Haden’s big Christmas gift this year–an atypical splurge, for us–was a Roland TD-11K electronic drum set. It’s a great kit with a lot of features useful for kids learning to play, and I caught it on sale, which took a little of the sting out of buying it.
One of the several learning-friendly features of the TD-11K is you can load up a flash drive with MP3s and play along with them. You can adjust the volume of the songs you’re playing along with so they sit in the mix nicely with the drum kit, which is very similar to the way I learn songs on guitar and bass. Creating this volume balance between the kit itself and what you’re trying to learn is a real challenge on acoustic drums, because young drummers lack subtlety and can’t play accurately and quietly at the same time. Going electronic makes playing quietly as easy for drummers as it is for guitarists: you just turn down the volume and put on some headphones. Another nice feature of the mp3 playback is you can adjust the speed of songs from 80% to 120%. Slowing things down is another guitarist trick that the TD-11K brings to aspiring drummers.
The only downside of the mp3 playback feature is Roland really does mean mp3. Most people, these days, keep their music in MP4. And many iTunes users keep it in M4A, which is Apple’s particular flavor of MP4. But not worry, there are excellent–and free–conversion tools out there. There is even a nice web-based one that I tested out, and it worked just fine. CloudConvert handles hundreds of formats, including M4A and MP4 with ease. Just select your M4A files, choose MP3 as the output format, convert, and download the results. Easy peasy.