Here’s how I put together a rocking mini electronic practice drum kit that is actually more powerful than most full-size electronic kits.
It’s a full-featured, extremely versatile (60+ samples across each kit!), apartment-friendly electronic drum set with a tiny footprint. And most importantly, it’s an absolute blast to play.
Since COVID-19 took off, gigs have been canceled, my studio and practice spaces are harder (or sometimes impossible) to use, rehearsals and recording have been put on hold, and it’s just a lot more difficult to play drums outside of home.
If you’re living in a large house, then it’s probably fine – you can still get a lot of drum practice in, and hopefully you can still use your acoustic drum kit.
However, I’m trying to drum in an apartment with 1) limited space, and 2) neighbours very close by. Due to this, a real acoustic drum set just won’t work for me. And I know there are countless other drummers out there with the same problem (we actually have a lengthy article on reducing drum kit noise for this purpose!).
I’ve had a few electronic kits in the past (including some great ones), but with the spare room becoming an office, it’s hard to squeeze in a full-size electronic drum kit into my apartment at the moment. I’d love to have the award-winning Roland TD-17KVX to play, but due to limited space that’s not going to happen.
With my rehearsal studio not an option, I’ve had to improvise with a miniature electronic drum setup at home.
The aim was this: To put together an apartment-friendly electronic drum kit that doesn’t feel tiny, and that flows and plays like a real acoustic drum kit. Not wanting to make too many sacrifices, I aimed for:
- Pads in realistic locations: I wanted it to “feel” like I was moving around a real acoustic set
- Quality, velocity-sensitive, and realistic sounds: Ghost notes that sound dramatically different to hard playing, different levels and variations of cymbal-hits, and no machine gun-style triggering
- Customizable samples: Eventually everyone gets tired of stock electronic drum samples, so I needed a module that allowed importing sounds to keep things interesting
- Enough pads to never have to go without a particular drum or cymbal: I’ve ended up with 15 pads and 2 pedals, and the ability to run 60+ samples across the kit
- A very small footprint that allows drumming in a small apartment
- Low noise, to keep the neighbours happy
The end result is fantastic: I’ve got a compact (tiny) electronic drum set that can be played (almost) like a real full-sized drum kit. It fits into the small amount of free space in my apartment, and doesn’t anger the neighbours. And, it’s a blast to play.
The secret is in the layout: even though it’s a super-compact electronic drum set, I’ve got the key components in the right place. This means I can “play around the kit” similar to an acoustic drum kit, without the kit itself taking up too much space.
Importantly, there’s no compromise on functionality either. Often with cheap or compact electronic options, you can end up playing sub-par equipment or lacking options. Not this time though: It’s all built with quality gear, with the right kind of expandability to make it fun to play.
This article covers exactly how I put together this mini electronic drum set. Hopefully it can help other drummers out there who are stuck needing to practice drums in a small apartment or similar space.
Building a mini electronic drum kit: The brain
Okay, so the most important part of any electronic drum kit is the brain (aka the module). This is what creates and controls the sound, and it’s what everything else plugs into.
The brain is critical: It needs the functionality, expandability, and customization options to allow the creation of a great compact electronic drum kit.
Enter the Yamaha DTX Multi-12
I built my mini electronic drum kit around a Yamaha DTX Multi-12 drum pad, and this brain was chosen for some very specific reasons.
Yamaha’s DTX Multi-12 is an extremely powerful electronic multi-pad. It’s been my go-to drum pad for years because it can do just about anything a drummer could need.
First up, it’s got 12 built-in electronic pads, so it’s basically a mini e-drum kit by itself (simply add some pedals and it’s all you’ll need for very small gigs/jams). On top of this, it has great onboard effects, it allows loading your own samples, and it’s extremely expandable (allowing you to easily add extra electronic drum pads). It’s also built like a rock, and it feels great to play.
If you prefer, you could definitely use a Roland SPD-SX in place of the Yamaha multi-pad. Roland’s SPD-SX is similar, and it’s also very powerful. However, it’s more geared towards sampling rather than full-on drumming, which is the main reason I really prefer Yamaha’s DTX Multi-12.
