A beat machine, or drum machine, is an essential part of many classic electronic music tracks.
However, many of the most well-known beat machines can be expensive, hard to find, and hard to learn. If you’re new to beat making and are looking for a drum machine that’s easy to learn, look no further than this list for inspiration.
What Are the Best Beat Machines For Beginners?
Our number one pick is the Arturia DrumBrute Impact. This analog drum machine has big sounds with a built-in distortion mode for some extra crunch.
If you’re on a budget, the fun-sized Korg Volca Beats has a ribbon controller for hands-on beat-making. If you’re able to spend a little more, the Roland TR-8S Rhythm Performer is an incredible beat machine combining the best of classic Roland TR drum machine sounds.
We took a look at a variety of beat machines based on ease of use, versatility for live and studio applications, and price. All these drum machines are under $1,000, have many features and built-in sounds, and are easy to use, so you can start making beats right away.
Here are our top five beat machines for beginners:
Looper, Repeat, and Song Mode for easy composition
Building on the original Arturia DrumBrute, the DrumBrute Impact is an analog drum machine with a 64-step sequencer and a distortion circuit to sound, well, extra brutal.
You can chain together your patterns in Song Mode and use four different analog outputs, so it’s an excellent choice for recording into your DAW and maintaining creative control.
You can get realistic drum sounds with features such as randomizing and accenting, which can be applied per track for more control. The Drum Roller allows you to create drum rolls, and when you’re playing live, you can use the Step Repeat and Pattern Looper functions to manipulate drum parts on the fly.
All in all, the Arturia DrumBrute Impact is a solid beat-making machine for beginners, from its price to its features.
Six editable analog drum parts and four editable PCM drum parts
Classic Electribe-style sequencer
Size is no indication of capability with the Korg Volca Beats electronic drum machine.
It’s an affordable beat-maker machine for beginners, whether you’re just learning how to compose, or you have some experience with beat-making software already and want to start incorporating hardware into your workflow.
This is a fully analog drum machine with an Electribe-style sequencer, so if you used the Korg Electribe series before, you’ll already be familiar with the layout.
You can also sync it with other Korg gear, including the Monotribe or Monotrone synthesizers. You can buy the Korg Volca power supply separately or run it with six AA batteries (including rechargeable batteries).
After the best semi-modular synth for beginners? That might just be the Behringer K2!
Each pattern has two fill sections which can be automated for easy songwriting
Each channel has Tune, Decay, and Control knobs which can be customized to any value
Roland has brought everything we love about the TR-808 up to date, this time with a sampler included. This analog modeling drum machine is built for today’s music production world and has more capabilities than ever, from live to studio use.
You can even import your own sounds into the sampler from an SD card.
Each pattern has two automatable fill sections to mix it up and customize your beats. Each channel can be individually controlled and tuned, with eight individual audio outputs.
If you’re performing with it live, you can keep one pattern playing while you program the next into its step sequencer.
Behringer took many of the sounds and features we love about the iconic Roland TR-808 and stuck them in the RD-8 Mk2 analog beat machine, including the classic 808 kick.
Unlike the original TR-808, there are 11 individual outputs so you can record each part of your drum kit independently, as well as add accents to each sound for more realism.
In Song Mode, you can put several patterns together, so it’s great for live performances, and you can use the Probability parameter to subtly vary your patterns for realistic drum sounds. There’s also an automatable low/hi-pass stereo filter, so you can program and save your settings on the fly.
With MIDI and Sync I/O outputs, you can connect a MIDI keyboard or modular synth gear with ease.
The Korg Electribe series first emerged in the early 2000s and has been refined and updated to today’s standards. The result is an affordable drum machine loaded with hundreds of sounds and 250 patterns that can be grouped into banks so you can easily recall them when playing live.
You can use its 16-step sequencer via velocity-sensitive pads to create songs and loops.
Beyond drum sounds, the Korg Electribe also has bass sounds and other instruments. It comes with Ableton Live Lite beat-making software and you can export your patterns as Ableton Live sets, making the Korg Electribe one of the most versatile and affordable drum machines out there.
