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?
  • i prefer to set it to Click on beat 1 only. Its my responsibility to make sure I'm back on the next 1` Nov 5, 2021 at 14:10
  • Keep using your metronome. See this answer for a suggestion how you can use it in a new way. music.stackexchange.com/a/16852/9426 Nov 5, 2021 at 15:33

10 Answers 10


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.


Is the drum machine better or worse then a metronome in terms of 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).


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.

  • 2
    +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
    Jan 14, 2011 at 18:32
  • 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, 2011 at 20:53

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.


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.


Both have their uses. As stated in just about every answer so far, a drum machine is far less boring, and gets you ready for playing in a band with a real live drummer.

However, it's a poor relation when it comes to using a metronome for its intended use - keeping time. I'll expand. Most will use a metronome to click on all of the beats in a bar - let's say tick, tick, tick, tick in 4/4. Sometimes with the luxury of a ping on beat one. Fair enough. But - what about dropping that to two ticks a bar, then one? What about leaving it at two, and imagining they're 2 and 4? What about putting it back to 4, and imagining they're the 'ands' not the beats?

That sort of practice regime really does smarten up your timing, and sense of where you are in a bar. Not really available with a drum pattern as that will usually be a full one due to sounding real-drummer-like.


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.


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.


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.


Re: drum machines: if you have a smartphone there are numerous apps available with sub $10 price tags. Some include pretty fancy varieties of sounds and rhythms - DrumJam on iPhone is just one of many.


I've practiced with a metronone for long enough to develope that internal pulse. After hearing a very good lesson by Troy Stetina I've realized it's time to go to a drum machine because he talks about the importance of being able to listen to everything the drums are doing including the fills. I also now remember Malcolm Young saying in an interview that when he played it would be the drums he listened to, not himself.Stetina says it too. For myself, I need to learn to listen carefully to the drums. So I guess it's a balance because I'm not good enough to not listen closely to myself yet, but still want to learn to study what's going on with the drums.I feel like I'm raising a question for myself.


Maybe an off-the-wall suggestion, but the tool that's helped me lock into the most precise timing is a delay/echo effect.

With a metronome or other external source, it's easy to play a bit ahead of (or behind) the beat, without realising. But when you're playing against yourself, the difference between being dead in time and being even a fraction out gets magnified — you get very obvious, very direct, and very precise feedback*.

(* Pun intended. Sorry.)

If you're playing a synth or reasonably-powerful keyboard, it may be a built-in effect; if not, then you can use a delay pedal, multi-FX unit, or plug-in on your computer. You'll probably want to set the level quite high (so the first echo is nearly as loud as the original), the feedback quite low (so you only hear one or two echoes), and you could set the delay time to give a crotchet at your intended speed, or a quaver, or a dotted crotchet or dotted quaver. (Dotted-time delays take a bit more practice to play against, and require the most precise timing, but they give some of the most interesting effects. For example, artists as diverse as Jean-Michel Jarre and The Edge use them to create rich soundscapes from simple lines.)

It's not suited to all types of exercise or music; it doesn't work well with rapidly-changing harmony. But it gives nice scales in thirds or even triads, and works very well for arpeggios. And it really does teach you to play exactly in time!

(Of course, being able to play along with a recording is also fun. And being able to listen to other musicians and fit in with them is another important skill. But for the purely technical skill of precise timing, I haven't found anything better.)

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