If you’re tossing up between the Roland SPD-SX and the Yamaha, here are a few other reasons I chose Yamaha’s DTX Multi-12:
- Great pad-level sound stacking and cycling: Assign up to 4 samples per pad, to create much more realistic-sounding kits (I’ll cover more on this soon)
- A hi-hat pedal input (this is actually a critical missing feature on the Roland SPD-SX)
- More inputs for extra pads (5 inputs, compared to 3 on the SPD-SX)
- 12 built-in pads (compared to 9 on the Roland)
- Yamaha gives great on-board sounds (over 1,000 of them), spanning almost every kind of music style and any percussion instruments you can think of
- Yamaha released an expansion pack for the DTX Multi-12, with even more drum sounds (some are now my go-to samples). It’s available here.
- The DTX Multi-12 can be played with your hands (and there are some great built-in hand drum kits), with sticks or mallets, and even with fingers (the pads are amazingly sensitive)
- The Yamaha DTX Multi-12 is cheaper than the Roland SPD-SX (see the price for the DTX Multi-12 on Amazon here, and the price for the SPD-SX here)
The one thing to be aware of is that the Yamaha DTX Multi-12 has relatively low onboard storage: It has 64MB for storing your own drum sounds, compared to the SPD-SX’s huge 2GB. If you need a LOT of storage (or you’re doing some serious sampling or running backing tracks) I’d suggest looking at the SPD-SX. If not, 64MB is definitely enough for hundreds of single-shot drum or cymbal hits. For my purposes, I’ve built dozens of great custom kits on the DTX Multi-12 (and I still haven’t filled up the memory), so 64MB is not a limitation.
The other minor downside to the DTX Multi-12 is its menu system: If you’re new to it, it’ll take a little getting used to. I feel like a pro now, and it doesn’t bother me, but it can be a bit of a maze to dig into all of the features at first.
Besides those few limitations, Yamaha’s multi-pad ticks all of the boxes. It’s ruggedly built, yet it has great-feeling and very sensitive drum pads. It also sounds amazing, and has enough expandability, effects, and other options to create great-sounding electronic drum kits.
Building a mini electronic drum kit: The pads & pedals
If the brain is the most important, the pads and pedals of an electronic kit definitely come a close second.
Most of my pads are Roland rather than Yamaha. I personally prefer Roland’s drum pad options, and I know from experience they can take a beating. If you’re building a mini electronic kit for yourself though, you could easily use Yamaha pads (or any other brands) – it’s up to you.
One key reason I went with Roland pads is that the drumheads on the pads are made of mesh: Since I’m drumming in an apartment, I wanted to use mesh pads to keep the noise down. I also prefer the stick rebound of mesh electronic drum pads, and the fact that you can “tune” them to get the perfect amount of stick rebound.
Let’s take a look at what I’ve got:
Compact electronic snare drum
My snare drum is a dual-trigger Roland PDX-8. When plugged into the Yamaha DTX Multi-12 via a stereo cable, I’m able to use both the mesh head and the rim for different samples. This mesh head is 8 inches in diameter, which gives a solid playing zone, and the rim is 10 inches. Importantly, this model is quieter than some of the other mesh pads out there – when hit it gives a dull thud that doesn’t cut through walls or floors, making it a good choice for apartment drumming.
Compact electronic floor tom
The floor tom is a Roland PD-80. This is a more basic single-zone mesh drum pad that gets the job done nicely for a floor tom. I’ve even lowered the tension of the mesh drumhead to give it a loose floor tom feel. As far as electronic drum pads go, this is one of the more straightforward models, but it checks all the boxes for my purpose: It’s fairly quiet, has a good feel, and fits exactly where I need it to go for a floor tom. If you’re making your own electronic drum kit for apartment drumming, you could easily use a dual-zone pad for more versatility.
Compact electronic bass drum
The kick drum is a Roland KD-7 kick trigger which takes up almost no space, so it’s perfect for my situation. It even supports double-pedal playing: There’s an extra input to link a second KD-7 pedal.
One thing though, it’s actually kind of loud when struck. Luckily there are some workarounds to make it quiet: I’ve rolled up a small black towel and taped it to the beater’s strike zone to reduce this noise, which works quite well (more on this later). It’s also resting on some foam floor tiles.
