Pad Development

The realization of an innovative idea that achieves musicality and playability.

Inventing an entirely new interface

Over the past several years, more people have been enjoying finger drums than ever before. However, aside from the FGDP, as of now there isn’t a dedicated instrument for finger drumming available for purchase. For this reason, finger drum players have been assigning the sounds they want to play to individual pads that are lined up in a 4×4 or 8×8 square grid.

However, these makeshift efforts were not designed as dedicated instruments for finger drumming, so they were hard to play and operate, and came with other inconveniences. The FGDP series was designed from the ground up to be easy to play, so that even people who play it for the very first time can enjoy finger drums to the fullest in a natural way. The “face” of this instrument is its pad interface, and is intended to bring drum playing to the masses.

Photo looking down on the FGDP-30 pad from above the performer's head


The greatest advantage of using the FGDP, a dedicated instrument for finger drum playing is how the pads are arranged and shaped. When we developed this instrument, the foremost matter in our minds regarding its design was not expecting people to learn the pads, but rather for the pads to conform to how people play.

I am originally an acoustic drum player, but I have also enjoyed playing finger drums using pads with a standard grid layout. Some finger drum players use a three-finger style, playing with their thumb, index finger, and middle finger. However, the square arrangement of pads is not very ergonomic for people to play with their hands, which are naturally curved.

Engineer: Kimizuka


With our understanding about playability when it comes to using your fingers, which aren’t straight, we thought that we should align the pad arrangement and positions of your fingertips with the areas of motion, so that the instrument can be easy to play. Although the initial arch-shaped pad layout we came up with was different from what we have now, we used it as a base to home in on a layout that’s even easier to play.

Miura and Kimizuka talking


When talking about playing acoustic drums, there’s a typical drum kit arrangement with toms, snare, bass drum, and so on. There's a reason why that arrangement is used. For instance, this makes it easier to do tom rolls spanning different drums, which makes typical drum playing easier.

This is the same for finger drum pads. Although you might have many pads, you'll use some more than others. Since that’s the case, why not assign more space to the pads that require a more detailed level of control, and then make the other pads easier to play in a flowing style, by giving them a clearer relationship to each other?

In other words, the pad arrangement of the FGDP is a layout that we finally arrived at after thinking about things like the positional relationship between the fingers on our hands, which sound is easier to play with which finger, which pads you play more often, the musical flow you get by having the snare and toms next to each other, and so on.

We examined many different pad layouts and shapes before arriving at the current solution, which finally allowed us to create a pad arrangement that matches the shape of our hands. Although the finger drum players of the world have widely different methods of playing, I think we can proudly say that since Yamaha is now releasing the optimum instrument that’s made especially for finger drumming, this is the form factor on offer for players to more quickly improve their skills and to play the music they want to play.

The challenge to be the world’s first

Even after the shape and layout for the pads were decided, we were still working to make the instrument easy to play. By using different shapes for each pad, we faced a new set of complications. That’s because the sensors must work differently for each pad. The challenge to overcome these obstacles and make this instrument one that anyone can comfortably play also happened to be a challenge to make this the world’s first instrument of its kind.

Engineer: Sobajima


There’s a physical response created by the layers of carbon and gold plating that detect your “input” when playing the pad. This kind of system is widely used, and grid-layout pads as well as the FGDP series are no exception.


However, these kinds of pads were all the same size and shape. In other words, it was considered all right to give every pad a uniform sensing response to the input from your fingers. However, our approach with the FGDP is different. Owing to our pursuit of playability in terms of finger drums, we chose an extremely organic shape for each pad, rather than making the shape and arrangement uniform.

So, how are the pads on the FGDP different from conventional pads? Let’s take the example of a large bass drum pad. Adjusting the sensitivity is extremely difficult on such a large pad, because the sensitivity differs if you strike it in different places, which leads to differences in the volume of the resulting sound, even though you’re playing in the same way.

Actually, there are an enormous number of conditional branches due to factors (parameters) we must consider just with different pad shapes and sizes compared to a grid-layout pad controller. There are around 20 parameters that influence how the pads sense your input, such as pad size, shape, finger strength and more… and there are up to 100 million combinations of these parameters.

