The Rock Band 2 drums arrived yesterday. They look very similar to the Rock Band drums I had already (and will probably be selling on eBay soon), and the differences are relatively minor. They're wireless (a mild convenience), they have a sturdier foot pedal (lots of people had trouble with the old one, but it was fine for me), they're a little more adjustable, and the heads are quieter (so you're hearing more of the sound coming out of the PS3 and less of the actual drumstick on the drumhead).
But the big differences are in ways they can be more like a real drum set. First, their heads are pressure-sensitive, so they can tell if you're tapping lightly or hard. And second, you can add on a set of cymbals, which I did last night. The droll thing about this is neither has any real impact on Rock Band gameplay. The three cymbals simply are alternatives to three of the main drumheads -- you can play either the blue drum or blue cymbal, and the effect is the same. And the impact doesn't change the sound you hear in the game either.
In Rock Band 2, going into "overdrive" means you get a few seconds to play anything you like, ending on a crash cymbal, and in those few seconds I'll be able to play all eight different sounds, at any intensity I feel like. I think the same might be true during a Big Rock Finish, but not sure. I've always made an attempt (at least when I know the song or am "feeling" it) to make my drum fills fit in -- the game doesn't care if you just tap one drum once, but I try to sound like a real drummer playing a real fill and fitting into, or contrasting with, the song's underlying rhythm. (I can't say I always succeed.) But in Beatles Rock Band you don't even get that. Thou shalt not deviate from canon! Overdrive (actually "Beatlemania") is triggered by a single cymbal hit, there no Big Rock Endings (or, I suppose they might call them Really Big Shows), and at no time do you get to change the songs.
However, in either Rock Band 2 or Beatles Rock Band, there is a Drum Trainer mode that lets you play free-form; you can even go out into the PS3 and play an MP3 and then come back and drum along with it (or just activate a metronome). In this mode, all eight drums do different things and are pressure-sensitive. Drum Trainer mode also includes a set of "standard rhythms" to play along with to train yourself in basic drumming techniques.
And in most ways, that's as close to playing real drums -- in the sense of "just goofing around" as well as the chance to play at learning -- as I need or want to get, as I would ever get it if I bought a real drum set like this one (with this). About the only difference is I need the TV for this so I can't just play on my own while the TV is in use.
Maybe I'll find some time to try to learn real drums and start there. I know that no matter how tricked-out a Rock Band drum set is, it isn't real drums. It's more so than Rock Band guitar is real guitar -- a lot of drumming is about keeping rhythm and getting your limbs to work independently of one another, and you do that in Rock Band drumming, while guitar playing uses almost entirely different skills from Rock Band guitaring -- but even so, it's still a million miles away. But really, given how many other things I want to do with my time, I am really not going to learn real drumming anyway. If I can dork around with it and feel like I'm playing drums, that's enough for me.