Percussion Technology, Part II

Mike Lawson • Technology • December 1, 2001

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In the November issue of School Band and Orchestra, we reviewed tutorial software, MIDI percussion, notation software, instructional videos and technology resources for percussion. In Part Two of Percussion Technology, will cover drum machines, drum machine software, drum software tracks, sequencing software, and hardware.

The first drum machine was the Chamberlin Rhythmate (1949). Korg released the first all-electronic rhythm machine in 1966, called the MiniPopos. One of the founders and a partner started Acetone in the 1960s. Roland was founded in 1972 and developed its first drum machine, the TR-77. The first programmable drum machine was the Roland Acetone FR-15 in 1975.

Today, a good starter drum machine is the Boss DR-670 drum machine. This includes 255 sounds and 16 bass sounds for programming drum rhythms and bass patterns, responsive velocity- and after touch- sensitive pads, powerful capabilities for editing sounds, including decay and pitch shift, and slap bass and synth bass sounds to finish a piece. Other Roland drum machines, such as the DR-770, have a built-in effects processor with equalization (EQ) and ambience control ready to record finished and fully produced drum tracks.

Yamaha has two very good entry-level drum machines for music educators. The DD-35 has four drum pads, each with a lighted ring, which may be played with sticks or hands. Built-in games, using the lighted rings, are included.

The DD-55 has stereo voices, a bass boost system and the addition of DSP. The unit is General MIDI-compatible, containing MIDI IN/OUT, 100 built-in songs and also allows the users to record their own songs. The bass drum and hi-hat are controlled with the included foot switches. Seven assignable pads, each with adjustable sensitivity, may be played with sticks or hands.

Yamaha also has an exciting dance-music workstation that is a real-time performance instrument and a powerful production tool. It is the RS7000. This product not only has all the capabilities of a drum machine, but also integrates audio and MIDI. It allows drummers and producers to use and change audio loops of real drum tracks in real-time. It seamlessly integrates the world of MIDI tone generators and audio samples. An intuitive “hands-on” interface makes real-time operation easy and also offers in-depth sequencing and editing functions to create the most complex original patterns from scratch. The power of this unit is very noticeable with a 16-track sequencer that has a 110,000-note memory and 480 clocks/quarter-note resolution that takes recordings from a RM1 keyboard or an external MIDI keyboard using a versatile range of record modes: real-time replace, real-time overdub, punch-in, step, and grid. The sound module has 700-plus sounds with 50 preset styles, 960 patterns and 7,726 phrases and is fully MIDI-compatible. It has a built-in floppy disk drive for convenient, low-cost data storage and retrieval.

With a drum machine, it is possible to create drum patterns with the drum sounds. Drum machines are great for chaining rhythm patterns which make the repetition of specific measures automatic, as commonly found in Latin music.

But a drum machine can go far beyond the rhythm patterns with its special effects capabilities. For example, reverb is the most commonly used signal processor. Reverb effects can generate sound qualities of different size rooms with sound qualities of the “hot live” sound of a club or a large hall setting in which the snare drum becomes very powerful. Most reverb units include a non-linear, gated reverb setting.

Equalization, or EQ, also plays an important role in creating a better drum sound. For example, high-end equalization will create a tighter, tinnier sound. If you want to boost the bass drum sound, add small amounts of low-end equalization. Never add a great deal of equalization as this will cause hiss. Rather, add a small amount of the desired high- or low-end equalization, and slightly reduce the other.

Drum Software Tracks for Sequencing Drum Parts: Drum Beats/Loops
Drumtrax MIDI Files have long been used by musicians to produce drum tracks without a drum machine. What makes this product so good is that these drum tracks are recorded by real drummers. It comes with a CD-ROM that is loaded with an amazing number of drum tracks in an impressive array of styles. It comes on a CD-ROM and includes a software librarian to make it easy to organize these huge files. Drumtrax has Standard MIDI Files in many musical styles. Categories include Alternative, Blues, Country, Dance/Pop, Hip- Hop, Hard Rock, Jazz Latin, Odd Meters, R&B, Rap, Software Rock, ToolBox, and World. Each category has numerous tracks and each track is substantial, with an average length of around 64 bars. Hardware requirements: Windows 95 or higher or Mac OSS 7.1 or later with at least 8 RAM. For more information,

