/tight hi-hat, verbed-out tambourine, and a sub drop. Finally, “WRSHP 03” is perfect for youth events or summer camps where I need some punchy electronic sounds. It has some overdriven electronic kicks and snares, tambourines, claps, snaps, and sub drops.

Here’s a picture of my setup with labels where each trigger would go:

Here’s an up-close picture of the KD-7 Kick Trigger:

I use the RT-30HR Dual Trigger on my snare, BT-1 Bar Trigger mounted on top of my kick, RT-30K Kick Trigger on the rim of my kick, the KD-7 Trigger right next to my kick, and the RT-30H Single Triggers on my toms. The cables from the tom triggers go straight to FOH for them to control gates. The kick triggers, snare trigger, and bar trigger all run into the back of my SPD-SX into the “Trig In” ports. The SPD-SX has two stereo inputs for triggers, but I treat every trigger as a mono input so that I can use all four triggers simultaneously. I run a short Hosa 1/4” Splitter out of both “Trig In” ports, so I have four female 1/4” inputs. Input 1 is the RT-30K Kick Trigger, Input 2 is the KD-7 Kick Trigger, Input 3 is the RT-30HR Snare Trigger, and Input 4 is the BT-1 Bar Trigger. Then, when I go into the SPD-SX Wave Manager software on my computer, I can drag and drop files into each “EXT Trig” patch. At this point each trigger is linked to the respective sound sample I assigned it in the software.

When you start using this many triggers, the SPD-SX really begins to prove its value. I can send the kick trigger and snare trigger out separate outputs so that FOH can blend them into the live mix separately from each other and separately from my other one-shot samples.


By combining tracks, samples, and triggers, I have a flexible setup that can be adapted to the live situation in which I’m playing. Whether it’s a stripped-back worship night or a hyped summer camp, I hope this post gives you the resources you need to achieve a 21st-century drum sound.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below and hear about how you’re using tracks, samples, or triggers in your drum setup!

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Comments 16

      1. It looks like this adaptor only has one USB port — where do you get the other usb hooked up?

        Just trying to copy this. It’s awesome!

  1. Super helpful post! After reading this, I just purchased an SPD-SX for our church. I’m setting it up, and have got pretty much everything I need, but can’t find a good verby tambourine sample anywhere, including the free samples from That Sound. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    1. Hey, Rich!

      Glad to hear you picked up an SPD-SX, great investment! Verbed tambo sounds are hard to find. I’ve attached a Dropbox link where you can download a ZIP file of some of my personal sounds I’ve created and use consistently. You should find a tambo sound in here:

      I should also not that I turn off dynamics on the tambo sound on the SPD so it’s the same volume every hit (personal preference).

      Feel free to reach back out with any questions!

      1. Hey Zach! Thanks so much for the TamboVerb sample. I have been looking everywhere for the perfect sound for years and thanks to you I have it! I have been using an Alesis SP4 and I love it but I haven’t always been able to get the dynamic controls right. Have you worked with this pad before and if so were you able to get the samples to stop clipping in the mains? Thanks brother!

        1. Hey, Caleb! So glad you’re loving that tambo sound, it is definitely one of my favorites. I have never used the SP4, but I know there’s a “sensitivity” adjustment on it. So I would adjust the tambo sound’s sensitivity to 1 or 2 out of 8 (or 7 or 8 out of 8, whichever one means no sensitivity).

          As more clipping in the mains, that could be a number of things. We know the sample isn’t clipping, so I would work with your FOH engineer to see how much volume you need to send him. I would start with your overall volume at 50% and have FOH dial in the gain on that channel. Go through all the sounds to make sure nothing is clipping on that channel. The tambo and sub drops are the most notorious for this. If the sound sample is clean, and your DI and cables are working properly, then it most likely is an issue of gain structure at FOH.

          Let me know if this helps you out!

  2. Hello,

    I’d like to know, if I can, how does the setup with triggers used as gates works. You say it’s connected directly to FOH, but than what? How is that possible to work? How can you setup something like that at your FOH desk? Like some sidechain or what? 😀

    Thanks for the reply !

  3. Hello Austin
    Thank you for this helpful. Its inspiring to see the settings of others:-)

    How did you mount the midi controller to the spd stand?


    1. Hey, Johannes!

      For this particular kit I use stock Roland mount right onto the tom mount pole on the kick. On other kits that don’t have this I just use a cymbal stand and get it as close to the kick as I can.

  4. Hi there! This page is super helpful!
    I had a quick question about outputs for the spd-sx:
    I want to send everything to the FOH but How do I assign the kick trigger to an output, the snare trigger to an output and then still have an output for the actual pads on the spd? That way the FOH has a kick channel, snare channel and then the pads channel?

    1. Hey, Kyle.

      You’ll want to use the “sub outs” on the SPD-SX. In addition the main outs this gives you 4 individual outputs to take advantage of. In the SPD you can change the output of each pad and trigger individually. You can assign to either go out the main out, the sub outs, or both. So, I would rock this output setup:

      Main Out L/R: Pads
      Sub Out L: Kick Trigger (only routed out Sub Out L, not main outs)
      Sub Out R: Snare Trigger (only routed out Sub Out R, not main outs)

      Hope this helps!

      1. Yes that’s awesome! Thanks. If I wanted to do Kick, Snare, Tom and Pad, am I able to route the Tom to say, Main Out L and the pads to just Main out R?

  5. hello!hey i just want to ask what effects on drum pad did you use for intro for set apart and let it be known ?

  6. This is great info — we bought most of the gear we need to trigger drums earlier in the year and I’ve had trouble integrating in a way that works well week to week for all our drummers and audio engineers. A couple questions for you:

    1. When sending the triggered samples out to FOH, what does your routing look like? I’d like to have separate outputs for kick, snare, rack and floor, but most of the samples I come across have a stereo image with reverb, so sending them out of the SPD-SX in mono sounds pretty awkward to my ears. It doesn’t present so much of a problem with kick and toms.

    2. I’m not a drummer, and we don’t have any drummers on staff that have the time or resources to build kits for the SPD-SX. do you or any companies/drummers sell SPD-SX templates with samples and velocity settings, etc that we could use as a starting point? we often buy guitar and keys patches, or tracks for our sets, but I haven’t seen the same market for SPD-SX presets. I’ve downloaded your sounds but I know there are more internal settings that need to be tweaked, and it would help me a lot to be in the ballpark from the get.

    3. Do you ever use Playback’s MIDI functionality to switch kits on your SPD?

    4. Can you drop links for the stands you’re using for the iPad and keyboard mounted below your SPD-SX?

    Thanks in advance!

    p.s. if Jason Ryan still plays at AS, tell him The Bayou misses him.

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