Q. What do you call a drummer who keeps the same tempo through an entire song?
A. A drum machine!
Ever since computerized drum machines first came out, drummers have had to put up with a lot of grief. I mean, how do you compete with an inexpensive box or computer program that never makes mistakes and always does exactly what it's told? Fortunately for drummers, science says they don't have to.
It turns out that the tiny imperfections in a human drummer's playing is actually more pleasing to the ear than a perfect computerized performance. "The offsets are typically small, perhaps 10 to 20 [milliseconds]," wrote researcher Holger Hennig in Physics Today. "That's less than the time it takes for a dragonfly to flap its wings, but you can tell the difference in the music."
That's why many drum programs now automatically add slight rhythm and volume variations to repeating drum patterns. It makes the entire track sound more human, although even that isn't good enough, says famed drummer Jojo Mayer.
"Digital computers are binary machines, which means they compute tasks making decisions between zero and one - yes or no. When we play music and generate it in real time, when we improvise, that decision-making process gets condensed to a degree where it surpasses our capability to make conscious decisions anymore. When that happens, I am entering that zone beyond zero and one, beyond yes and no, which is a space that machines cannot access yet. That's the human experience - right between zero and one."
I'm friends with a number of drummers and other musicians and I know they all agree. A drum machine is nice for sketching out ideas, but if you want your music to rock, get a good human drummer.
I can tell you right now, the Swing Era never would have taken off with a computer playing "Sing Sing Sing" instead of Gene Krupa.