“Groove” WHAT ?

“Groove Gear,” is an umbrella term of electronic musical instrument. Beyond creating or changing sound directly, they, they serves as “music performance automation tools,” by where single/simple gestures leads to play/stop/switching of repetition, edits, and/or mutations of sound far beyond “one touch, one sound” of traditional instruments like drums, piano, etc.

Some common points include:

  • “drum machines”  – preset or user-created patterns and/or sounds are chosen, changed, mixed and matched. This allows the human “drum machine-ist” to pre-programmed everything beforehand, or steer among patterns for live jamming, while The Machine handles all the “busywork”.
  • MIDI sequencer” – extending from the “drum machine,” but for controlling various installer or remote instruments. Many MIDI Sequencers include ‘drum machine’ features, but also extend toward sequencing pitches for chords and/or melodies. Organizing layers in tracks and patterns, one can plan and edit together compositions, or jam between preset or user-created resources.
  • Looper” – motifs of musical performance are captures in audio memory and repeated, allowing one to perform perform/elaborate/improvise along with these repetitions. Popular among beat-boxers, guitarists, and such. Looper tools s with overdubbing, live editing, and/or control of multiple loop tracks allow the the looped sounds to permute variations into musical song-structures and/or improvisations.
  • Arpeggiator” – a classic synth tool where, where the player can simply press keyboard notes of a chord, and the machine plays these as an arpeggio, repeating through the notes in some (adjustable) order, speed, and/or rhythm. More advanced arpeggios can generate compellingly complex motifs steered by single-finger note play.  Quickly blurring the line between “live” and “canned” music control.

Since my primary instrument is the drums, I’ve been continually fascinated by these options as “performance prosthetics”… not just to “add more” musical layers or play with inhuman speed/precision/etc… , but as ways to create and control sound with greater nuance and novelty than may be conceived from the obvious cause/effect world of traditional live instrument performance.


While making breakfast, it dawned on me that I have owned over almost THREE DOZEN “drum machines” (devices that can create rhythmic patterns or loops from analog synthesis or digital samples). Yet, while being in half-dozen bands and a dozen recordings in which I’ve written/rehearsed/recorded on live acoustic drums, I’ve only (so far) had ONE recording project (PowerLoader) that was based around programmed rhythm.

Why do I (continue to) spend so much time/money/energy on something with so little application to show for it ?

I developed my musicality/literacy/voice on the drum kit (in middle school), almost 10 years before actually buying my first drum machine (in college), so studying them was never about need or a creative prop. I just immediately found it empowering, curious, and sometimes confusing to be able to relax my body and exercise my drum-literacy and hear the sound (and see the blinking) of the results.  The ability to set up a familiar pattern, then make
literacy side of my   and not about “know your enemy”… just pure curiosity to understand what kinds of imitation, robotics and automation existed in my world.

Yes, drum machines have no soul; I’ve sold mine many times over. Yes, samplers and other “fake instruments” are cheating; that’s why I’m WINNING !



This page/article is a growing archival log, and work in progress. Many entries may remain unfilled as I muddle through appropriate media, memories, and motivation to keep this “updated”.

I originally started this curation just for the relatively narrow umbralla of “drum machines”, as they were a neatly compartmentalized hobby, seperate from my time and space on the drum-kit. Of cousre, howveer, as my passion for “music machines” grew, it expanded and intermingled with my drumkit, so my umbrella for “groove gear” has expanded toward, “any tool for playing with sound rhythmically”, including:

  • Effects processors (rack units and even some pedals) WHICH CAN …
    • that work in beat/tempo: following some MIDI clock and/or tempo-tap input. Give me rhythimc subdivisions to simple static/sustainging sounds to impart rhythmic motion with chopping/throbbing/swirling goodness.
    • Effect processors hat can loop audio or otherwise freeze sound for such effecting and/or re-sampling
    • pitch-shift sound chromatically, pushing anything into “melodic” territory.


Deep Jargon for Categorical Grouping and Distinction

Somewhere between psychology and engineering lies the behavioral study of “usability,” and the more mechanical design aspects of User Interface (UI) design. I’ve seen a fascinating spectrum of different ways that drum machines tackle the tasks of shaping sounds, creating patterns, stringing patterns into “songs” for automated playback, or driving the whole thing for spontaneous live performance, so I realize I should offer some background and specific terminology into the major distinctions that may make one drum machine work (and play) different from another.