In light of this, our focus was to tune the pad response so that you can strike anywhere on the largest pad on the instrument when triggering sounds at the same sensitivity, and still get a sound that feels good.

Engineer: Ota


I should mention that on the first prototype we developed, the sounds didn’t come out sounding uniform at all. We studied and evaluated this problem by creating prototypes on which we adjusted the amount, density, and thickness of ink that’s injected into the carbon layer, as well as the spacing of the gold plating in the gold-plated layer through which electrical signals pass… and we tried other things. Each time, we created twenty or thirty of the same sheet using the same conditions and took measurements. In doing this, we found that there were inconsistencies even on the same sheet, so we used these as a clue to zoom in on what needed to be fixed.

When all was said and done, we ended up creating 1,000 prototypes!


With musical instruments, the sound that’s produced when you strike the same pad with the same amount of force must be consistent, and the quality must be stable. It’s impossible for human beings to accurately judge what a fixed level of quality is because their physical condition, mood, and individual differences affect how hard they strike the pads and how they perceive the sounds that are triggered. For this reason, we created a special machine that can reliably strike with a certain force every time, to increase the sensing accuracy.

Sobajima lifting the FGDP-50 and speaking


We created this special testing machine to ensure that the sensors on the instrument are stable before a person plays it to assess whether the instrument feels good or bad. In the end, it’s people who play the instrument, not machines, so we researched this issue with several people including the artists by having them play the instrument and see what feels good.

I should also add that there are remarkable differences in human fingers, accounting for individual differences as well. Our fingertips are soft but the fingertips themselves are covered with fingernails… and of course the size, thickness, and strength of our fingers are all different. For example, the user might think that they’ve struck the pad once, but their fingertip can actually “bounce” on the pad like a ball and strike it multiple times. Another example is where the user uses different degrees of Aftertouch to press into the pad, rather than striking it. We can’t call this a finished musical instrument until we are able to accurately sense these extremely complex and random inputs and transform them into signals. Yamaha has already developed electronic drum pad sensing technology with our DTX drums, but electronic drum pads are struck with a hard stick. Input with human fingers involves many more complexities, as I previously talked about. Despite all this, we were able to create an evolution in our development this time, with technology for sensing how people strike the pads with their fingers. Although we faced some difficult hurdles in this development to bring the technology to fruition, the precision of the finished instrument is something that we’re proud of.

All in the pursuit of musicality

People play the drums in different ways, depending on the song and genre. There are regular drum players and finger drum players. Some already have amazing performance skills, and others are still working on their craft. Further, some players have greater physical strength than others.

The FGDP is a musical instrument that responds well to these differences in musicianship, meaning differences in playing technique as well as variations in how hard and fast the drummer can play.

Four members of the pad development team


The FGDP features settings related to the comfort or playing feel of the instrument. These settings let you play loudly even without striking the pads hard, or let you play at a uniform volume regardless of how hard you play the pads. I’d like to talk about these things from the perspective of musicianship. Some genres like EDM have a very strong “in-your-face” sound, whereas other genres like jazz are more delicate.

Whether acoustic or electric, you must be able to control the balance between how hard you play and the resulting sound, depending on the music you’re playing.

When it comes to individuality, playing drums as an instrument requires the ability to play rolls at high speed. However, finger drums are different from acoustic drums in that the resulting sound depends on whether the pads are correctly sensing what you play, as we talked about before. With conventional pad controllers, if you’re playing rolls behind the beat, the pads will detect this as Aftertouch, and the sound will skip and be uneven. In other words, if you don’t have the playing skill, you won’t be able to play rolls well.

Since we’ve designed the FGDP with a dedicated set of pads for finger drumming, the pads won’t detect your rolls as Aftertouch even if you’re a little behind the beat. Instead, the rolls will be detected correctly. If you strike a pad when your other fingers are touching it , the pad will still trigger the sounds correctly. So, even if you’re still not an advanced player, you can accurately play high-speed rolls like an expert, and the rolls are translated into sound. We really hope that you’ll try playing rolls on the FGDP and see how comfortable it feels.