Melodic drumming story on NPR Music


Platinum Member
A lot of what is being discussed here is pretty 101 and is meant for non-musos. But I think this NPR Music clip deserves a little discussion, for two reasons:

1) I thought Allison Miller did a really good job of explaining the concepts and demonstrating them without watering it down, getting too technical, or appearing like the stereotypical snooty jazz player (apologies to the jazz guys in here).
2) The composition she plays later on in the clip with the triggered notes allowing pitch bend, etc. - obviously she's doing that on mesh heads, but I haven't seen that range of expression available with electronics before, even on the flagship e-kits. Your thoughts?


Platinum Member
Your thoughts?
My thoughts are that this is pretty freaking cool! Thanks for sharing it Al.

Regarding your reasons:

1. I agree. Well done for a brief video meant to engage a general audience.

2. The Sensory Percussion system looks like the kind of thing that could make me disappear into my practice room for days. I'd like to hear from people who have used/are using it, especially if they've incorporated it into their gigging life in an additive, non-gimmicky way.

The subject of the video also has me thinking about how divvying up musical expression into discrete categories (rhythm, melody, harmony, etc.) isn't always a useful thing.


Platinum Member
That's a good overview of the techniques for doing quasi-tonal melodies on the drums, so people can work up whatever little schticky thing with it. That electronic thing doesn't do anything for me. That's really a different instrument... and not a very good one, if you're just programming a pentatonic scale in one key in it. That's an extremely limited capability if you're actually playing tunes with people. I would just add a mallet percussion midi controller to my set up, so I have a fully capable real melodic instrument with a familiar layout.

Personally, if I want to say something tonally, I write it, and make the other musicians play it, and I play the drums.

Jeff Almeyda

Senior Consultant
I tend to side with Todd on this one.

First of all, they didn't even mention Max Roach. It's not as if Allison came up with this idea.

The tech is not new. The Mandala electronic pad, which Danny Carey of Tool uses, is also velocity and location sensitive. All these do is map different midi notes to those actions/locations. It's limited. A mallet controller is better.

Lastly, yes you can make some rudimentary melodies on the drums but so what? The limited note selection and lack of sustain and limits you both melodically and rhythmically. It sounds strange saying that the drums are rhythmically limited but in this case they are. They can not play a whole note tied to the next measure the way a guitar can because there is no sustain.

She's a good player but I can't see jazz guys lining up to use this.


Platinum Member
Another avenue of expression.
Pitch/timbre changes on acoustic drums and hi hats from pressure and position are pretty basic techniques.
I've used that almost right from the start of my learning,
but never tried to use it to follow along with melodies.

To try to use it to play melodies seems a bit gimmicky to me though.
And the electronic aspect of it takes further steps towards artificial complication.
I agree that some type of mallet controller would do a better job of hitting specific pitches.
Acoustic vibes, marimba, even a glockenspiel would be more appropriate if you're trying to play melodies.
Still, it looks like fun to mess with it:


Senior Member
I really dug the presentation of this story. Allison's drumming illustrates the concepts quite clearly and the integration of Sensory Percussion helped with a more literal presentation.

The power users with this technology are doing some really impressive things. My two favorite videos showcasing SP are this performance by Marcus Gilmore: and this performance by Ian Chang that makes use of the MIDI output for lighting control alongside the samples:

I don't see this technology being used the same was as a traditional tonal instrument but I love the added flexibility and the more musical approach to accessing samples than a traditional trigger. If you've message around with the Sensory Percussion App you know how powerful this stuff is.