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Free drum and percussion creation software?

Posted on 2009-04-13
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Hi experts

I am a skinflint, and am therefore looking for a FREE (or very cheap) software program that would allow me to create some fairly simple drum progressions to provide the backing for some recordings, and save out to *.wav or *.mp3 format.  Here's the background so you get an idea what I am trying to do.

I play the guitar and try to sing.  Years ago I had an old Tascam 244 Portastudio and multi-tracked a number of songs to cassette.  I've since managed to recover a few of them to *.mp3 from those old cassettes and it inspired me again to get into some recording using the PC.

While I was getting to grips with multi-tracking, and as part of guitar practice, I shamelessly used some ancient backing tracks that I got on skinny little "vinyl" 45's that came with Guitar magazines.  I recorded them to cassette from my "Hi-Fi" and then played lead guitar, sang, and basically jammed my way to a few fairly good mix-downs on cassette.  Now you'll know how far back I'm going!!

Oh my, this is quite embarrassing, especially for you younger folks who don't know what a "Hi-Fi" was, and for whom the word "cassette" conjures up images of your grandparents.

On a couple of my tracks I actually resorted to using a simple little Casio keyboard that had a headphone socket and I could record into the cassette multi-tracker.  I used some of the built-in basic rhythms and used the setting where a single key played a nice chorused chord for string sections, and (surprisingly) managed to get one track that I was (and still am) quite amazed by.

Well, obviously things have come on a long way since then and, while I build up callouses on my playing fingers again, I tested my options with the computer and realised that I needed an external interface and software that supported ASIO Drivers, so bought a discounted Line 6 TonePort UX2 that came with its "Gearbox" software and a Line 6 Edition of Ableton Live.  It has since advanced to "PodStudio":
http://uk.line6.com/podstudioux2/
http://line6.com/toneportgx/gearboxplugin.html

I have messed with the Toneport and gearbox software while I put together a PC to use solely for music recording, but one space that needs to be filled is percussion.  I can put a guitar through an Octaver to get the semblance of an electric Bass, I can even use that old Casio keyboard again for string section swells if I really needed to, but I don't have anything to create fairly realistic drumming.

I was watching some software for about $8 on eBay, but never got around to buying it.  The software was definitely quoted as being for the Windows platform, and I have attached a *.pdf file showing the contents of the original eBay auction that has long since vapourised.  In the details, I saw mention of "Hydrogen" softwaer, so I looked it up.

http://www.hydrogen-music.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_(software)

It does say that there was an "experimental" offshoot in development to port this software to the Windows platform, but I can't find this and it seems that this software is only for Linux or Mac.  OK, so I can install Linux and use the plethora of recording-related OpenSource software, but I am choosing to run XP on the PC I want to use for recording.

Perhaps that software would actually end up being too complicated for me to use anyway, and the sounds more aligned to Hip-Hop (urrrrggh!).  So my thoughts turned to one of those gizmos that people buy for bored husbands or kids at Christmas, without considering the long-term implications.  Something like this:

http://www.firebox.com/product/1573/USB-Drum-Kit
or a much smaller and affordable but  ... well ... crap "pad" versions:
http://www.paramountzone.com/usb-drum-kit-pz.htm#
This bozo thinks he's an Amazonian cannibal or from a West Senegal tribal dance troupe, or perhaps the "drum kit" can't produce anything other than sounds like that:
http://66.148.80.65/pzvids/drums.wmv

Obviously you get what you pay for, and I don't want to pay anything because I am broke.

Does anyone know of some software that allows you to assign your normal keyboard keys to drum sounds and get a fairly realisting "real-time" percussion effect?

I'm not looking for anything overly complicated here.  I don't need to sound like Steve Porcaro or Buddy Rich, just something that helps me to create a backing for various different types of (mainly) acoustic guitar music and record it in real time to take account of my ... ahem!  ... syncopation due to rusty technique ;-)

You know, I once came up with an idea many moons ago when a drummer friend was asked to step in to cover for illness in a band that played kind of funky stuff.  His conventional kit didn't cut the mustard, but he had an old Moog synthesiser box and zero disposable income.  I had been expermenting with sticking piezo-ceramic transducers (http://img.en.china.cn/0/0,0,316,983,450,330,72be807c.jpg) to the underside of acoustic guitar soundboards and feeding output into amplifiers.  We tried that through that old Moog Synth and he got a good mix of conventional and synth drum sounds (boiiing, duuung, etc imagine the decay decreasing rapidly in pitch :-)
I could "amplify" some cardboard boxes and old Costco coffee tins?

