I've just recently bought a velocity sensitive pad controller for finger drumming, sequencing, etc. I'm rapidly finding that I have great difficulty playing notes at a consistent velocity. I'll tap on the pads with what feels like the same amount of force, but get wildly different velocities every time.

What practice techniques exist for getting consistent velocities from pad controllers?

(I know that I can use a midi filter to set all the notes to the same velocity, but I'd really like to be able to drum expressively.)


There are definitely a few ways to approach this.

  1. Practice: If you practice playing from as low velocity as possible to as high velocity as possible, in a smooth and gradual way, you should get better quite quickly. Assuming you are working with some sort of DAW, you should record your practice via midi and you can see the change in velocity after the fact. This will show you which specific dynamic areas you have a hard time moving consistently and smoothly through. I highly recommend this to anyone that is using a velocity sensitive instrument/controller. Also try with high hats and practice the crescendos as well as keeping as close to constant velocity as possible.

  2. Synth/Sample Engine: A lot of devices, hardware or software, as well as some DAWs, will have access to a velocity input range/limiter. This will give you a minimum and maximum velocity, allowing you either to have dynamic range without risk of playing too loud or too soft or to have a consistent velocity with very little dynamic change or none at all (akin to a compressor or limiter in audio engineering).

  3. Synth/Sample vs Acoustic Drummer: Playing pads is fundamentally different than playing a drum. Drums will have a different tone and sustain with different dynamics. If you have a sophisticated sample engine (I use Native Instruments' Battery plugin), it will have multiple samples per drum in an attempt to replicate the change in tone. Assuming all of your samples are well recorded and the gain or actual input volume matches dynamic changes, the more samples the better (I have used some that have really inconsistent gain/tone across the velocities and it is no fun). Also, a real drummer won't necessarily hit the drum in the same place every time (even the very best). These differences amount to small changes in tone as well as change in actual volume without a change in tone. This is pretty much the human factor that is hard to eliminate when using a controller.

  4. Type of Triggers/Devices: Some triggers are made better than others, which will give more or less consistency. Traditional pads are a favorite but rolls have to be preprogrammed, making dynamics harder to manipulate in live performance. Buttons seem to be less loved but offer more possibilities for live rolls/flams with specific dynamics than pads. I saw the Midi Fighter controller advertised with its crab-ability but cannot find the video now.

I think practice is the most important of all of these. If you can control the sound you make without having to change the controller or the synth/sample engine, then you will have more control in general. I only gave one example of something to practice but obviously there are a million.

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  • Also, something I recently learned is that most finger-drummers do not use velocity sensitive pads source in comments. – Dan Aug 28 '13 at 18:03

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