If you’re really worried about kick drum noise, I’d suggest getting Roland’s KD-10 kick tower. It’s even quieter, and more importantly, it doesn’t transfer the noise directly into the floor. My Roland KD-7 does transfer noise directly into the floor, because the beater hits the pad on a downward angle. With my foam floor tiles and extra padding on the strike zone though, the noise is greatly reduced.
Compact electronic hi-hat
My hi-hat is comprised of a cheap no-name rubber electronic pad (I’ve had this lying around my apartment for years), plus a Yamaha HH65 electronic hi-hat pedal.
The combination works well: The HH65 pedal is a classic Yamaha hi-hat pedal that does everything you could need: Foot-splash, good sensitivity from open through to closed hi-hats, and sensitivity adjustment.
The no-name rubber electronic pad is, well, a standard rubber electronic drum pad. It’s sensitive enough for delicate hi-hat work, and the rubber is actually quite soft (which I prefer over the harder plastic-style pads that you can sometimes find). I think I paid around $5 for this pad at a drum store’s closing-down-sale many years ago. The closest thing to this pad would be a single-zone Roland PD-8A pad.
One important point on electronic hi-hat pedals: If you’re using the Yamaha DTX Multi-12, you will need to use a Yamaha hi-hat pedal. Similarly, if you’re using a Roland SPD-SX, you’ll need to use a Roland hi-hat pedal. Unlike drum pads, you can’t use different brand hi-hat pedals here (the circuitry is different).
Building a mini electronic drum kit: The hardware
So we have the brain and the pads, but it’s important to have it all fit together the right way. Here’s a full guide to the hardware that supports my miniature electronic apartment drum kit.
Stands & mounts
Everything on this compact electronic drum set is mounted to one single double-braced stand. The stand holds up the Yamaha DTX Multi-12, and all other pads.
Yes, it’s kinda messy when you see all of those clamps and mounts underneath, but it gets the job done (and I’m able to position the drums where I want them). You can build something similar with whatever drum hardware you have laying around. If you’re unsure of what to use, here’s a full guide:
- The Yamaha DTX Multi-12’s mounting plate is attached to a mounting plate, and then held to the stand via a clamp. Tip: You don’t need to buy Yamaha’s expensive mounting system for the DTX Multi-12… Grab the cheaper metal Gibraltar mounting plate (this one on Amazon). From there, the mounting plate is attached to the main stand via a basic grabber clamp (this one on Amazon).
- The snare drum is mounted to a single ball L-arm mount (this one on Amazon). The ball mount is important here: it gives the widest range of adjustment options for the all-important snare drum (and it’s fast and easy to adjust).
- The hi-hat pad is mounted to a long cymbal arm clamp (like this one on Amazon). It’s perfect to get the height needed for a real-feeling hi-hat, and it allows enough adjustment to place it exactly where I want.
- The floor tom is mounted to a Gibraltar adjustable angle offset multi clamp (this clamp on Amazon), and a 9.5mm L-rod (this specific one on Amazon) which lets me put the floor tom where it needs to be.
I have a Mapex drum throne, which is just a standard simple throne. I’m guessing you’ll have a drum throne somewhere, but if not you can pick up one for cheap. Just make sure it’s height-adjustable (some of the cheapest drum thrones are not).
Bass drum pedal
If you’re building a kit like this yourself, you’ve probably got a bass drum pedal somewhere that you can use. I’m using a DW5000 (which is actually one of our all-time favourite bass drum pedals), and it works perfectly for this mini electronic drum kit.
When playing drums in an apartment, the bass drum can sometimes be the cause of the most noise: The constant slamming of a hard beater into a hard rubber pad is difficult to avoid, and this energy is channeled directly into the floor (and therefore directly to any neighbours below).
Since this is a space-saving electronic drum set, I didn’t want to add something like a large Roland KD-10 tower (which has a nice quiet padded strike zone).
