Air drumming with AeroBand

Air drumming with AeroBand

In digital music, the most popular type of connection between instruments, controllers and computers today is undoubtedly MIDI over USB.
However, the world is moving towards wireless solutions due to the popularity and accessibility of mobile devices.
More and more MIDI controllers, especially portable ones, provide a connection via Bluetooth.
beat bars is also working on wireless versions of its foot controllers, while offering mobile apps that function as Bluetooth MIDI controllers (their range will also be expanded this year).
In the meantime, we are following the solutions already available on the market. One of them is AeroBand PocketDrum – wireless drumsticks.
We decided to check how they work with our pedals.

Concept

I’m sure that sometimes when you listen to a song, during a guitar solo or a drums fill, you pretend that you’re playing the guitar or drumming.
What if you could really make sounds like this?
This is what the manufacturers of AeroBand set out to achieve.
They also offer a wireless guitar set, but in this blog post we will focus on drum sticks.

However, we decided to use them in a different way than their intended purpose.

  • We wanted to use them more professionally, not as a mobile game for fun.
  • While drumming, we did not use the companion mobile app – neither samples nor the preview of the position of the drumsticks in relation to the virtual drums. We treated these sticks as independent wireless MIDI controllers.

As we describe later in this post, they do not have the versatility and capabilities as drum pads do, but using them on stage as part of the show can be an exciting addition to the performance, that’s why we decided to test them in this respect.

For testing, we used several professional sound libraries, including: XLN Addictive Drums 2, Steven Slate Drums 5.5 and built-in Producer Drum Kits in Logic Pro X,
as well as freeware libraries: Manda Audio MT Power Kit 2, Spitfire Audio Labs Drums and Sennheiser Drummica. Everything on macOS Catalina*.
*Apple introduced support for this MIDI Bluetooth standard in iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 in the summer of 2014 – read more in one of our previous posts.

We used two types of our controllers for foot control:
FS2M MIDI adapter along with the standard sustain pedal, as well as the EX3 MIDI expression pedal.
Both were used as hi-hat controllers – one working only in the open/closed option, the other allowing intermediate states (half-open).

Bluetooth connection

  1. On your Mac, run the built-in “Audio MIDI Setup” application
  2. Click “Window” and select “Show MIDI Studio” (or press ⌘2), if it is not visible
  3. Click the “Configure Bluetooth” icon:
    MIDI Studio
  4. Turn in your PocketDrum Sticks and when they appear on the list of MIDI devices, press “Connect”:
    Bluetooth Configuration

Setup

After establishing a wireless connection, hitting a virtual drum in the air sends appropriate MIDI events to your Mac, i.e. Note On and Note Off.
Depending on the drum you strike (that is, the location in space), the following MIDI notes are sent:
Upper layer, from left to right:   A₂   |   D₂   |   F₁
Lower layer, from left to right:   G♯₁   |   C₁   |   D₁

In General MIDI Standard Drum Map, these are respectively:

  • A₂ - Crash Cymbal
  • D₂ - High Tom
  • F₁ - Low Floor Tom
  • G♯₁ - Hi-Hat pedal
  • C₁ - Bass Drum
  • D₁ - Snare

It is quite an intuitive layout, but as you know, not all plug-ins use the GM standard, so in the application it would be nice to be able to remap this layout.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find such an option, but luckily most DAWs allow you to remap incoming MIDI events. In our case it was necessary because we wanted to close and open the hi-hat with a foot controller, so the standard G♯₁ mapping to the hi-hat pedal did not satisfy us.

Drumming

We tried the following striking methods:

  • in the air (as the name suggests)
    This is a very intuitive method. At the end of the movement, when you want the sound to be triggered, stop the drumstick in the air, as if using a whip.
  • hitting percussion practice pads
    This method is clearly worse – much less precise. It’s clear that the manufacturer has optimized the sensors to detect drumstick hits in the air (which is fully understandable).

Verdict

The drumming itself is very enjoyable. Hitting virtual invisible drums in the air and triggering professional samples, gives a lot of satisfaction.
Since we could not see the drums, it took some time to feel out where to hit in the air. However, the tolerance of the positions is quite large, so after practising a bit we managed to play without making any mistakes.
The sticks also have the right sensitivity – they react appropriately with quite high precision, so the generated Note On MIDI events have a proper velocity.

Pros:

  • MIDI over BLE - good range and stable connection
  • Product quality and design
  • Position and velocity precision
  • Unnoticeable latency
  • Possibility of firmware upgrade (via mobile app)

Cons:

  • It was not possible to assign different notes to individual drum positions – they are fixed. Perhaps this feature will be introduced in future versions of the app and firmware.
  • It might take a while to get used to “hit” the appropriate drum without a preview of the position of the stick (i.e. without the mobile app).

Summary

Such wireless solutions are becoming more and more popular on the market. There are increasingly similar drumsticks (which do not require a drum kit), e.g. MiJam Drummer and Freedrum, as well as VR apps: Drums Hero VR and DrumKit VR.
The sticks have the advantage that you do not need to put an additional headset on, while VR solutions (of which there will probably be more in the future) provide more realism (at least visually).
In both types of solutions, the developers have focused heavily on what is more visible and obvious – playing with the hands, slightly neglecting the feet, which are an inseparable element of playing the drums. Fortunately, you can use MIDI foot controllers, which, although not dedicated to this purpose, provide some additional possibilities.
We are closely following the development of this technology.


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