Creating Drum Tracks

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This is a small collection of tips about creating drum tracks for which it could sometimes be useful to use software other than Audacity (even though you might use Audacity for most of your audio creation and editing).

Although physical drum machines for creating drum tracks can be obtained, many people these days create drum tracks in software. Many hardware input/output devices or mixers now come with drum machine software, or audio editing/MIDI sequencing software that includes a drum module. For those interested in acquiring a physical drum machine, these can often be found on eBay.

There is no shortage of standalone drum machine software. Here are some ideas that won't cost you any money.

Audacity already includes Risset Drum in the Generate Menu which produces a sound similar to Risset's Drum Machine. There is also a KLSTRBAS Nyquist Generate plugin which can create a synthkick drum sound. Individual sounds can be extended and turned into patterns with this Audio Selection Sequencer 2 Nyquist Effect plug-in.

To use Nyquist plug-ins in Audacity, unzip the .ny files and place them in the Plug-Ins folder inside the Audacity installation folder:

  • On Windows, this installation folder is usually under C:\Program Files or C:\Program Files (x86) on 64-bit machines.
  • On Mac OS X/macOS, it is usually under ~/Library/Application Support/audacity/Plug-Ins.
  • For Linux, see this page in the Audacity Manual. The plug-ins will be available after restarting Audacity.

If you don't want to install a drum machine application, there are some free online drum machines where you can create short samples. This one is extremely simple but only creates MIDI files which only have limited support in Audacity. To use a short MIDI file as part of an Audacity Project, the simplest solution is to record it, either directly into Audacity on Windows or Linux, or to an AIFF file via a third-party recording application on Mac. There are other online drum machines where you can record your online creation as it plays, if your computer can record streaming audio:

You should also be able to find specialised archives of downloadable drum samples on the internet (not necessarily free), or some free general purpose sound archives that include them. Try looperman.com for an excellent collection of free drum loops. Two good free general sound archives are Simplythebest Sounds and Freesound.

Or here are three free (or free trial) standalone drum machines you can try:

  • Hammerhead for Windows, which has its own archive of downloadable drum samples in native Hammerhead format here, and exports its samples to WAV format.
  • Leafdrums for Windows (fully operational free trial version)
  • Hydrogen which offers installers for Windows, Mac and Linux, or it can be compiled from source code. It exports to WAV or MIDI.

Finally, a note on Percussion Studio for Windows which users have recommended as many samples of specific percussion instruments are included or can be downloaded. African/Caribbean instruments are strongly represented. Amongst those available are Conga, Tumba, Quinto, Conga2, Agogos, Bell, Bongos, Cascara, Clave, CowBellHi, CowBellLow, Guiro, Maracas, Patschhanditsam, Shaker, Shekere, Sourdo and Triangle. The application requires purchase for full functionality including saving and network functions, but it would be possible to play the samples and record them into Audacity or some other recording application.

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