Should I go 4x4 or 8x8?

Hey, I’m new at finger drumming and practicing for a few days here. I just finished Grooving & Improving, Section 1, Lesson 1. I’m an experienced musician and also a producer, so this comes pretty easy to me, and I really enjoy practicing until my fingers hurt (thanks for the “how to not get injured” video btw, I needed that). I’m absolutely loving the quest for groove! Very inspiring, innovative, well structured, and I can’t wait to do all the lessons.

In the past few days I’ve been practicing on an old MPC Element 4x4 pad controller that I already own. It really sucks in terms of pad sensitivity and I want to buy a new controller. Now my question is - should I go with a 4x4 or an 8x8 controller?
I read all the discussions here and it seems that 4x4 is more recommended, because the pads are bigger (more intuitive, less accidental hits), and there isn’t too much choice so the variations come from playing. I get that.

On the other hand, I don’t like to be limited. In 4x4 you always have to drop a lot of things a drum kit can do, and then if you need them I guess you would have to use a different preset/bank or something, and that just seems cumbersome as opposed to just have one big layout that does everything, and master it.
From the videos I see here, 8x8 still seems very playable.
I enjoy imagining myself as a professional finger drummer recording/performing session player (is that really a thing yet?) and find myself in situations where I don’t know in advance what sounds I need. For example, I’m in a rehearsal or a recording session, trying to come up with a drum part for a new song, and I want to try some stuff on the spot, like a cowbell for example. How would that work in a 4x4 setup? Isn’t it better to just have all the options layed out for you?

To be more specific:

  1. How significant is the difference in playability between large pads and small pads? I haven’t tried 8x8. Is it really that much harder?

  2. How do you keep your options open on a 4x4 setup? You save many presets and switch them on the spot?

  3. Anything else I should consider in deciding between 4x4 and 8x8?

  4. What are the latest gear recommendations for 4x4 and 8x8? I want very good pads, and I don’t need a full standalone production system, unless they invented something that can load drum plugins without needing a computer.
    If I understand correctly, with 4x4 it’s probably better to go with the Maschine Mikro MK3, and with 8x8 it’s either Launchpad Pro or Launchpad X (which one is preferred?)

Thanks for the help and thanks again for this great platform!

Hey Yoni,

I really hope some folks who decided to go with 8x8 will chime in here, since I’m personally mostly a 4x4 guy :slight_smile:

Let me see if I can quickly answer your questions:

  1. How significant is the difference in playability between large pads and small pads? I haven’t tried 8x8. Is it really that much harder?

I think humans have the capability to get used to almost anything, so if you use an 8x8 and stick with it, my guess is you will be able to play comfortably on the smaller pads. I think the difficulty with having 64 pads lies more in the fact that you have so many pads to choose from at any given time. And the question is if it’s better to get variety out of having many pads or to get it at first from developing your technique, timing and dynamics. I personally feel I can still get more out of my 16 pads than I’m doing now. So that might be something to consider.

  1. How do you keep your options open on a 4x4 setup? You save many presets and switch them on the spot?

You can use pad banks / groups (at least on many controllers, including the mikro mk3) to switch which pad outputs which note. So that way you can quickly move from a hi hat oriented setup to a ride oriented setup, or switch the toms out for percussion and stuff like that. It does require a split second of you pressing two buttons, so the playing will be interrupted. Something like that could probably be mitigated by using a foot switch and then instead of making the switch in the controller, you use it to control for example Ableton to switch to another track and on that track you’ve then set up a different drum kit. Stuff like that should be possible for sure.

For me personally, since I’m a studio recording dude, I find that most of the time my 4x4 kit will be fine for 1 song. I swap out some sounds and then I’m good. For another song I might change the sounds a little, but it’s almost never really needed to swap sounds on the fly because I don’t have enough pads.

In Addictive drums you also have a couple of options to control how much the hi hat is open or closed by turning a knob. So with that option you also get some more on the fly variety.

  1. Anything else I should consider in deciding between 4x4 and 8x8?

I think I’ve said everything I can think of :slight_smile:

  1. What are the latest gear recommendations for 4x4 and 8x8? I want very good pads, and I don’t need a full standalone production system, unless they invented something that can load drum plugins without needing a computer.
    If I understand correctly, with 4x4 it’s probably better to go with the Maschine Mikro MK3, and with 8x8 it’s either Launchpad Pro or Launchpad X (which one is preferred?)

Recommendations are still up to date. I bought a brand new maschine mikro mk3 about a month ago. Works great. And for as far as I know the Launchpad pro mk3 also still has very nice responsive pads and also has some fresh new options hwere you can set the trigger treshold and sensitivity to your liking.

With these controllers there is always a chance you get a “dud”. So make sure you can return them and get a good one. If you go for the mikro mk3 or the launchpad pro mk3, you should end up with a great controller in the end though.

1 Like

Thanks so much for the elaborate answer.

So how do you organize your 4x4 banks? Do you have just one main layout and you make changes per song? or are there some general preset you have that help you get quickly into different situations?

After practicing and jamming on my old 4x4 controller for a few days, I feel the the main limitations are:

  1. No way to gradually open the hihat. It’s either open (one version of open) or close. You said that addictive drums (which I don’t use yet but I might buy) has an option to set how open it is. But I guess that’s not something you can adjust while playing, right? I imagine if I had more pads I could have more levels of open HHs. Even one more could be nice.