Any ideas anybody?

Regards
Bill
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Question by:BillDL
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by:BillDL
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Whoops, forgot the PDF file of that eBay auction description.  It certainly looks like the "Hydrogen" software.  The images were from the following sources, and it would seem that the server is some kind of in-between software vendor:

http://kirafiles.com/drummachine.jpg
http://kirafiles.com/e/Drum/d1.jpg
http://kirafiles.com/e/Drum/d2.jpg
http://kirafiles.com/e/Drum/d3.jpg
http://kirafiles.com/e/Drum/d4.jpg
http://kirafiles.com/e/Drum/d5.jpg
http://kirafiles.com/e/Drum/d6.jpg
http://kirafiles.com/e/Drum/d7.jpg

eBay-Listing.pdf
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by:fredshovel
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<Does anyone know of some software that allows you to assign your normal keyboard keys to drum sounds and get a fairly realisting "real-time" percussion effect?>

You're talking about MIDI. Any keyboard with a MIDI output will do this (it looks a bit like a DIN plug) you need a MIDI cable and if you don't have a soundcard with a MIDI IN port you use the joystick port -- you have to buy a cable that converts your joystick port to MIDI.
XP comes standard with Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth which is 128 sampled sounds including various good sounding drum kits. Just go to Start/Control Panel/Sounds and Audio Devices/Audio (Tab) and you'll see it under MIDI playback -- or just drop the box down and choose it.
Now you need to get some MIDI sequencing software. -- there's a bunch of free stuff here:
http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/cat/MIDI_SEQUENCERS/

There's also another easy way to get drum tracks that I've used quite regularly. Just choose any song that has a beat that you like. Then find the MIDI file by Googling 'free midi files' . Download the file and open it in your sequencer and strip out the drum track -- always on track 10. You can change the tempo or even add things from your MIDI keyboard.

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by:BillDL
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Thanks for that, Fred.  I'm glad you saw this question.  I was kind of hoping you would be along.  It probably won't be long before Merete pops in too.

Actually, I wasn't really intentionally referring to MIDI, although I can see why my statement gave that impression.  I was just meaning some basic program interface that would interpret keypresses and action the correct sound in the same manner as the interfaces for those entertainment usb drum "pads" would work.  Hold up!  In all probability that IS Midi, and I just wasn't thinking along those lines.

I am familiar with what MIDI is, although I haven't used it for anything other than the fascinating QWERTY keyboard "music" I could make with my old Creative Soundblaster on my Windows 98 computer years ago.

Regarding "track 10" of MIDI files.  Well, I wasn't aware that it always was on track No. 10.  Something new there, although what I have done previously to jam along with is load a *.mid file in "vabBasco's Karaoke Player" (vmidi.exe), show the "Output" meter, and mute everything but Bass guitar and synth drums.  In fact, Mustang Sally is particlarly "groovy" ... can I say that here? ;-)

So, all I need to do is capture what is playing, right?

I have Kristal Audio Engine, Audacity, Windows Sound Recorder, Jet Audio, the various sound editing functions available with CD-Burning software, and the OEM version of Abelton Live (once I install it on the PC I'm building).  I will just need to find out how to capture what is playing through the sound card and record it.

I'll have a look at the MIDI Sequencers link you gave to see how I can capture generated percussion sounds to a usable file format that can be loaded as a new track on which to base a new recording.

