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I'm a big fun of using a metronome while practicing, but after a while it just gets boring to hear all this solid ticking. When you play scales and stuff like that, it's ok, but when you are playing a song, it's much better to have something more beautiful in the background.

So, I have three questions:

  1. Is the drum machine better or worse then a metronome in terms or every day practice?
  2. What kind of cheap drum machines are there, how do they look and how they are used (I've never seen one myself)?
  3. Is there some easy configurable software for windows or linux that can replace a drum machine?

Thank you!

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7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I would recommend getting something to multi-track record with. Garage Band if you have a Mac, or Audacity if you want something free for Windows/Linux.

You can put down some rhythm guitar, a "groove", and then loop it so it repeats indefinitely, and then improvise along with it. This will be more fun than playing to a metronome or a drum machine, and you might even end up with a song out of it.

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Is the drum machine better or worse then a metronome in terms or every day practice? Definitely a drums are better to this; a metronome is just really a flat click there is no style to groove with; drums can provide this. Metronomes are really all about 'drilling' timing/speed into a musician. Using drums will let you develop timing in a more naturally musical way; and its more fun.

What kind of cheap drum machines are there, how do they look and how they are used (I've never seen one myself)?

Im not a huge fan of drum machines however they usually are just square boxes with buttons and an LCD screen on them. Here is an example of a cheap one. http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/product/3354-alesis-sr-16.html#sterling_uk

Is there some easy configurable software for windows or linux that can replace a drum machine?

For ease of use and speed at which you can be up and running, I recommend Toontrack's EZdrummer, there are loop packs for just about every style and there is a player which allows you to build your drums independently of a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation such as Cue base/Pro tools).

EZDrummer

If EZdrummer does not provide what you need Toontrack also provide the excellent Superior dummer; though it needs a pretty high spec PC to run well.

Superior Drummer

I would however recommend getting to know and use a DAW to use these products. Reaper is a professional grade DAW which offers non-commercial home licences at around a third of the cost of the commercial licence.

There are may other products like Addictive Drums / BFD Drums / Groove Monkey however I don't have much experience with them so cannot recommend.

Here is an interesting on-line drum looper that; there are many such as this though they are limited and cant really compare to the two products i have mentioned above.

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+1 for BFD2. Great sequencer, loads of different sounds, and if you want to plug in an electronic drum kit it is a fantastic module. –  Ali Maxwell Jan 14 '11 at 18:32
    
Where be this +1? ;) –  DRL Jan 15 '11 at 3:18
    
There ya go :-) –  Ali Maxwell Jan 15 '11 at 13:12
4  
You might also try the free Hydrogen drum machine (hydrogen-music.org). I haven't used it in a long time, but I remember it sounding pretty good. There's a Windows installer available. –  Joel Jan 15 '11 at 20:53
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Just like to add that if you have a Mac the drum machine 'Drumatix' is easy to use, sounds great, AND IS FREE. Download here. Hope this helps.

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+1 for thinking of the Mac users! –  Anonymous Jan 16 '11 at 5:34
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I recommend you get a software drum machine, like FL Studio or Reason.

FL Studio is excellent for getting started out with because its

  • Cheap
  • Easy to use

Reason has a much wider array of instruments and drum kits available, but the refill packs etc can get $very $$expensive.

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It depends on what you want to achieve...

If your focus is on improving your inner clock and your timing, I'd still recommend practicing with a metronome. The very short and boring clicking sound of a metronome has the great advantage that you can precisly tell whether you're on the click or not, at least if you're playing an instrument with a sharp attack, like guitar, bass, piano or drums: if you're right on the click, you won't hear the click of the metronome any more. If you can hear it, you're off.

If you just want something to help you keep the tempo when you're playing and your main focus is on other things, a drum machine works fine of course and can be more fun.

If your main focus is one getting better at soloing or improvisation, recording yourself is a nice and quick method of generating your own accompaniment. However, this will hardly help you improving your timing.

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The computer programs recommended in other answers are good, but if you don't want to be reliant on a computer, there are standalone options.

Pedals

Some guitar multi-effect pedals include some preset drum patterns. I have a Zoom G1 -- pretty cheap -- which has a bunch of patterns including ones in most time signatures including 5/4 and 7/8, and straight metronome patterns too.

This is a fairly cheap way to go, the drum sounds are pretty good, and you get an effects pedal! - but you won't be able to create your own rhythms, there are no fills or variations, and you can't program in song structures.

I only name Zoom because it's the one I know about. Other brands may well have the same feature.

"Toy" keyboards

I mention these because they're cheap, and they make drum sounds. You could buy a second hand Casiotone for pocket money, with 100 preset rhythms. Sure, they may not sound amazing, but since all you're looking for is something with more interest to it than a metronome, it might well meet your needs.

Again, you're unlikely to be able to program your own rhythms or song structures.

There are also "toy" drum machines, for which most of the above still applies.

A real drum machine

There are used models on eBay for $50 or so that sound great, have velocity-sensitive buttons, are fully programmable and also have a broad range of preset rhythms. It's a fairly future-proof option, since it will continue to be useful, and if you ever want to sell it, it's likely to keep its value.

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EZ drummer is a good choice, but Addictive Drums has more than one hundred midi tempos in it on which you can practice; see some videos on YouTube and make up your mind.

I used to be an EZ drummer user before Addictive Drums, but I recognized it was only a toy after having tried the Addictive Drums trial for awhile: it's all already mixed, and if I want to arrange drums on a Live project I just have to drag and drop the midi tempo in Live.

This means that you could easily program the drum machine to play an entire song with an approximation of the tempo of the original song, in matter of 5 minutes.

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