Buyers' Guides

Drum machine vs electronic drums: What’s the difference?

A drum machine is not the same as an electronic drum kit. Learn about the differences between these two instruments in this guide.

Drum machines are not the same as electronic drum kits, they are quite different and intended for different audiences and uses. Below, we compare the two, and discover why you might want to consider one or the other.

What is a drum machine?

A drum machine is a device that imitates the sounds associated with electronic drums or other percussion instruments and can be programmed to play back rhythms or even entire songs – a feature known as sequencing. Drum machines are usually split into two categories – analogue or digital.

You’re probably already familiar with how a drum machine sounds, even if you’ve not seen one before. Think of classic tracks such as 1999 by Prince, or Last Christmas by Wham, which both use a classic analogue drum machine – the LinnDrum.

Drum machines are also heavily featured in rap and hip hop, even becoming household names, in the case of the Roland TR-808 drum machine. These days, “808” often refers to the bass drum, which is a signature of the TR-808. Think of the deep and punchy bass drum sound used across almost all forms of electronic music.

Drum machines also exist as software, not just hardware. Almost every DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) includes a drum synthesiser, which can be programmed using MIDI. Even VST drum libraries such as Superior Drummer 3 work as drum machines, thanks to the built-in MIDI sequencer.

What are drum machines for?

Drum machines are primarily designed for songwriters and music producers to create and play their own drum parts without needing to rely on a drummer. Recording an acoustic drum kit is one of the most expensive and time-intensive parts of recording, not to mention highly repetitive if a live drummer was needed to take part in a writing session for a songwriter.

Even drummer and vocalist Phil Collins would turn to a drum machine for writing sessions, according to Rolling Stone.  “You try to get a drummer to play something simple for 10, 15 minutes, he won’t do it…  We get bored … [drummers] want to show they can do more than that. A drum machine, as long as you turn it on and turn it off, it’ll just play that forever.”

What is an electronic drum kit?

Meanwhile, an electronic drum kit is primarily designed to be an alternative to an acoustic drum kit. That’s very different to a drum machine, as electronic drums are designed for a human to play, rather than having rhythms programmed in and played back automatically.

Who are electronic drums for?

You will now probably see that while drum machines are essentially designed for songwriters when a drummer isn’t required or isn’t practical, electronic drums are actually for real drummers. They serve as a quieter alternative to acoustic drums for practice at home, or a simpler way to record a real drummer’s performance, without needing the equipment, skills, and studio space, to record an acoustic kit.

If you’re a budding drummer, therefore, a drum machine won’t help you, but an electronic drum might be a good alternative to an acoustic kit. To find out more and help you decide, you can learn more about if it’s better to learn on an acoustic or electronic drum kit.

Featured image by Steve Harvey

By Seb Atkinson

Seb has been a drummer since 2004 and an eDrummer since 2008. He founded eDrumHub to provide information on electronic drums for other drummers who can't justify an acoustic drum kit for practice at home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *