Sunrise Software PC Drummer
drum pattern editor
Yet more useful kit for PC musicians. Honestly, we're spoiling you...
Tired of trying to write rhythm patterns with a score editor and keyboard? This new drum pattern editor could make life much easier for PC owners.
Drum pattern editors are by no means new, but for such a useful program, it's surprising how rare they are. They're not even de rigueur in sequencers; Steinberg are one of the few companies who remain committed to the idea and even they only include it in their flagship sequencer, Cubase; users of Cubase Lite still aren't given the option.
So when a dedicated drum pattern program appears, there is good reason to sit up and take notice, particularly when it turns out to be a Windows proggy for the PC - still the fastest growing computer platform amongst musicians.
The program has an automatic installation routine and operates around a series of windows. These appear inside the main PC Drummer window and can be resized and repositioned in the usual way. Essentially, there are three stages in constructing a song - defining patterns, defining sections and then defining your song. (A section is simply a collection of patterns which are grouped to create a verse or intro and so on.)
Included with the program are 500 pattern slots and about 70 predefined patterns; you can't load new ones but you can redefine existing ones. If you do need more patterns you can move the PAT.DAT file out of the PC Drummer directory and the program will give you a set of 500 blank patterns, but you still can't move patterns from one pattern file to another. Neither can you load in third-party drum pattern MIDI files, which is a shame.
Operation is easy but not totally intuitive - you'll have to read the manual at least once. Let's say you have created some patterns (we'll get to these in a minute). It's then necessary to open the Section Definition and Pattern List windows, select a pattern and click on Append to add them to the section. You create a song out of sections in the same way.
There's a certain amount of saving to be done here. For example, after creating a section you must click on Save in order to store it (although the program doesn't save it to disk in a re-loadable form, as you might expect), then click on New to define another section and save that, too. If you simply delete some of the existing patterns and rename the section, you'll lose the original one.
The instrument list comes configured to General MIDI standard and shows the 47 GM drums assigned to note numbers. You can redefine the list but you can't add more drums, which seems a little short-sighted.
The patterns - now we're getting to them - are constructed on a grid as is usual with these things. You can create 1- or 2-bar patterns of two, three or four beats per bar and with 12 or 16 divisions per beat. You have to create odd time signatures such as 5/4 and 7/8 by creating more than one pattern and linking them in the Section Definition window. Some sort of on-screen line to divide the 16 sections of a beat into blocks of four, for example, would have been useful and so would the ability to select smaller divisions (dividing a beat into four is quite adequate for many drum patterns). Even more inconvenient, however, is the fact that no copy pattern facility has been included, which given the repetitive nature of rhythm programming, is a quite glaring omission.
You are allowed 15 drums per pattern and these are added to the Pattern Definition window from the Instrument List window in the same way that you add patterns to the Section window. However, you can't alter the order the drums appear in once added, other than by deleting them and appending them again. And unfortunately, you can't edit a pattern while it's playing, either - at least you can, but the changes don't sound until you stop playback and start it again. This, in my opinion, is one of the program's major shortcomings.
Once you've created a song it can be saved as a Standard MIDI File and subsequently loaded into a standard sequencer. But this is saved as a format 0 file which puts all the drums on one track rather than having individual drums on different tracks.
All in all, PC Drummer is easy enough to use but can seem a bit of a faff if you have a lot to do. Although the pattern-to-section-to-song idea works well enough, the implementation is rather peculiar and leaves you wondering if there isn't a simpler way to assemble a set of patterns into a song. Maybe not.
Nevertheless, PC Drummer is still a useful utility, particularly if you're not into playing drums from a keyboard and happen to be a GM-type person. If you already own a software sequencer which lacks a drum edit page, it could be just what your looking for. Providing you're aware of its limitations, it could help transform your method of creating interesting rhythm patterns - a process still seen as something of a black art by many people.
|Ease of use||Easy, but read the manual|
|Originality||An old idea repackaged|
|Value for money||About average|
|Star Quality||Useful, but could be even more so|
|Price||£57.58 (Inc. VAT)|
|More from||PC Services, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Waugh
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