Off to nightshift now, so I won't be back until the morning :-(

Thank you
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by:BillDL
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Trying to remember how I used to produce the midi sounds with the top rows of my keyboard on my old Win98 PC, just before I power down.  It must have been part of the Creative SoundBlaster software installed.  I can't see anything for this RealTek sound card that allows me to do that.  I'll look at this again in the morning.
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fredshovel earned 500 total points
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Hey Bill, when you think about your keyboard -- unlike a piano, which has hammers to strike the tuned piano wire to produce the sounds -- it actually accesses its own set of digital samples including drum sets and then converts those samples to analogue audio through the audio output. In my old Roland D5 keyboard it used the D110 sound module. So when you connect the MIDI output it simply routes the MIDI signals (minus the sound samples) to your PC as pure text mapping, which MIDI is. Then you can 'sequence' anything you play, or change the key or the tempo --it's limitless. Then if you like you simply connect MIDI OUT -- this is also done via the joystick port and Y MIDI cable, back to your keyboard to access the keyboard's samples and convert them to audio via its audio outputs.
You can, of course also save the MIDI songs as mid files on your PC. But when played through XP's midi set they may sound a little different.
There are programmes that will convert the PC's midi files to wav or mp3 files, but I've not found these to be as good as actually playing the files out to a minidisc player and then re-sampling them as audio.
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by:BillDL
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Hi Fred

I haven't had a lot of time to mess with various ideas, but I did experiment with fltering out all but drums and bass in 3 *.mid files in vanBasco's Midi/Karaoke player (vmidi.exe) and then "recording" the resulting audio.  I actually just used the clunky little "AvRack", that installed with the sound card drivers on the basic PC I'm using meantime, to record the playback and save to *.wav file, then Audacity to convert to *.mp3.

The results are really raw and mostly sound quite synthesised, but for certain songs they may just do what I need IF I can get some that fit with the songs I wanted to record.  As I say, it was just a test.

I tried a lot of Flash or Java enabled online keyboards with them set to simulate drum sounds, but the latency was too much.

I did find a few programs I had downloaded a few years ago that convert *.mid to *.wav or *.mp3 and I will try them at some stage.  Amongst them I rediscovered a neat little program that somehow extracts enough data from *.mid files to create a Chord Sheet for each of the "instrument" voices.  It isn't always accurate, but I found it a great little tool at the time and I can run it in compatibility mode on XP.

I saw the eBay advert up again for the software shown in the pdf file I attached with my original question and "bought" the download link for what equates to the cost of a 4-pack of beer.  It is "Hydrogen" ported to Win32 as I has surmised, and must be one of the development stages that runs a "DOS" box to create a Cygwin/Mingwin type environment to then load the interface on top.  It seems so far, although I haven't messed much with it, to be able to create some fairly real sounding percussion effects and can export to wav or mid, import from wav, au and aiff, and import "drum kits" (*.flac).

I am currently bidding on the same item as this on eBay:
http://www.maplin.co.uk/Module.aspx?ModuleNo=221668
Yeah, a novelty toy that can't export to standard audio file type, but if I get it for the equivalent of another 4-pack of beer, then I can always try and capture the audio output on playback.  Better than a "click-track" anyway.

I wish I had the money to buy something like this, but alas I don't, or else I wouldn't have been asking about "free" drum software ;-)
http://www.maplin.co.uk/module.aspx?moduleno=98217

Maplin started out as UK's version of Radio Shack.

I had a look through free software on the page you linked to earlier:
http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/freeware/MIDI_SEQUENCERS/
and oddly enough I see a few titles that I actually downloaded a number of years ago.  That's a very good resource.

At the outset I had an idea that  could strip off the unnecessary keys from a standard old PC Keyboard and just "play" drums on it, but I'm now leaning more towards editing software to create "loops".  I hate that expression "loops", because it conjures up imagery of a hall packed with sweaty "e" induced techno-dance-tribe loonies with glowsticks and luminous paint on their faces flapping around as though they are being attacked by a swarm of invisible bees, but I suppose it describes what it does ie. loop.

By the way, you mentioned "my old Roland D5 keyboard".  So you play then?  I had the impression that you were more of a large venue audio engineer than a player.  I hope you aren't one of those I described above and offended you.

Thank you for explaining about the MIDI aspect.  It helps my general understanding of how it works and what can be done.

Regards
Bill
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You have an excellent way of explaining things so that even a chump like me can understand.
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by:fredshovel
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Hey Bill, I was guitar/vocalist up until 1981 when I jumped ship and went into sound and lighting production and ended up in entertainment management. Can't play keyboards but used the D5 to programme my little MC-300 sequencer. Still think MIDI is your best bet, it's a bit of a learning curve. I used Cakewalk.

