Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Grooving To A Virtual Drummer

Grooving To A Virtual Drummer

Aside from using the loops in my TV productions, I like jamming to them. It’s a great way to practice locking into a real drummer’s beats.

With Toontrack’s EZdrummer, you can create virtual kits and select a variety of grooves that automatically match the BPM of your session.

One thing we guitar players realize is that we can’t always make music alone, as much as we sometimes might like to. We need other players— especially drummers—to help get us in a groove and express our fretboard skills. But finding those players, gelling with them, and paying them is a whole different animal. With that in mind, I came across a few cool products recently from a company called Toontrack that I want to share with you.

EZdrummer is basically an inexpensive, easy-to-use virtual instrument and drum sequencer for studio production. No attitudes or loud playing here (unless you want to turn up the volume). It runs as a VST, AU, and RTAS plug-in at both 32- and 64-bit mode, and it works on either Macintosh (OS 10.5 or higher, G5 or Intel with 512 MB of RAM) or PC platforms (Windows XZP SP3 or newer, Pentium or Athlon processor with 512 MB RAM). Tech talk aside, what makes this program so cool is that it’s simple to get good grooves with useable sounds in just a few minutes.

Here’s how it works: Once you’ve installed and authorized the software (which can be downloaded), you have access to a ton of expertly performed MIDI drum programs that trigger drum samples recorded by Neil Dorfsman (Kiss, Dire Straits, Sting) at Avatar studios in New York.

Just open the program as an instrument in your DAW (EZdrummer will also run as a stand-alone application) and click on some of the drums and cymbals to hear the sounds. You can play the samples from your keyboard as well, as they are mapped out automatically. Great—no thinking involved. The sounds are velocity sensitive, which basically means samples with different volume levels will trigger depending on how hard or soft you hit your keys or MIDI controller. This helps add a “human touch” to the overall feel.

You can change sounds simply by clicking on the small arrow next to each drum. For example, with the snare, you get 14" Rogers, 14" Rogers Damped, 14" Slingerland, 13" GMS Piccolo or 13" GMS Piccolo Damped. If you don’t like to program drum beats (I hate doing it), just click on the Open Grooves button and you’ll be presented with various MIDI grooves that automatically lock to the tempo of your session or sequencer. You can choose from various types of grooves (straight, shuffle, 4/4 with 6/8 feel, etc.) and different parts such as fills, ballad, side stick, and so on. Clicking the small play arrow will start the groove (again, at your session tempo). If you like what you hear, simply drag the MIDI file into your sequencer. Press play on your DAW and that’s it— drums are performing.

EZdrummer also features an intuitive mixer that lets you control the level and pan of each drum, as well as the amount of overhead and room sound. If you want more drum sounds, Toontrack sells inexpensive expansion packs, including Nashville, Metal Machine, Funkmasters, and Latin Percussion. They also sell MIDI packs like Songwriter’s Drumpack, Jazz, Blues, and so on.

Aside from using the loops in my TV productions, I like jamming to them. It’s a great way to practice locking into a real drummer’s beats. After getting used to a groove and finding the perfect tempo, I often drag a few MIDI files into my Pro Tools sequencer and eventually write a song from them. These drums sound damn good and the MIDI programs are excellent. EZdrummer is just $179 and some of the MIDI packs are only $29. Can’t go wrong at those prices for the quality of the product.

Toontrack makes another useful product called EZmix. At just $69, it’s a plug-in (VST, AU, RTAS) for MAC and PC users that delivers a variety of mixing tools. Inserted directly into a primary track (or an Aux track), EZmix lets you call up different presets for EQ, compression, echo, distortion, and more. You can scroll through a variety of categories—such as Guitar, Bass, Vocals, and Kick—and apply them to the track. The only controls are three faders for shape, blend, and level—the rest of the sonic parameters are built into each preset. While this may sound limiting, that’s the point—you don’t have to think about tweaking. I found some really great delays and bit-crush presets that I would never program on my own. They are tempomapped to your song’s BPM and simply work as advertised.

Both of these programs and the associated expansion/ MIDI packs proved to me once again that inexpensive tools that sound great and are inspirational to use are available for songwriters and producers. Most importantly, they help me focus on playing my guitar and not on the tech end.


Rich Tozzoli is a Grammy-nominated engineer and mixer who has worked with artists ranging from Al Di Meola to David Bowie. A life-long guitarist, he’s also the author of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing and composes for the likes of Fox NFL, Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon, and HBO.
Full Slash Interview
Full Slash Interview on New Blues Album, S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival, Guitar Gear, Pedal Steel & More

The guitar icon shares what went into making his chart-topping blues album and what gear fans can expect to see at the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Blues Festival tour.

This 1968 Epiphone Al Caiola Standard came stocked with P-90s and a 5-switch Tone Expressor system.

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (guitarpoint.de)

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (guitarpoint.de)

The session ace’s signature model offers a wide range of tones at the flip of a switch … or five.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. Not long ago, I came home late from a band rehearsal, still overly excited about the new songs we played. I got myself a coffee (I know, it's a crazy procedure to calm down) and turned on the TV. I ended up with an old Bonanza episode from the ’60s, the mother of all Western TV series. Hearing the theme after a long time instantly reminded me of the great Al Caiola, who is the prolific session guitarist who plays on the song. With him in mind, I looked up the ’60s Epiphone “Al Caiola” model and decided I want to talk about the Epiphone/Gibson Tone Expressor system that was used in this guitar.

Read MoreShow less

Slinky playability, snappy sounds, and elegant, comfortable proportions distinguish an affordable 0-bodied flattop.

Satisfying, slinky playability. Nice string-to-string balance. Beautiful, comfortable proportions.

Cocobolo-patterned HPL back looks plasticky.

$699

Martin 0-X2E
martinguitar.com

4
4
4.5
4

Embracing the idea of an acoustic flattop made with anything other than wood can, understandably, be tricky stuff. There’s a lot of precedent for excellent-sounding acoustics built with alternative materials, though. Carbon-fiber flattops can sound amazing and I’ve been hooked by the sound and playability of Ovation and Adamas instruments many times.

Read MoreShow less

The GibsonES Supreme Collection (L-R) in Seafoam Green, Bourbon Burst, and Blueberry Burst.

The new Gibson ES Supreme offers AAA-grade figured maple tops, Super Split Block inlays, push/pull volume controls, and Burstbucker pickups.

Read MoreShow less