Hal Leonard has just come out with three books: HIP-Hop and RAP Drum Beats & Loops, Classic Rock Drum Beats & Loops, and Modern Rock Drum Beats & Loops. Each one contains a CD-ROM. The CD-ROMs of the three books have more than 1,900 authentic drum loops and an audio CD with 99 tracks for demonstration or play-along. Each 32-page book contains all the music notation for 101 basic drum beats. The musical styles vary from a broad range of modern rock styles to hip-hop and rap styles. The loops are seamless, repeated patterns with many useful variations. The variations include intros, fills, accents, and endings. The CD-ROM also holds a complete set of one-shots which makes it possible to tweak and customize the loops and variations. You can mix and match the sounds to customize the groove you want for your sequencing, notation or keyboard applications. The index of each book navigates through the hundreds of folders embedded within each book’s CD-ROM. All musical beats and loops are royalty-free.

If you’re looking for more sampling CDs and CD-ROMs and loops, try the following companies: Ilio (, Eastwest ( and Bigfish Audio ( 

There is an alternative to a drum machine: software that emulates a drum machine. Most music software requires at least some musical knowledge and you usually need to have an idea of what you want to create. BioDrummer adds random notes and lets you decide whether or not you like each note. By keeping what you like and deleting what you don’t like, you quickly “grow” a unique rhythm that is custom-tailored to your personal musical tastes. Because BioDrummer utilizes a technique called “software synthesis,” your CPU does all the work. As a result, BioDrummer sounds as good as drum machines costing hundreds of dollars but uses an ordinary sound card. You have a huge selection of instruments with which to create. BioDrummer has 62 built-in percussion instruments like congas, kick drums, hi-hats, snares and many more. It also has no voice limitations, so you are free to create complicated figures. It has the ability to import WAV files as percussion instruments, which means you won’t be stuck with the same sounds over and over again. It offers 18 different time signatures to choose from and uses a proprietary file format, *.bio, which needs only a few thousand bytes to save your rhythms. You can also export your rhythms as a WAV file for use in other music programs. Hardware requirements: Pentium-based PC CPU with Windows 95 or higher, 16 MB RAM, 3 MB free hard disk drive space, 16-bit sound card with good speakers. For more information,

Trommler is a free software product that you can redistribute and/or modify. It is an X-Windows-based drum machine using the Gimp Toolkit that features a graphic user interface with 16-bit 44,100 kHz stereo drum samples and real-time audio output along with real-time audio output, variable number of beats per pattern, volume adjustment of drum samples, stereo panning of drum samples and many more features. For a neat screen shoot of its slick user interface, go to:

Attention Mac users: There is a drum machine software that utilizes the built-in capabilities of QuickTime to output sound without requiring external hardware. It is Virtual Drummer. Its interface is designed to be extremely straightforward and requires no musical knowledge. Drums are added to a set simply by dragging and dropping from a palette. A simple grid is used to add beats, which can be stored in a “drumlets” palette, similar to a clip art library you might find in a graphics applications. Virtual Drummer can import MIDI, which allows you to download your favorite files from the Internet and practice. Virtual Drummer can also export the song you create as a QuickTime movie or AIFF file or MIDI, allowing you to use it in multimedia presentations, Web pages or other music applications. Hardware requirements for version 4.1.2 include MacOS 8.1 or higher, QuickTime 3.0 or higher and a PowerPC Macintosh. For version 3.1, the Mac system requirements are MacOS 7.5 or higher and QuickTime 2.5. For more information, visit

Two other worthy drum machine software products to look at are Voodoo by Bitheadz ( and Rebirth by Steinberg ( Voodoo is easy-to-use software that turns your computer into a programmable “beat box” that plays samples and Standard MIDI files. Samples and drum patterns can be triggered from the computer keyboard, a MIDI controller, or a MIDI application running on the same CPU. No additional hardware is required except for the PC version that requires a DirectX sound card. All functionality is accomplished within one window containing multiple “drum pads.” Voodoo offers 200 MB of sampled drum kits that can be converted into the Unity DS-1 format. You can easily assign drum pads by dragging eight-, 16-, or 24-bit samples from hard disk to the pads. Voodoo then displays the pitch, volume, filter, pan, velocity, envelope, mute group, and two effects processors.

