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3 Awesome Online Drum Machines

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

This is a small adapted section of a chapter that has been published in Technology for Unleashing Creativity by Steve Giddings, released by Oxford University Press in April 2022.

3 Amazingly useful online drum machines you can use in the classroom.

3 Amazingly Useful Online Drum Machines

Drum machines are a type of step sequencer that emulate sounds of a drummer. Some iconic drum machines, like the Roland TR-808, with their signature electronic drum sound, became the foundation of much of hip-hop and modern music production. A sequencer is a piece of hardware or software that can be programmed to make a certain sound at a certain time. With a step sequencer, the instructions happen one “step” at a time. There are a multitude of different sequencers, but some of the most common are step sequencers. They function much like modern score: they read left to right, one block at a time in steps (after this happens, this happens, then this happens, etc). Here are a few different drum machines and step sequencers you can use with learners to explore beatmaking that can be used for various other creative activities.

Groove Pizza

Shows the interface of GroovePizza with options of how to download the file.

Groove Pizza Screen Shot

Groove Pizza is created by NYU Music Ed Labs. It is a mathematical and theoretical approach to the traditional drum machine. Your math and computer science teachers will love it too for its clear cross-curricular connection to fractions and programming. It is a unique drum machine because it is easy to create a really good-sounding beat using shapes and lines instead of only programming in a traditional drum grid (TUBS) sequencer. In my experience with the app, this “pizza grid” facilitates creativity of a good-sounding beat by having the user find interesting combinations of abstract shapes within the pizza. The more interesting the geometry, the more interesting the beat sounds. If a learner is having a difficult time coming up with a rhythm track that they like for a particular project, Groove Pizza is a wonderful place to begin for generating ideas. Some interesting features of this app are that you can play with the number of slices (subdivisions) in the pizza as well as the BPM and amount of swing.

Like Chrome Music Lab’s Song Maker and BeepBox, grooves composed in Groove Pizza can be shared through a link, but this app also easily integrates with Soundtrap. A rhythm track composed in Groove Pizza can be continued in Soundtrap without reformatting. It can also be transferred over to Noteflight and continued in that notation software as well. Currently there are no other platforms where it transfers as seamlessly; however, it can be transferred to pretty much any DAW with a few tweaks. For a DAW like BandLab, you could download as WAV or as MIDI but they would interact differently. If you export from Groove Pizza as WAV it becomes an audio file that cannot be altered once it is imported to a track in your DAW. If your groove is exported as MIDI, it can be imported as a MIDI file in your DAW but will not be transferred to the drum grid. Instead, it will default to a grand piano sound as a traditional MIDI file and interpreted as pitch (not that that would be considered a bad thing) instead of going to the TUBS grid. To get the sound you are looking for in BandLab, click the piano icon to the left of the track (virtual instrument will pop up) and select a drum pad instrument from the drop down menu and select the type of kit you would like to use. At this point, you can alter it like a regular MIDI file: by selecting the ‘MIDI Editor’ and altering pitches in the piano roll.

Shows how to reassign a sound in BandLab after downloading a MIDI file.

BandLab drum pad interface.