The Roland KD-7 kick pad I’m using is perfect due to its tiny size, however I made one small customization to really reduce the pedal noise: I folded up an old towel, and I taped it to the pad’s strike zone. The thick material really reduces the noise, without losing much of the bass drum pad’s sensitivity. If you do this, experiment with thickness. You can actually get away with quite a thick amount of folded fabric for two reasons: 1) The KD-7 is sensitive, so it’s able to detect the beater regardless of the extra fabric, and 2) the Yamaha DTX-12 allows customization of sensitivity, velocity curve, and gain for each pad, so with a tiny amount of adjustments I was getting a nice range of hard and soft kick sounds (even with the thick material covering the KD-7 kick pad).
Building a mini electronic drum kit: The end result
Okay, so you’ve seen the module, the pads, and the hardware. How does it all come together? Amazingly well! It’s incredibly fun to play.
Here’s an overview of how it’s all set up. You’ll see that along with the snare and floor tom, I’m using some of the pads on the Yamaha DTX Multi-12 for the mounted toms, the ride, crash cymbals, percussion, effects, etc.
Importantly, all of the drums and cymbals are close to their “correct” positions: The electronic hi-hat is above and to the left of the snare. The electronic floor tom is where the floor tom would be found on an acoustic drum set. I can move between the snare, toms, and cymbals almost exactly as I would on a real, full-size drum kit. And it’s all very compact and apartment-friendly.
I should point out that the above layout is just an example of one of my standard kits. With the push of a button, I can have completely different setups: I’ve got kits with an extra ride cymbal, pads with reverb/phasers/effects on secondary snares or hi-hats (for extra accents), more toms, less toms, percussion, timpani, world instruments… You can build almost any kind of drum kit imaginable.
As well as practicing at home, I’ve taken a similar setup to rehearsals in the past (when it wasn’t necessary to have a full-size kit), and this setup is perfect for a low-profile but super powerful gigging e-kit.
Why is it so powerful?
It all comes back to the brain: The Yamaha DTX Multi-12 gives you everything you need to create hundreds of realistic-sounding full-sized electronic drum sets.
If you’re counting, you’ll see that the Yamaha has 12 drum pads, and I’ve added 5 more (3 pads, plus a kick drum and hi-hat pedal). That’s 17 pads, and intuitively you’d think I’d have 17 different sounds.
But I can actually run over 60 different drum sounds across those 17 pads. Here’s why:
As I mentioned earlier, the DTX Multi-12 lets you assign up to 4 different samples to every single pad.
When you’re configuring the 4 samples on a pad, you can choose to 1) trigger different samples depending on how hard you hit the pad, 2) cycle to a different sample each time you hit the pad, or 3) overlap the samples (to either trigger them all at once, or segment/overlap them depending on velocity).
This is insanely useful when trying to create realistic-sounding kits: I can’t stress this enough. Here are just a few examples of why:
- The snare: You can assign a ghost note to your softest strokes, a regular hit for your normal strokes, and a rimshot or extra reverb for your hardest strokes. That’s 3 different sounds, so you’ve got room for one more (e.g. a slightly-softer-than-normal stroke when you’re hitting between a ghost note and a regular stroke). Yamaha also provides a few onboard snare drums that do all of this in one sample (so you could use the other 3 slots for variations or completely different samples).
- The ride cymbal: Similar to the snare, I trigger different sounds depending on stick velocity, working up to a huge ride crash (and/or a ride bell) when hitting the hardest. If I’m adding in a ride bell, I’ll often make sure the ride’s bow sample overlaps with it, so both samples trigger at the same time (to give a nice full effect). I’ve also got some low and medium ride hits covering the softer end of the spectrum. Like the snare drums, Yamaha also includes some all-in-one velocity-sensitive ride samples that work up to a big bell hit.
- Crash cymbals: This is where I like to cycle through 4 slightly different crash sounds, to avoid the fake-cymbal sound you can often get from electronic drum kits. I’m sometimes using the same crash sample for 2, 3, or even 4 cycles, but with a slightly different envelope or effects to make it just-different-enough to provide sonic variation.
- Toms: I like to cycle through 2 different tom hits (to give a left-right variation), again to avoid the machine-gun electronic drum sounds that often happen on cheaper kits.
- Bass drum: I’m picky with my kick… It needs punch but also depth. I’ll usually find myself choosing 2 or even 3 different kick samples and layering them all together to create that perfect bass drum sound.