And The Beat Goes On…
To wrap up, hopefully, this guide has given you some ideas about which drum machine is best for beginners. The best way to find a drum machine you like is to go to a music store and try out several of them to compare. However, if you can’t get to a music store, that’s why we write guides like this.
If you’re just starting out with making beats, just remember that everyone has to start somewhere and that you don’t have to spend a lot of money or know a lot about music.
The best way to learn any instrument is sometimes just to dive in and make noise. Especially when it comes to electronic music, the fancy gear that used to cost a fortune is now accessible and affordable to many, and can even be done right in the box with software.
So don’t be intimidated…instead, let it inspire you to start creating your own beats.
How can I make my drum sounds more realistic?
Depending on which type of beat-making software or DAW (digital audio workstation) you use, there are many ways to make your drum sounds more like a real drum kit. You can try adding effects like reverb to a drum sound to “put it in a room” and make it sound like it’s being played live.
You can use MIDI functions like quantize, swing, and change the velocity of notes to vary their volume and tempo. You can also layer drum sounds to fill them out more and give them more character; for example, layering the “top” and “bottom” or rim shot sounds of a snare drum.
Another idea is to record “overhead drums” and make one track using the full kit, then treat each individual drum part on a separate track.
How do I write a beat with beat-making software or with a drum machine?
The most basic drum beat consists of a kick, snare, and hi-hats. In electronic dance music, the most common kick drum beat is “four on the floor”, or a kick drum playing four times for every measure in 4/4 time.
Listen to beats you like and try to clap along with them and pick out which parts are played at which time, and then try to imitate it.
If you’re making beats on a drum machine, you can just press the pads or buttons to trigger the sounds and record them with the step sequencer. If you’re using beat-making software, usually there will be some software instruments that mimic hardware instruments, including drum machines.
Pick one you like and then route it to your MIDI controller keyboard. The keys of the keyboard will then become the buttons on the drum machine and you can press the keys to play the drums.
A lot of beat-making software has built-in looping functionality, as well as various other ways to edit and manipulate your sounds. Since you’ll be recording MIDI notes, you can edit or repeat those notes to make the beat you want without having to physically play all the parts.
You can also change the length or pitch of each beat since not all drums are tuned the same way.
What kind of beat machines do synthpop artists use?
There’s actually more overlap than you think between hip-hop and synthpop, as the Roland TR-808 has been a common choice for both genres for decades. In the 1980s, another big drum machine was the Oberheim DMX drum machine, which was used on New Order’s hit “Blue Monday”.
Depeche Mode used the Boss DR-55 drum machine on their classic album Violator.
Other popular 1980s drum machines include the LinnDrum and samplers with drum sounds, such as the Fairlight CMI. Even nowadays, a lot of modern synthpop artists gravitate heavily towards 1980s drum machines.
Some drum machines can be routed to larger electronic drum pads which are meant to be hit with drum sticks just like a real drum kit. You can also get an electronic drum kit if you want more of a real feel.
However, generally, you don’t need sticks for a drum machine and can just play it with your fingers like a keyboard.
How does a drum machine make sounds?
Some drum machines use synthesis to make their sounds, by combining waveforms of various shapes to mimic percussive sounds. In this sense, you can use a synthesizer to make drum sounds, but the difference is that a drum machine allows you to play those sounds across pads rather than keys and put them together into beats.
Other drum machines use sampled sounds of real drums, such as the Linn LM-1, which was the first drum machine to do so in 1980.
What’s so great about the 808?
Believe it or not, the Roland TR-808 drum machine actually flopped when it was first released in 1980. The drum sounds were created from analog synthesis, so a lot of people thought they sounded unrealistic and flat, especially since the Linn LM-1 drum machine came out around the same year.
However, the 808 kick drum in particular became iconic in the hip-hop world, as well as in electronic dance music like house music and techno.
The more it was used by everyone from Prince to Public Enemy to Phil Collins, the more people got into it and liked what they heard. Not only did the 808 revolutionize the sounds of electronic music, but it also changed the way people perceive pop music and the way popular songs are written.
People became more accustomed to repetitive looped beats rather than traditional song structure, and this remains the case today, with electronic music being as big as ever.