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Drum Machines: More Prevalent Than You Think

Sep 12, 2008
When most people think of a synthesizer, they think of a machine used to reproduce the sounds of a piano via different electric frequencies-a keyboard. I know this is what I associate with the term. Yet synthesizers can be put to many different uses. Often, especially among the professionals of the music industry, a synthesizer is used to imitate the sounds of a drum or other percussion instruments. In such instances, the synthesizer is known as a drum machine.

Drum machines can be extremely useful in certain situations. For example, they are a common necessity during professional recording sessions when a live drummer may not be available, or simply not wanted. Most modern drum machines are sequencers, or hardware designed to create and manage computer-generated music. They have a sample playback or synthesizer component that specializes in the reproduction of drum and other percussion instrument sounds. The machine is simply programmed with the required drum scenario and launched at the desired time.

Drum machines have actually been around since the early 1930s. At that time, they were often referred to as "rhythm machines." The first was called the Rhythmicon, and it was capable of producing 16 different rhythms, each associated with a particular pitch, either individually, en masse or in any other combination. Despite considerable initial interest, this machine did not develop a popular following in the long run and was eventually all but forgotten. The subsequent generation of drum machines only played preprogrammed rhythms, often those associated with Latin music like mambo and tango.

Although drum machines were still produced after the Rhythmicon, they did not really take off until the very end of the 1950s with the introduction of the Sideman. This was the first drum machine ever to be commercially produced, and it was developed by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, a producer of organs and jukeboxes. The Sideman was intended as a percussive accompaniment for the company's organs. All through the late 1960s, drum machines were designed to accompany an organist. However, beginning in the 1970s, the machines began to find approval in the eyes of a wider set of people. The first major pop song to use a drum machine was Little Sister's cover version of "Somebody's Watching You," which was released in 1970. After that, drum machines steadily gained a following and today, they are used throughout the music industry.

Like keyboard synthesizers, the difference between the early machines and those of the later years is while the former used analog sound synthesis, newer models use digital sampling. This means that modern drum machines have a distinctly different sound from that of their ancestors. Again, like keyboards, this evolution has inspired some artists to specifically use earlier drum machines in order utilize their characteristic sound.

It should be noted that over the last decade or so, drum machines have experienced a decline in use. This is due to increasing availability of a number of items, including: general purpose hardware samplers, software for sequencing and sampling and music workstations with integrated sequencing and drum sounds.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for drums, drum machine, sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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