- Percussion: I’ve got tambourines, effects cymbals, woodblocks, bass drops, world instruments, and more. Often I’ll take two percussion sounds and layer them. Other times, I’ll cycle through a group of similar sounds to create, for example, a complex hi-hat replacement or a driving tambourine or egg shaker.
The multi-sample functionality of the DTX Multi-12 is not often talked about, but hopefully the examples above show you just how powerful it can be.
Some of the other go-to features that I find myself often using are:
- The onboard effects system: There’s multiple reverbs, compressors, delays, chorus, phasers, and a lot more. You can also adjust volume, pitch, envelope, and more. These can be assigned for the entire kit, for each individual sample, or for any of the layered samples on a pad.
- Pad mute: Set up one pad so that when you hit it, it ends another pad’s sample. I actually use this feature when I don’t have my HH65 hi-hat pedal with me… I can hit the “closed” hi-hat pad, and it will stop the open hi-hat sound I’ve just hit.
Building a mini electronic drum kit: Other essentials
Along with the module, pads, and hardware, there are definitely some other electronic drumming essentials that I can’t play without. Here’s a quick overview of everything that rounds out my setup.
Headphones / Speakers
With quality drum samples, you need quality headphones. I have a few sets of in-ear and over-ear headphones around, so it’s easy to grab a pair to use when playing my mini electronic kit.
My go-to earphones are my AudioTechnica IM-01 IEMs. Otherwise, I’ll have a pair of Sennheiser over-ear headphones handy.
When I want to really feel the sound, I’ll plug into my KRK Rokit 5 monitors. When I took this kit out of the apartment, I’ll also sometimes plug into a little portable speaker (like this one) when I’m jamming with others.
Foam floor tiles
Since I’m on wooden floors, my hi-hat and bass drum pedals slide around easily. The pedals also push noise directly into the floor. To fix this, I got some cheap foam tiles (like these ones on Amazon) which completely solves the problem. The tiles also give a nicer surface under the kit, and they protect the wooden floor. Pick up some foam tiles if you’re doing any sort of electronic drumming: They’re a life-saver.
Cables & connectors
Important: If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s not to cheap out on cables. You don’t need to spend a crazy amount, but pay a little extra for decent cables rather than the cheapest-of-the-cheap garbage. When you’re putting together a setup like this one, here’s exactly what you’ll need:
Cables for drum pads & pedals
For my snare drum and hi-hat pedal, I’m using stereo 1/4″ instrument cables (these Pig Hog cables on Amazon are the perfect length). Stereo cables are necessary for the dual-zone snare pad and for the hi-hat pedal.
For the kick drum pad, single-zone hi-hat pad, and single-zone floor tom pad, I’m using 3x mono 1/4″ instrument (guitar) cables (see the exact type here on Amazon). The hi-hat pad and floor tom pad are plugged into a dual-input (stereo to 2x mono) 1/4″ Y-splitter (this one on Amazon) and then into one stereo input on the Yamaha DTX Multi-12. Tip: I’ve found it’s better to buy the small Y-splitter adapter separately and to use two longer mono instrument cables (as opposed to buying an all-in-one splitter cable), as all-in-one splitter cables often don’t have enough cable length after the split (so it’s hard for the cable to reach two different pads).
Cables for connecting accessories
As well as having the right cables for the drum pads and pedals, it’s important to have a few male-to-male and male-to-female 1/8″ cables. These are necessary to plug in a phone or computer (to play along to music), and also as an extension for headphones (or when plugging into an external speaker).
- I’m using a male-to-female 1/8″ cable extension for extra headphone cable length (this one on Amazon)
- To plug in my laptop or phone, I have a male-to-male 1/8″ cable (here it is on Amazon)
- I’ll use some 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapters to plug the above cables into the 1/4″ inputs/outputs of the DTX Multi-12 (these ones on Amazon)
Building a mini electronic drum kit: Doing it the cheap way
A lot of my kit was created from existing gear that I’ve had for a while: Drum pads, stands, clamps, cables, etc. I did buy a few things to round out what was missing.
If you’re building a kit like this, you can absolutely buy everything new. But don’t overlook used gear if you’re on a budget: you can get some great bargains buying pre-owned drum pads, hardware, and accessories. The only thing I wouldn’t buy used are the cables!
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