What’s Up with the Drum Machine?

One of the nice things about WordPress (the website Kurt Sam Source is hosted on) is that you can easily find out what search terms are leading people to your site. People type all sorts of things into Google before they run across this site—everything from “sam tsui start again lyrics” to “when will kurt sing again” (that second one is quite popular).

But one of the top ways people end up on this website is by searching something along the lines of “kurt schneider drum machine.” It seems you guys are very interested in this mysterious electronic drum thing Kurt keeps using in all his recent videos. And why not? We’d never seen one before either, not until Kurt started showing his off, and it’s pretty cool. So we did a little research around the Internet to find out just what this drum machine is and how it works.

Roland HPD-15First off, it’s not called a drum machine. Drum machines do exist and are similar, but with those you have a bunch of buttons instead of a drum pad. The buttons produce drum sounds, but don’t allow you to actually ‘play’ the notes. What Kurt uses goes by a few names, most often “percussion controller” and “electronic hand drum controller.” There are a few companies that produce these controllers, but not many. Roland seems be the most popular brand, and is probably the type Kurt uses (see the picture above for a Roland percussion controller that looks just like his).

Yamaha DD-65Percussion controllers are electronic instruments, not unlike keyboards. The device has a variety of notes and sounds pre-programmed in, and is designed to sound like a real drum set. Some percussion controllers are meant to be played with drum sticks, and some with your hands. They come in a variety of sizes, and have differing numbers of sections. Some even look a little like mini drum kits—see the picture to the right for an example.

The nice thing about the percussion controllers with multiple sections on the drum pad is that you can assign different sounds to different areas. For example, on the Roland HPD-15 there are 15 sections, but the device comes programmed with around 600 different sounds. So it’s pretty versatile (and it had better be, considering the price :))

Roland SPD-20Most, if not all, of these percussion controllers are MIDI-enabled. Without getting too technical, this means they can be hooked up to a computer or another MIDI-enabled device. So you can use your percussion controller to record music to your computer, and create a library of drum sounds and loops to use for composing. Actually, this ability seems to be the real purpose of these drum devices. The fact that you can use them as a performance instrument is just a bonus.

There isn’t a whole lot of information to be found on percussion controllers—you get the sense they’re still a fairly new tool. But if you want to learn more, here are a few good places to start:

MIDI Percussion Controller Roundup

Electronic Drums: Buying Guide (see the “Percussion Controllers” section)

Hopefully this satisfies your curiosity about Kurt’s mysterious drum machine, or at least helps :1 And if any of you actually have one of these things, or have used one, leave a comment and let us know anything important we’ve left out.

3 Responses to What’s Up with the Drum Machine?

  1. Nathalie Swiss says:

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