  • Performance Type:
    • sound sequencer” : stores patterns that trigger individual sounds, with or without real time “tweak-able” control of these sounds. Here, “musical e expression” comes at two levels; editing of the pattern, and control of the individual sounds.
    • phrase sampler/looper“:  These devices capture the sound of performance directly. Layers of music performance (i.e. beat-boxing, playing guitar) or playback (i.e. sampling), can be captured, layered etc. Here, the “musical expression” is more tied to how audio layers were created/controlled separately, and how audio playback might be controlled (play/stop, speed up/down, time-stretching, etc).
  • Event Sequencing method(s): some machines only offer one method, others by multiple.
    • sTRip,”  : Originally popularize by Roland’s “TR-” series machines, a strip of 16 lit buttons allows one to see and register events in one bar at a time of one part at a time. Can be slower but more precise to
    • Step Input,” A pattern is created by stepping through available time-spots, and registering note event(s) at each, working in NON-real-time, you step forward, backward, erase, and skip around.  You can also put in many notes of a chord or various voices at one moment without having to wait for the next pass around
    • “Realtime Input”: while the sequencer cycles through the (looping) patter, press a voice-specific button to register that sound at that moment. Intuitive to “play” your parts, allowing multiple voices to be recorded together, but doesn’t allow you to edit anything but “live sounds now,” so this can be tricky plan or prepare (changed) parts to bring in later.
  • Velocity Sensitivity: can the device  the dynamics of soft- and loud taps of real-time playing or otherwise encoded dynamics into MIDI “velocity” in the sequence, and intensity characteristics of the sound ? If so, HOW ?
  • Recording Control:
    • ReStart” some real-time-recording machines require you stop everything, enter a “record mode,” and only allow you to work on that pattern until you stop, and resume “play mode” to switch among patterns
    • Fluid Recording” would allow you to jump freely between Compose (record) and Perform (play) modes while jumping between patterns.
  • Effects: many machines process the initial sound with analog/digital effects, to create more depth of sound, or expressive real-time control
    • reverb or echo can add ambient depth. If sounds can be selectively mixed into a reverb or delay buss (a ‘sub-mix’), we have finer sound control.
    • filters: can change the tone; cutting highs and/or lows. Filters allow for anything between subtle coloration to wild expressive “wah”/”bow” effects upon the source.
  • Real-time Controls: popular options beyond start/stop buttons or individual voice pads include
    • knobs/sliders to mix/filter/warp the sounds and/or effects.
    • control inputs, for foot switches to send discrete messages (“start”, “stop”, “tap”, “next”…). I have yet to see a drum-machines with an CV/Expression pedal input jack for continuous control (i.e. “volume” or “wah”).
    • In addition to triggering sounds or controlling step-events, can the buttons also …
      • mute individual voice parts ? This allows allows a pattern to be varied and deconstructed by live performance.
      • Switch between patterns on the fly ? To allow for vamping and jamming without predefined part lengths.
      • Allow for destructive editing, such as real-time erasing specific events or clearing whole parts ?
      • Change sequence length(s) ? Changing all parts together, or individual parts (to create poly rhythms).
  • “Motion sequencing” AKA “Parameter Locking” AKA “Knob Automation” … this is where some machines might allow the “Realtime Controls” that define/express the sounds might sequenced along with, but seperate from, the Notes/Events that trigger the sounds. This allows:
    • simple, sustiaing sounds to form moving, rhytmic sweeps/throbs/stutters/etc…
    • producing more varied succession of sounds on a single “track”:
    • automating knobs alone, then playing/iprovising motifs through the rhtyhms or animations imposed by looping automation




