Drum Machines

Drum machines are electronic or electric devices that make sounds and rhythms not unlike those of drum sets or other percussion instruments, although early machines’ sounds resembled their acoustic counterparts much less. The drum machines we have today can be programmed to create a vast variety of different rhythms and expressions, but the early drum machines predecessors, called rhythm machines, could only generate preset rhythms such as tango, samba, bossa-nova, swing, etc. The first rhythm machine was the Wurlitzer Sideman, and it came out in 1959 as an accessory to the Wurlitzer organ.

The first programmable drum machine, which came out in 1979, was the Roland CR-78. This machine had 34 preset rhythms, but could also be programmed to create new custom rhythms with 4 voice polyphony. In 1981 Roland introduced the TR-808, which became the most popular and widely used drum machine in 1980s pop music. The name of the British techno band 808 State, formed in 1988, was inspired by the TR-808. Roland is still a leading maker of drum machines today, manufactured under the brand-name Boss.

Early drum machines were isolated units, but today’s models are capable of being controlled from an outside source such as a computer using the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) standard. In fact, since the 90s, the use of standalone drum machines has been declining and giving way to synthesizers, sequencers, and computer software, but they are still widely available for purchase. Popular current drum machine brands include Roland, Zoom, and Alesis.


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