  2. Same thing with the ride cymbal. Your suggested layout has either ride edge or ride bell, not both and nothing in between.

Do you feel those limitations too? what can I do about them in 4x4?
There are more limitations that are not that big. For example, I can’t spontaneously use chokes. In general, feels like you have to know what you want in advance.

And last question - is playing 8x8 less stressful on thehand and fingers? After 2 weeks of playing 30-60 minutes every day, I started to feel some unfamiliar mild tension in my hand, around where my middle finger of the right hand (the hh finger, which I use the most) meets the palm. So I took a break for two days, and now I’m back, still feeling it a bit, but less. It seems that in 8x8, maybe the moves are naturally more subtle, because the pads are smaller and you have to be more accurate.

1 Like
  • You can gradually open the hi hat when playing, if you set either the rotator knob or the touch slider on the Maschine mikro to a midi CC controller output. Then you can assign that CC controller note to this special “hi hat open close” thing in addictive drums. And then, by rotating the knob or by touching the slider you can open and close the hi hat.
  • Ride cymbal same thing. So you either assign the slider or the rotator knob. But you can also just create a pad bank (or "page as it’s called) where everything is the same, except for the ride vs the ride bell and then quickly switch with the press of a button.

If you want to play a ride pattern that uses both the edge and the bell, I recommend simply replacing the sidestick (underneath the ride pad) or the right upper cymbal (above the ride pad) with a ride bell. Then you simply move one pad down or one pad up and you can play a pattern that way. This is ofcourse also a pad bank you can permanently load into your device as an option for when you need it. You hardly ever need 3 cymbals AND 2 sidesticks AND a normal ride AND a ride bell in a way that you really have to have them all at your fingertips at all times.

Here’s a little screenshot of the hi hat CC thing in AD2 by the way so you see what it looks like.

As for chokes, I would really just use the normal buttons around the pads for choking. You can set them to output a regular midi note instead of a CC value and then they’ll function perfectly as cymbal chokes.

And finally as for stress on your fingers: I don’t think that has directly to do with the size of the pads. More likely it has to do with the way the pads are hit. The more familiar you get with playing, the more likely it is you can stay more relaxed and only use the exact amount of force needed to for examply hit the hi hat loudly enough. In my experience that is actually still a pretty soft tap and nothing more. The hands and the fingers and the wrists and all of that are also relaxed, only using a little bit of power when the hit has to be executed and immediately relaxing again when that’s done.

In the beginning it takes a lot of concentration to do things right, which will then lead to tension which can then lead to “injury” in the broad sense of the word. I can imagine that an 8x8 will somehow make you hit less hard, but I can also imagine that the smaller pads make it more difficult and then make you cramp up some more. So it can go both ways.

Something I teach in my latest course is that with only 5 minutes of dedicated practice per day you can achieve a lot, so something I would do if I were you is keep practicing new, difficult stuff for not much longer than that, focusing on breathing, and staying relaxed even when things are didfficult.

Then you spend another 20 minutes having fun, playing whatever you want, maybe easier stuff you’ve already practiced (while also always trying to stay relaxed and not hit too hard).

Then you keep things under 30 minutes which might be something your hands and fingers need. You can always crank things up later. I’d say keep it under 30 minutes (and sometimes just do 5 minutes and call it quits) for the next 6 weeks and see if you build up some stamina.

And ofcourse if things start to feel worse stop alltogether and go see some fysiotherapist! For me injury only happened once a couple of years ago when I was playing 4 hours a day for many days in a row, but those limits are different for everybody and when it happened to me it was quite a scare. Took me a couple of months to be 100% ok again.

A fysiotherapist can sometimes not only “fix” things but also give some exercises that strengthen the upper body, arms and hands as well as all those tiny muscles.

Hope this helped!

Wow, you’re the best! Thanks!

In the meantime I bought Addictive Drums (those 3 sets you recommended) and found that chokes on the cymbals happen also when you hit hard enough and keep your hand on the pad (aftertouch, I guess). But yeah, those extra buttons are also a good idea.

Regarding opening the HH, I would need an extra hand to do that while I’m playing wouldn’t I? It’s not like I want to do many gradual HH openings, but I’m thinking a real drummer naturally has some variety in how much the HH is open. Oh well, maybe it’s not that important…

When you play 8x8, do you still need to switch between banks or does a single layout cover you for the most part?

Thanks for the practice tips. I do play a lot. Can’t remember when was the last time I enjoyed practicing something so much :slight_smile:
I’m still feeling some tension, but it’s not that bad, and when I feel it more I stop. I’ll try to relax my fingers and arms more, keep it under 30 minutes, and hopefully when I buy a new controller, it’ll be more sensitive than the one I have now.

1 Like

I haven’t played the 8x8 much over the past year. I was mainly focused on developing my hand technique, learning all kinds of rudiments and switching the “leading” hand from my dominant hand to my non-dominant hand when needed.

In the past I only used the knob to open and close the hi hat. I did this in my Green Day cover :slight_smile:

Around 56 seconds I think. I simply picked the right moment and quickly turned the knob.

There might be some sort of solution possible with a foot pedal that sends out midi signals. I mean those do exist… then you can use that to open and close the hi hat or send other control messages.
I did think about that briefly but then I realised that it would make finger drumming setups even more complex so for teaching it to most people I try and keep it all on the controller itself and try and get the most out of it that way.