Sequencing Software With Good Percussion Technology Capabilities
There are some excellent professional sequencing products available, such as Performer by Mark of the Unicorn, Logic Audio by E-Magic, Sonar by Cakewalk and Cubase VST and Cubase Score by Steinberg. There are also some worthy competitors for music educators at good prices. Sequencing software programs can create interesting percussion effects in your compositions. Cakewalk’s Sonar has a Piano Roll view that displays all notes from one or more tracks in a grid format that looks much like a player piano roll. Notes are displayed as horizontal bars, and drum notes as diamonds. Pitch runs from bottom to top, with the left vertical margin indicating the pitches as piano keys or note names. Time is displayed running left to right with vertical measure and beat boundaries. The Piano Roll view makes it easy to add, edit, and delete notes from a track. If you are editing a track that is routed to a percussion instrument, the Piano Roll view automatically configures itself in drum mode. In drum mode, the piano “keys” are replaced by the names of the various percussion instruments. This makes it easy to change percussion notes from one instrument to another, or to select and edit the notes played by a single percussion instrument. You can also manually reconfigure the view to display in drum mode or to use note names that are defined as part of any instrument definition. The drum mode can be used for pitched (melodic) percussive instruments as well.

Yamaha has a new software program called Xgworks, which is a sequencing application like Cakewalk, Sonar or Cubase VST for both the PC and Mac platforms. It has a “Drum Window” view for editing and creating drum tracks. The names of the drums are written down the left side of the window and you can re-order them to any position you like. Each drum part note is a different color. Hi-hats are orange; kick drums are black, etc. Velocity is represented by the size of the note-head for immediate visual feedback and by graphic bars at the bottom of the screen.

Cubase Score and Cubase VST 32, the two programs with advanced scoring features, offer a lot of great notation scoring options. A problem associated with scoring MIDI percussion is that MIDI notes don’t correspond to traditional percussion notation. Cubase Score can easily handle this scenario with its drum map capability. The drum map allows the MIDI note to be mapped to a different display text. You can also use a variety of note head shapes. Better yet, all of these settings can be saved and instantly recalled in a template. The scoring in Cubase products can handle single-line percussion as well — to eight different percussion parts per staff.

Cubase VST also offers some unique tools to make handling drum and percussion parts easier. Cubase VST has a dedicated drum and percussion MIDI editor. This allows each drum sample to be mapped into its own lane and be labeled. Cubase VST also offers a wide range of software instruments. Instead of purchasing expensive hardware add-ons, there are now many software drum machines or samplers that can be played directly from any MIDI device. Cubase VST comes with the LM-9 drum machine, a nine-pad drum machine. The LM-4 comes with more than 380 megs of high resolution drum samples. HALion, the software sampler, comes with a wide range of sounds in its 1,600 megabyte library, including drum and percussion sounds.
For a fast, simple approach to sequencing that is inexpensive, Digital Orchestrator Pro by Voyetra is a good overall sequencing programming with digital recording and percussion capabilities.

A sound card on a PC is very necessary because it allows you to customize the audio capabilities of the computer. In the technology column of the June, 2001, issue of this publication, I wrote an extensive article that reviewed sound cards with MIDI interfaces. My favorite all-around sound card is the Santa Cruz, which contains standard percussion sets. One important difference between sound cards is the percussion MIDI sample sets. The Santa Cruz by Voyetra ( offers a lot features that make it attractive for MIDI software applications for beginner, intermediate and advanced users, plus some nifty percussion MIDI sample sets.

With computers being so much a part of society and the education scene today, encourage percussion students to use percussion technology at home as well as other forms of music technology. For your convenience, my articles from this technology column are indexed and “hot” linked, just click on Technology.

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