Playing Drum Machines Live

I’ve got a set coming up with a friend that we’re going to do semi-improvised and I really want to perform with my DrumBrute Impact (processed with Ableton, I’m hooked on Drum Buss). I’m thinking I’ll make a bunch of different minimal patterns to build off of, and I already have a good sense of using solos and mutes from my days of doing sets with an Octatrack.

How do you use drum machines live? Are there any live videos out there with performers getting hands on with drum machines for inspiration?


like this but not as good:

edit: i do basically the same process but with an mpc and external mixer.

Made me remember how much I love the TR 909


I’ve been using the Rytm live. Not so much for improv because I’m controlling a modular at the same time, but I usually set up patterns and mute/unmute on the fly.

Rytm also has a ton of performance modes that can make a pattern really dynamic. I haven’t explored it too much live, but will do soon. Here’s an example of it: (skip to around 3:04)


I bought a Drumbrute Impact recently and love it, although am more into the step programming for recording, than playing it live. Having said that, get into the Mutes and Solos, the Step/Repeat touch strip, and I have definitely seen quite a few YT vids of people rocking the DBI live in very cool ways.

How do you play a drum machine along with live musicians? We struggled with this in my last band. The hard part was always how to synchronize the downbeat & tempo of the drum machine to the rest of what’s going on. Unless all the other musicians agree beforehand to obey the drum machine’s tempo, the drum machine ends up wandering off beat.

All-electronic situations can use midi clock or a CV trigger, but syncing with live drummers is harder. I’ve been looking for a good tap-tempo sync creator that actually places the downbeat under where you tap while tracking tempo changes – that would be the perfect thing for playing my PO-12 with live musicians. (It frustrates me that so many tap-tempo devices don’t do this! Most that I’ve tried will change the tempo but not the downbeat.)

I also experimented with BeatSeeker (back when it was still BeeKeeper) in Max, to generate a midi clock from a live kick and snare. I know the potential is there, but I had a lot of trouble getting that to work smoothly. It seemed to be able to speed up, but not to slow down. Maybe if my drumming was more machine-like …

The PO-12 is really fun to play live tho! Once you have a pattern going, you can tweak it with effects and tone changes while it runs … that stuff ends up inhabiting the same musical role as riffs & fills would on a real drum kit.

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I think the most common way is the drummer follows beat with a click track.


Well yeah, but music can be way more lively when you follow a live drummer, who can add expression via slight tempo changes, downbeat shifts, etc. Non-electronic musicians often get bored playing to click tracks, when they lack that element.

Daaang that’s awesome. Definitely inspiring!

If anyone is using ableton, this is pretty cool!

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I’d be curious to hear how well it behaves with a track with other rythmic elements, as that’s always the culprit for most acoustic / electro performance. The exemple in the video they show is the drum doing all the rythms and ableton mainly running loops, pads, and light melodies, I find the most complicated thing is to have another rythmic part following the drum (it mostly ends up being easier for the drummer to just go with a click in an ear monitor and groove on the straight drum machine beat / loop, than to adapt to the slight fluctuation and weird “out of groove” moments of the drum machines following him, which makes sense latency wise).

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Have you come across James Holden’s group humaniser?


i’ve been using it in duet performances with a friend who is playing guitar through some jamman loop pedals with pretty good results. i use a DI to take a pull off his signal immediately following the first jam man in the chain (the ‘master’) and if it’s rhythmic enough and mostly in time i can clock my whole rig from it. the listen/stop listening toggle is nice when mapped to a foot pedal, makes playing the sync feel much more intuitive and musical. that said, when it’s ‘off’, it’s verrrry off.


zero stored sequences and zero samples is the most fun, but it’s sometimes messy to to get synced transitions. easiest is if you can link a couple of sequencers, with a global reset.

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Most of my work over the last three years has been performing live, improv, with a drum machine (Digitakt - and occasionally Circuit).

I usually go in with only a selection of ~100 samples loaded from the drive into the project - but not yet assigned to parts, and with no patterns coded. I do it all on the fly, live. This does mean that everything tends to start off simple, and then build … but that also allows the other musicians to key off the basic rhythmic pulse and figure I’m going to use.

I generally use a combination of live step editing and live recording (from pads or keys) into the sequencer. I often use both even on a single part. Known and understanding a lot of different canonical patterns is key - so you can call them as you need - or deviate from them as desired. I’m fond of finding sites with large amounts of a style’s beats explained, and I recreate them for practice… this way I get them into my fingers.

I used to use Ableton in my live set up … but I found that it got in the way: The screen was in the way of me looking at other musicians and the audience. The mouse and keys got in my way (and I’d end up neglecting the pattern for too many bars). The constant selecting of tracks or returns to get at the effects got in the way of just making the change… For a period of time I put the computer below my table, and use MIDI controllers to map everything I needed. This was better. Then I ditched Ableton on stage altogether (still love it in the studio).

To me, the key is not getting so sucked into the machines that I’m not there with the music, and with the other musicians.


Yeah I just did a melodic ambient set and it was terrifying clearing out all my sequences beforehand but tons of fun. In this case sync will be easy - Brute will always be running and clocking Beatstep Pro and anything else will be free running or played by hand.

I appreciate this sentiment and hope I can get to that point with performing. Much respect for programming a sampler from scratch too! That must take a lot of practice to know your samples that well.

I think all you need is a pair of these


Just linking the Finger Drumming thread. Haha truly digital :raised_hand_with_fingers_splayed:


i think you could do some excellent polyrhythms if you also had these:


… and then you wear one style on each foot.

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