How do Drum Triggers Work?

A drum trigger is an electronic sensor that you can attach to any acoustic drum turning it into an electronic drum pad. You then plug into an electronic drum module and it enables you to pretty much make your drums sound like whatever you want.

Triggering electronics from acoustic drums is a practice that has been around for more than 20 years now. The concept behind it is rather simple. A drum trigger is best described as a microphone. It works by picking up the sound of an acoustic drum, when it is hit on the head and then sends this audio to the source. The source is then made to play a sound by a trigger interface that is usually either in the box or outside the box.

The drum trigger and acoustic drum combination, simply takes the place of an electric drum pad. They both work to trigger an additional electronic sound.

This article lays out the basics on drum triggering and how it works but first, let us go through the basics of a trigger set up.

A basic drum trigger set up

The most basic drum trigger set up contains three items, namely:

  • The drum
  • The trigger mounted on the drum
  • The trigger interface

The trigger interface consists of two different types and they have the same purpose which is to convert a trigger pulse into MIDI information. The two types include:

  1. Drum modules- They have sounds on board
  2. Trigger-to-MIDI converters- They do not have sounds on board

If you own an electric drum set, it is highly likely that it has a drum module which functions as a trigger interface. This is an advantage for you since the most expensive part of a drum trigger set up has already been taken care of. Examples of these drum sets are:

Alexis D4 or DM5
Yamaha DTXtreme
Roland TD-5
Roland TD-6, TD-8 and TD-10


However, if you do not any kind trigger interface, between the Drum module and Trigger-to-MIDI converter, I suggest buying the drum module. This is because it already contains the sounds you will trigger. A Trigger-to-MIDI converter does not have these sounds on board.

How Drum Triggers work

To begin with, triggers sense vibration from any of these three places:

  • Directly from the head
  • From the rim
  • From the drum shell

Drum triggers use the Piezo crystal technology.  This technology isn’t something we are not familiar with. If anything it is a part of our everyday life. It is any piece of an electronic item that beeps, for example, a microwave. A microwave uses a Piezo crystal as its speaker.

To get more technical, when voltage is applied to a Piezo crystal, it vibrates creating a beeping sound. Drum triggers use Piezo crystals in the opposite direction.

When a drum is hit on the shell (head), the motion created vibrates the Piezo crystals which create a small amount of voltage that is then sent to the trigger-to-MIDI convertor or drum module.

The trigger interface turns the voltage created into MIDI information. This MIDI information is then sent to the source of the sound to play that particular sound.

MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and it is a protocol that allows digital musical instruments to communicate and speak the same language. In this case, MIDI information can take the form of velocity, MIDI channels, note number, etc.

Drum triggers construction types

Beyond how triggers work, there’s the aspect of how triggers are placed and constructed. There are two basic types:

  1. Head contact triggers- Refers to those that stick to the shell or head of the drum with an adhesive.
  2. Rim-mount triggers- Refers to those that use some sort of casing to mount the rim which then presses the body of the trigger against the shell or head of the drum.

Why should I opt for Drum triggering?

When it comes to playing drum you have very little control over how your instrument sounds compared to let’s say, guitar players. Triggering a sound from your drum helps solve this problem. The quality of sound produced is amazing and you can change the sound of the drum to match the style of each song.

Drum triggering is also very beneficial when it come to recording sessions in the studio. With the changing software and hardware when it comes to recording, many studios were not designed to handle acoustic drum sets.

Therefore, when you trigger your drums, you can play your acoustic set in the studio and record both the MIDI information and audio coming from the drum modules. Also, if any drum sounds need to be changed, the good news is that you don’t have to go back and record your part again.

A summary on how drum triggers work

Head/ shell of drum
Motion created when it is hit, vibrates Piezo crystals creating voltage.
Trigger interface ( drum module/ trigger-to-MIDI convertor)
Converts the voltage created into MIDI information which is sent to the source, to play the particular sound.



Now that you know how drum triggers work, you can experiment and get creative to find ways on how your incorporate them into your music productions to come up with something catchy and cool.

Drug triggers transmit an audio signal which is typically what a microphone does. So if you ever forget what it is just and how it works, just remember the word ‘microphone’. It will help jog your memory.


How does a drum trigger work?

It works by picking up the sound of an acoustic drum, when it is hit on the head and then sends this audio to the source. The source is then made to play a sound by a trigger interface that is usually either in the box or outside the box.

What is the purpose of a trigger interface?

The purpose of a trigger interface is to convert a trigger pulse into MIDI information. It consists of two types which are, drum modules (have sounds on board) and trigger-to-MIDI convertors (do not have sounds on board).




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