How Drum Machines Work


A drum machine is an electronic drum which is used to imitate the sound of a drum. Drum machines are also used to reproduce the sound of other percussion instruments apart from drums. A drum machine becomes one of the most necessary instruments when session drummers are not available.

Leon Theremin was the founder of early drum machines during the period of 1930-1932. It was then termed as rhythm machines and created sound with the use of digital sampling. Throughout the years a number of individuals have developed the early drum machines. Today drum machines are available in a wide variety of options and features to choose from and operates using analog sound synthesis.

Prices for drum machines vary widely. Nonetheless, it is always recommended to conduct a significant amount of research regarding the brand name, technology, quality and other important aspects before making the purchase. If an individual wishes to purchase a drum machine for a comparatively low price, the option of purchasing at a discounted rate is possible through seasonal disposition of inventory, stock clearances and many other reasons.

Drum machines are used by a number of professions. Some of them include music composers, song writers, liver performers etc. Countless manufacturers offer drum machines to the market. Among which manufacturers such as Yamaha, Alesis, Roland are some of the top companies. All companies try to differentiate their drum machines by incorporating a significant level of technology to the product. While some of these attempts become extremely successful some of them have also become failures.

In order to obtain the most out of a drum machine, the user must have a significant level of knowledge on its technology and how it works. This will ensure that all features of the drum machine are effectively utilized to create the most appealing and original drum sound.

This article will talk about how drum machines work, some of the common features of drum machines and why we still find them a lot of fun.

(note: The traditional concept of drum machine has evolved to the extent of developing drum machine software but we won't cover those options here. These are also termed virtual drum machines. Some websites offer options of selecting the preferred drum machine to be tried out virtually. This will offer a unique experience to the drummers while also acting as a great trial of a drum machine before actually purchasing one. The virtual drum machine is also compatible with certain mobile phones. As a result individuals have received the convenience of carrying one wherever they go. But these types are mostly used purely for entertainment purposes.)

Basic Features

Drum Voices

Drum voices is the ability to mimic different elements of the drum kit like the snare or the tom or the cymbals. Every drum machine has some version of this ability.

Step Sequencer

A step sequencer is a way to assign notes or rhythms in a certain sequence that, many times, is replicated in a loop. Sixteen steps is a common number of sequences for a basic drum machine. The step sequencer also has the ability to change the pace of the sequence to make it go faster or slower.

The Korg KR mini Rhythm Machine is an example of a basic drum machine.

More Advanced Features

Tempo Synchronization

Not all older machines are capable of tempo synchronization. This is a feature of newer models that allow the drum machine to take in tempo information from a synthesizer and sync up its sequence with that tempo. This is a lot of fun, it’s a very useful feature from a time saving perspective and really allows the user to be more creative without having to be very technically oriented.

Sound Fading

Sound fading allows the user to fade different sounds in and out of the sequence. For instance, this could be done with the sound of the hi-hat to create some interesting variation in the sequence.

MIDI Syncing and Sequencing

MIDI sequencing lets the user export sequences and samples out to a digital audio workstation or a DAW like Ableton Live where you can really remix or recompose the data. For those who enjoy the relative simplicity of the drum machine or would prefer not to sit in front of a computer screen, this makes the workflow more enjoyable.


The ability to take any sound (even ordinary, everyday sounds like traffic or voices) and import them into a sequence is called sampling. This really expands the boundaries of the artist's creativity allowing them to experiment with any audio data that can be recorded. If a drum machine has the ability to do sampling, your imagination becomes the only limit on your creativity!

The Alesis SR16 is an example of an intermediate drum machine.

The Roland AIRA Rhythm Performer (TR-8S) is an example of a high-end drum machine.


When shopping for a drum machine, it’s good to have a clear idea of the features you want. Whether you are a beginner just looking to get into audio production or a more experienced user, there are a broad range of drum machines that are available to fit your taste.

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