Harry Garland ".com"

Music Video Game: A web-based app for practicing drums

Inspired to explore, experiment, learn, practice, and eventually record and perform, I created an exercise app for drummers.

🥁 Try it now

Update 2021 - Software to make learning drums more fun

I've started a new project. Inspired by a video game, this will be how I can practice new drumming skills.

The picture below is a sneak peek of my development in progress. The upper right corner shows an existing video game that established a standard for animating a highway of scrolling notes. The bottom right corner is my work in progress for an improvement to the video game concept, enabling me to practice on real drums:

Update 2020 - Why do gamers get to have all the fun?

So I finally found some software that seems like it would be perfect for me to learn percussion.

It's called Beatmapper, an editor for the game Beat Saber. It's a program that plays music while it visualizes different notes that scroll at you at constant speed. Beatmapper lets you create your own track of notes.

In the picture below, I've started using Beatmapper to put together what could be a drum track using the bass and hihat:

But my problem is that this program isn't meant for percussionists. It's meant for gamers.

Beatmapper is an editor for Beat Saber. Beat Saber is a top-selling VR headset game, and the objective is to swing a virtual saber on the correct beat to get points for the notes on the screen.

There's no percussion in this game. But what if there was an editor like this to create percussion? What if a game like this challenged you to use percussion hits instead of saber swings?

This is a music video game, and more specifically a rhythm matching game. There have been games like that in the past, such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. In fact, I've been using a video of one of those games playing the scrolling drum track to learn the song I'm working on right now. But those are only games, and not training tools.

The guitar and drums that come with these games are not real, and don't help you learn how to touch the instrument just right. I'm not using these games with the peripherals, or even the software. I'm simply watching videos of these games in action, which is good enough for what I'm doing with a real drum kit.

The software for these types of games is designed for entertainment, which is great! But I wouldn't consider these games to be companion software for a real drummer learning to play real drums. They don't claim to be. There must be a way to take the concept of these games, and create software that gears the concept to be more of a real learning tool.

Why do gamers get to have all the fun? Why can't we have fun while learning a useful skill?

Update 2020 - Using a sequencer to learn new beats

There are a variety of ways that I've been discovering new beats. I watch educational videos. I read from drum music books. I listen and learn the drum track when I hear songs.

These are some of many fun and creative ways to get drum music into my head. The hard part is getting drum music into my muscle memory.

So I'll get a couple new measures of a drum beat my head. But even if it's simple, I'm probably not going to be able to immediately play those measures 8 times in a row exactly on rhythm. Instead, my next step is to drill the music into my head.

But how?

It seems like for hundreds of years, the answer was to get a metronome, start slow, and tap out the rhythm of 16th notes using quarter note metronome ticks to stay on rhythm.

But that doesn't really solve the problem of knowing exactly when to hit the notes that fall between metronome ticks. As long as I'm not hitting a note on the same beat that the metronome is making a tick sound, I won't be able to hear whether I'm exactly on rhythm, or if I have an unintentional swing in my strokes.

At one point, I came across a 2-measure drum beat that I saw on the screen, but I did not have a way of hearing it. So, I put that rhythm into a sequencer, letting me hear what it sounded like. Then, I started playing along.

You can see the drum beat I'm talking about in the picture below. It uses all 8th note timing, except for 2 16th note positions in the second beat of the second measure. This is a picture of the sequencer with the drum track:

To my surprise (but not shock), my timing was way off between the "2" and the "2-ee" beat of the second measure. I had been nervously racing to get the "ee" stroke in there before the "and" stroke was due.

But then, I kept playing along with the sequencer, and my whole body started synchronizing with the correct timing. It felt like I was playing with a metronome that knew exactly when to sound a tick so I could always hear a metronome tick at the exact time I should hit a note.

I remember back when I tried to play piano to a metronome. Eventually my body would disconnect from the metronome. I suddenly started realizing that I'm just making up my own rhythm while my mind is actively ignoring the metronome which is ticking a different rhythm. This was a failure of my ability to use a metronome to keep my body and mind connected with the rhythm.

Using a sequencer to play measures on a repeating loop is a great way for me to practice playing drum music correctly. My mind can never diverge from the rhythm, and so my body never gets used to doing it wrong.

It would be great to have software that lets me practice while either listening to the drum sequence, or the instrumentals, or both.

Update 2020 - How can I compose a drum track to a song, and then learn to play what I composed?

Most of what I'm doing right now is playing drums along with drumless song tracks. Some of these drumless tracks are accompanied by drum scores that I can read and play on the drums. But many songs don't give me a drum score with a drumless track. So I need to compose my own drum score.

Sometimes, I'll be improv drumming to a song, and suddenly I smash out a composition that sounds really cool, and I want to record it. I want to remember the strokes that I hit, and play it the same way every time.

Eventually, I will be able to remember my compositions as I keep playing them again and again. But for now, I need to see my notes in front of me to remember what to play.

It seems that for hundreds of years the answer has been to draw notes on paper.

But since I started drumming, I've done very little playing that involves reading notes that are printed on paper. For example, I've watched educational videos that display just 2 measures at a time for me to easily practice. And, I've worked with sequencer software that lets me create a timeline of 8th or 16th notes that I can play along with. But most notably, I've played to a drum score scrolling at me in a video synced to audio of a drumless track.

So what if I want to compose my own drum score, maybe by putting some beats and fills that I've learned into a full song drum score? I can use a sequencer to compose a drum track, then print the music on paper, or I could run the sequencer and drum to the track at the same time as the sequencer. But I don't know of any options for how to show my own drum score animating as scrolling notes toward me on the screen while playing the instrumentals through the speakers in sync with my drum score.

It seems like it shouldn't be hard to write software that can do that.

Update 2020 - How I Practice

In the past week, I've spent most of my practice time just learning one song. I've been playing a drumless song track through my headphones, and reading the percussion score as it scrolls at me on the screen.

In doing so, I've been challenged to practice a number of rudiments and beginner concepts, such as:
🥁 How to hit the cymbals in a specific way to make a specific sound
🥁 How to enter with a flam
🥁 How to do a multi-instrument 11-stroke roll

And not only do I learn the fundamentals that way, but I also learn it in the context of keeping a whole song in rhythm.

Sometimes I get to a part of the song that's particularly difficult, and so I drill just a few measures over and over again. These are the moments where I feel like I am having quality practice time. Repetitive drilling is the key to learning this kind of new skill.

I think it makes a lot of sense to practice drumming while listening to a drumless music track. It works well for me because it helps me feel the beat like a metronome, but I also get locked into the groove! I can lose track of time while training my muscle memory with repetitive drilling, and before I know it I can play difficult parts of the score with a beat of confidence.

If I were putting my mind to anything else, from writing software to cleaning the kitchen, I might put on music to help me focus. But with drumming practice, playing music is a much more obvious advantage!

Copyright (c) 2020 by Harry B. Garland.  All rights reserved.