(URL to personal reivew page)
(URL to relevant”Bad Gear” episode)
used asBoughtSold
AkaiMPC Live (mk 1)
AkaiXR-20“digital drum machine”e-drums, practice tool
AlesisDM-Proelectronic drum moduletrigger-MIDI converter, live e-drums, sample source
AlesisSamplePad Pro
AlesisSR16“programmable drum machine”
AlesisTrigger IOtrigger-MIDI converterlive e-drums
BastlMicro Grannysampler, looper,
BossRC-202looper, effector
BossSP-202“Dr Sample”samples, loops
BossSP-808“e-mix Workstation”
“vocal performer”
CasioSK-1“sampling keyboard”
DODD-12Dimension Rack Sampler / Delaylooper
Electro HarmonixSuperEgo“Synth Engine”drones, rhythm effects w/ HX-stomp
ElecrixMo-FXbeat-sync rack effectseffects, looper
ElektronAnalog Rytm
ElektronMonoMachine SFX-60 (mk2)
ElekronOctaTrack DPS-1 (mk1)
EmpressZoia“modular synth / fx pedal”effects, looping, sequences
Future ArtistMidi Looper4 track MIDI loop
Future ArtistMIDI PlatformMIDI routing, plugin-based processing,
GibsonEDP+ (Loop IV)“echoplex digital plus”looping
KorgAM-8000r“ambience modeler” rack effects
Korgelectribe EA-1“analog modeling synth”drones
Korgelectribe EM-1“music production station”beats, drones
Korgelectribe ER-1“rhythm synth”beats
Korgelectribe ES-1“rhythm production sampler”beats
Korgelectribe ESX-1“music production sampler”
Korgelectribe e2s Sampler“music production station” (review of e2, non-sampler)sampling drum machine / synth / sequencer
KorgKP-1 “kaoss pad”
KorgKP-2“kaoss pad”
KorgKP-4“kaossilator Quad”
KorgKP-mini 2s
KorgKO-1 Kaossilator
KorgKO-Pro“dynamic phrase synthesizer”
KorgNTS-1“programmable synthesizer kit”drones, arpeggios, effects, looping
KorgPX5-DPandora practice effects/trainer
KorgPXR-4portable multi-track studio
KorgR3virtual analog synth/vocoder
KorgRadiasvirtual analog synth/vocoder/rompler/etc
KorgVolca Bass“anaog bass machine”
KorgVolca Keys“analog loop synth”
KurtzweilEvent Station rackmount trigger-MIDI converter / sequencer“drum-peggiator”
LexiconMPX-1“multiple processor FX”looping, rhythm-FX
Line 6HX-Stompguitar multi-efectorLooper, synth, rhythm-FX w/ SuperEgo
Megadrum Pro 32trigger-MIDI converter, live e-drums
NovationCircuit (mk1)clip-based synth/sample groovebox
Novation Circuit Tracks
NovationMiniNova“analog modeling synthesizer”vocoding, vocal FX
QuasimidiSirius“GrooveSynth” , phoneticher spectral transformatordrums, keys, drones, vocoding,
RaneMP26Club mixer w/ Flex FXUSB sound card, routing
Red SoundSoundBITE microDJ looperlooping, effects
RolandD2“groovebox”rhythms, sample sources
RolandPM5D“personal music assistant”drum machine, sample sources
RolandSPD-6e-drums, practice tool, sample source20042005
RolandTMC-6“trigger-MIDI converterlive e-drums
RolandVP-70vocal pitch-to-midi, pitch shifting, MIDI key-harmony
Sound SculptureSwitchBlade GLrack guitar effects-loop16×16 Matrix Mixer
TascamDR-44portable field / multi-track Recorder
T.C. HeliconBlenderportable headphone mixer6×4 stereo matrix mixer
T.C. HeliconPerform VE“vocal sampler / effects “vocal processing, key-pitching, phase vocoding,
T.C. HeliconVoiceLive 3vocal effector / looper
T.C. HeliconVoiceTone Create XTportable vocal effector
Teenage EngineeringPO-32“Tonic” virtual-analog Drum Synth / Sequencer
Teenage EngineeringPO-33“KO” “Knockout” PCM Sampler / Sequencer
Teenage EngineeringPO-35“Speak”speech encoder/synth (phase vocoder) / Sequencer
YamahaAN-200“desktop synthesizer”beats, drones, sample source
YamahaDD-3“digital percussion practice instrument”sample source
YamahaQY-10“music sequencer”beats, sample source,
YamahaQY-70“music sequencer”
YamahaRS-7000“music production studio”, like RMX-1 with a samplersequencing, FX, sampling
YamahaSU-10“sampling unit”sampling, beats, live FX
YamahaSU-200“sampling unit”sampling, loop chop/remix, drones, FX
ZoomMRS-8“multi-track recordign studio”beats, recording,
ZoomMRT-3“micro rhythm track”beats, drum machine, sample source
ZoomMS-50g“multi-stomp” mult-effectcs, drones, looping
ZoomR8drones, beats
ZoomSB-246 “StreetBoxx”