I have been using a keybaord to control my BFD drums for about a year, and I find that it negatively affects my drum creativity due to the inconvenience to use and the more unnatural feel compared to real drums.
I think getting a midi controller that is set up like a drm pad will help solve this quite a bit. There's a bunch of kinds though, by Yamaha, Roland, and many others and I don't know what to look for or get. I just need a basic one that will do the job so i'm not looking to spend a lot on it.
Any ideas or suggestions?
All of the current models are adequate and offer many useful features. If it's possible, try them all before buying.
The three populare options are:
M-Audio Trigger Finger
I don't particularly like the pads on the Trigger Finger. They don't really have a consistent velocity over the full pad. What I mean is if you don't hit the pad in the center, you velocity can be drastically different or it may not trigger the pad at all. That said, it has both knobs and sliders that allow access to other parameters within a DAW. The LED display is adequate and helpful but can be annoying at times. If you use this device, the software makes programming it MUCH easier.
I really like the feel of the pads on the MPD24. They feel very solid and trigger well from no matter where you hit the pad. It also has lots of nice additional controls (more than trigger finger) for lots of control options. It can only store 4 separate configs. It does have a nice LCD screen which makes viewing parameters much easier than on the Trigger Finger. There is also an MPD32. I haven't played with it but I would guess that expands on what's available in the MPD24.
I have only played with the PadKontrol in stores. I like it. The X/Y pad is really neat and a lot of fun. It doesn't have all the extra knobs and sliders like the previous units but the buttons it does have make programming on the unit easy.
I've read a lot of good stuff about the PadKontrol and some people say that the pad action is better than the MPD. That may be true, I just haven't used it enough to know.
I feel that the Trigger Finger is probably at the bottom of the bunch compared to the other two. It's rather flemsy and flaky. I haven't used the PadKontrol enough to say if it's good or not...so I would recommend the MPD24.
There are a couple alternatives to controllers such as the ones above. Many of the MIDI keyboard controllers come with drum pad on them. If your table space is limited one of these may be a good alternative. That way you have both a keyboard and drum pad setup in one device taking up less space.
Korg makes a neat little thing called the nanoPad. It's a little pad controller. They actually make a whole line of these nano devices. They are neat but because of their size, I'm not sure how long they would last...especially a pad controller. If you do lots of stuff on the road using a laptop, this would be ideal.
Both Roland and Alesis make larger pad controllers. These devices are designed to be played with sticks, like drums. They are great if you want to perform live as it gives you something to do rather than just hitting little pads with your fingers. They can also include trigger inputs so that you can add additional pads or a kick drum trigger for a more realistic drum kit feel. I use an old version of one of these and I love it.
Lastly, you could always buy a used drum machine and use it's pads to send the MIDI data in to your DAW. They are small and convenient and may even have some sounds that could be useful.
Do you own an acoustic drum set? you could just put triggers on that.
Try a search on electronic drums. We have discussed the various options pretty often here. Most of the dicussion has focused on live use - so it may not be all that useful. But even so, most of this has to do with feel. It is hard to tell someone else what is going to feel best to him. You really need to get yourself to a big music store where you can try these things out.
an electric drumset alternative
How about an Ion drumset: http://www.ionaudio.com/studiosession
They are less than half the price of the Roland and Yamaha brands and they work just fine. I have an IED 01 (http://www.ionaudio.com/ied01) triggering BFD via MIDI and it is excellent. My pads are not dull trigger, e.g., cannot have one pad for snare hit and rim shot. However, additional pads can be added for a maximum of nine pads (not including kick drum and hi-hat peddle). The pads are velocity sensitive. The only problem with the set is the kick drum peddle. It sometimes double triggers, but that can be fixed with a real peddle and another pad (without having to sacrifice a pad slot). Or you can just manually delete the extra notes in your sequencer. Also, since this is a well known problem, there are fixes to the kick peddle which can be found on the net and youtube.
The one I suggested first has a USB only module. Mine has a drum machine much like the Alesis SR 16. Infact, Ion is a subsidiary of Alesis, so these sets/pads are just like the Alesis DM5 kits (http://www.alesis.com/dm5kit), except for the cymbals. Note the kick peddle which hits a regular pad as suggested above.
Anyhow, if this sound appealing to you, do some shopping. I found an IED01 at Target for $149.