Adam Manning: the DJ Drummer

Adam Manning

Throughout my career, acoustic instruments have provided me with many performance opportunities. Many of which have been illustrated through performances on television, concerts, world tours, and varying roles as an educator at Universities and schools throughout Australia.

However, my recent experimentations with Roland digital percussive instruments and DJ controllers have greatly expanded my own awareness of the varying performance possibilities when using digital instruments. One rather exciting concept to emerge from my investigations is the notion of a DJ Drummer. Effectively, the DJ Drummer is one whom combines the performance of digital percussion instruments in combination with current DJ performance techniques. This performance concept directly places the digital drummer in arguably the most practiced form of contemporary music: Electronic Dance Music. Therefore, this performance model brings an immense amount of musical scope to the digital drummer, particularly for those who are interested in sustaining a career in the music industry.


The DJ Drummer concept emerged through my own gestural investigation into simultaneous performance of two instruments. Over the last two years I have developed a one-stick technique for the right hand (digital drums) and a left hand finger technique that performs the role of a percussionist and/or a DJ.

Initially, the performance clip uses a simply gesture in the left hand to activate the first song, however one will observe the additional rhythmical elements performed by the right hand, that promote the idea of a live drum mash up. Additionally, effects such as delay are introduced at the fifty-second point – this effect is best heard in the middle section (solo section). One will observe how the delay gives the feeling of multiple drum parts been performed. Furthermore, this section provides the DJ Drummer with the opportunity to link songs together easily, and to play a more significant performance role.

This technique requires the setup of a digital drum kit, a DJ controller & computer/software and an additional percussive controller – the attached hyperlinked  performance clip illustrates this setup and will provide the performance evidence for this article. This performance clip uses two separate dance tracks in combination with live digital percussion, control gestures and effects manipulation, such as delays and distortion.

handOnce the final song is introduced, one will observe the use of distortion through a left hand gesture. This particular effect is more commonly used by electric guitarist, however using this effect on the drums can truly provide a unique tonal opportunity for the performer. Additionally, one will also observe the unconventional right stick technique at the one-minute forty position. This section illustrates how the right stick strikes two pads (both of which are snare sounds) to give the feeling of a standard build up (without using two sticks). When these techniques are combined one will observe the smooth transitions between the role of DJ & drummer. Therefore, when using this style of setup, I highly recommend you applying these techniques.

Whilst this concept is rather exciting and a great opportunity for the DJ drummer, maintaining this performance over a three-hour gig is quite tiring; therefore, simpler setups can be utilised. Some modern artists are electing to use more percussive based pads (not digital kit) when Dj’ing. This concept means that their techniques are much more conventional, as simultaneous drum and DJ gestures are often not required. Whilst this approach is much easier and more sustainable, if you have the opportunity to perform a one-hour set, using the techniques from the performance clip will definitely provide you with a far more musically and rewarding experience.

Whilst this article has focussed on the performance of House Music, the experimentalist DJ Drummer will definitely find that more avant-garde musical forms will deliver a more satisfying musical outcome. Therefore, I strongly encourage the younger drummer or DJ to develop this concept and really push the boundaries of DJ Drumming. As I honestly believe that digital instruments are a key part of todays musical landscape and most notably Roland digital instruments are at the forefront of quality musical expression. Young drummers or DJ’s, this concept is definitely for you… As from what I have seen over the last ten years is a major decline in acoustic based performance opportunities. Therefore, it is time to embrace electronic music and develop new techniques that furthers your ability to sustain a living as a musician, for now and the future…

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Created by Roland V-Drums specialist Simon Ayton, these patches were designed using the internal factory sounds and many of the techniques covered in the TD-50 guide. Enjoy exploring the possibilities!