Cheers

Frederick de Shovelle.
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by:BillDL
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Hi again Monsieur de Shovelle.

I meant to come back a while ago and let you know that I had read your last comment, which definitely seems to be the way to go.

I finally managed to get the PC I intend to use solely for music recording assembled and am ready to install Windows and the required software and hardware, including the Line 6 TonePort UX2 USB Audio Interface and Ableton Live. We'll see where it goes from there.

I installed some Creative SoundBlaster Live! cards on a couple of PCs including the one I'm using, and was pleased to again find the MIDI Sound Banks, keyboard, etc.  I will mess with that on my current when I have the chance.  I have a Creative Audigy card in the main music PC I'll be using in addition to the external interface, so I have some reasonably capable hardware.

Thanks for your guidance in this.

Guillaume d'L
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by:BillDL
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Hi Fred

Just an update if you're curious.  I had problems with conflicting RAM in my "music" PC so I am temporarily down to 1GB of RAM.  I also had a ridiculous oversight and wasted a lot of time trying to get my USB audio interface to work on what seems to be a bad USB Port PCI Card, but it's sorted now.

I have explored the Line 6 Gearbox application quite extensively and it offers just about all the Effects options I could need as well as a healthy and useful basic bundle of Guitar and Vocal Amp/Pre-Amp modelling and Speaker Cab simulations.  It interfaces well with the bundled Abelton Live Lite, and I have been able to reduce ASIO driver latency to an almost imperceptible degree after some tweaking and experimenting with settings.  Abelton Live Lite has a bunch of percussion samples built in, and is fine for multi-tracking and mastering at the level I need.

There are some MIDI options available with both applications, but in the end I don't believe I will have too much need for them.  I still need a couple of adapters for XLR input (I only have 2 dynamic mic's) and output to powered monitors.  A work colleague's son is a drummer in a garage band and apparently has a fairly wide range of "backing track" drum styles in standard importable audio file format that I can chop up and use if he can locate the CDs.

So, I'm quite happy with what I now have and should be able to create some fairly professional quality demos so that you can get me booked around NSW some time in the future ;-)

Cheers
Bill
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by:fredshovel
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Hey Bill, what do you mean, " I still need a couple of adapters for XLR input (I only have 2 dynamic mic's) and output to powered monitors."
It's got two XLR mic inputs. What adapters do you mean?
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by:BillDL
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I was really just referring to the fact that I have 2 old dynamic mic's (AKG D310 and a Shure SM58 copy) and two cables that terminate in standard quarter inch jacks.  I either need to get cables with XLRs at both ends, or quarter inch to XLR adapters.  I'll have to look and see what I can find cheaply.  Apparently even if you have a dynamic mic plugged in and have the 48v phantom power button depressed, it won't harm the mic.

The same is true of the outputs.  I may use an external power amp from an old good Hi-Fi and use quarter inch jack to audio cables for analogue outputs to monitor everything, or else get a cable with two quarter inch jacks in a Y down to a stereo 3.5mm jack for output to good quality powered computer speakers.

I'm not really sure at this stage, because I've just started messing with it.

I do have a good quality broadcasting lavalier microphone with an XLR jack.  Can't recall the model, but it's an AKG condenser about 7cm inches long.  Yeah, must have been big lapels when it was used.  I'll try to use that for recording acoustic guitar mixed with the piezo under-saddle traqnsducer, and it may well be good for vocals, but the cable is about 30 feet long when off the spool!  A TV crew left it lying at a crime reconstruction scene many years ago, so I borrowed it on a non-return basis after they were well away.

My AKG C1000 was stolen along with other gear a number of years ago when my house was screwed by baddies.  That was a good mic.

I would love to know where a bus powered USB device manages to get 48volts from to phantom power a balanced mic input.

Anyway, I'll make some music.  A mediocre camera in the hands of a master can still create great photo's.  A starter PC audio interface in the hands of a mediocre musician can create .... well ... probably mediocre results also ;-)
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