Early Drum Machines

As you can imagine, early drum machines are the ones that made modern drum machines possible. To pay homage to these predecessors, here we offer the highlights of their history.

Early Drum Machines: a History

An Arab engineer invented the first programmable drum machine. It appeared in Ismail al-Jazari’s The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, centuries ago. Officially, the first drum machine was a musical device, performed by four robots that entertained the royal crowd by floating on a lake. Two of the robots were drummers who were able to play different rhythms and distinctive drum patterns. Pegs bumped into small pedals that operated the percussion.

What follows is a list of the most important early modern machines.

The Rhythmicon

To begin with, the Rhythmicon was an instrument to play compositions with multiple rhythmic patterns. These symphonies weren’t able to perform on keyboard instruments because of their complex nature. Hence, the Rhythmicon solved the issue. This drum machine combined several rhythmic patterns based on the harmonic series. The player was able to make 16 different combinations and link them to each of the steps in the rhythm. The Rhythmicon used vacuum tube oscillators and photoelectric sensors to capture the light passing through discs with punched holes. This drum machine was unique, but it wasn’t popular for long.

The Chamberlin Rhythmate

Secondly, he Chamberlin Rhythmate was a drum machine that allowed players to choose between 14 tape loops of drum kits and percussion instruments that performed several beats. This instrument included a built-in speaker. In addition, it worked with loop recordings of acoustic drums. In turn, these played numerous rhythms and were almost exclusive to singalongs.

The Wurlitzer Sideman 

Thirdly, the Wurlitzer Sideman was an early drum machine that became a trademark of the dance band era. This instrument produced sounds mechanically by rotating a disc, so it operated just like a music box. It had several buttons on a control panel that triggered individual sounds. The Wurlitzer Sideman was a success.

And On with the Early Drum Machines

Later in this history came de Rhythm Synthesizer and the Bandito the Bongo. Raymond Scott created both of these early drum machines. He used them to record his own album.

Early Drum Machines: Another Two Key Figures

Tadashi Osanaia, a famous accordion player from the 60s, wanted to build a rhythm machine for a nightclub. He consulted the nightclub owner and got someone to finance his efforts to build better machines. Years later, a well-known company launched their first rhythm machine: the Donca-Matic DA-20. It used vacuum tube circuits for sounds and a mechanical wheel for rhythm patterns. Afterwards, Nippon Columbia filed a patent for an automatic rhythm instrument that was able to produce multiple electronic rhythms in the unique tones of a drum and a piccolo.

Even more years later, Ikutaro Kakehashi, the founder of Ace Tone and Roland Corporation, developed a rhythm-pattern generator using a diode matrix circuit. This drum machine had characteristics that were similar to previous models. The device was a plurality of inverting circuits or clipper circuits that synthesized the output signal of the counting circuit where the synthesized output signal becomes the desired rhythm. As time went on, there came the commercialization of the FR-1 Rhythm. This drum machine provided 16 present patterns and four buttons to manually play each instrument sound: cymbal, claves, cowbell, and bass drum.