Suggestions for a first drum machine for a 12 year old

My daughter has been playing violin for a little over a year now. I sat in on her orchestra class yesterday and they were talking about note lengths, rests, patterns, etc…which my electrobrain translated into “She needs a drum machine for xmas.” I want to get her something simple but somewhat capable, probably used, and under $70 or so with step and real-time recording. I’m leaning toward a Boss Dr-550 mk2 or Dr-5, maybe a Yamaha RX15 (though I don’t care for the kit on that one). At some point I will probably bequeath my QY70 to her, but I think its a bit too complicated for her at this point. She needs something simpler to start with…something to teach her the basics of sequencing and arranging. Anyone here have any suggestions that fit this criteria? What was the first piece of gear you gave your little ones? Thanks.

How about one of the Volcas? And I’d say Volca Sample too, instead of Beats or Drum. Sequencing any sound would teach her what you’re trying to teach her, but she can do whole compositions on it too, which would probably be more fun and inspiring than to just listen to nothing but drums while she’s learning. I know some of the drum machines you mention come with other sounds than drums, but you’re still limited to whatever they come with (cheese). With Volca Sample, you can load whatever you want.

You can pick up a used one for around a hundred bucks.

For a 12 y/o? Probably something with as little menu diving and hidden functions as possible. As close to knob per function as possible. Personally, I think the lesson is going to get bogged down by learning the machine with a lot of those options you listed.

Does she have a smartphone? Just buy her an app.

I’m not saying drum machines are only adults, but this doesn’t seem the most direct method to teach those lessons if I’m honest. I understand wanting to make it concrete, but I remember 12 y/o me trying to learn guitar…if I would have had to learn all the shit that went along with making a basic beat on some of those machines, I would have chucked that shit out the window after 10 minutes.

I want to help with my two cents, but please bear in mind that I do not have:

  1. a child
  2. a drum machine
  3. classical music training

To me, the place to start for learning sequencing and arranging is in a DAW unless you feel that she will just be completely lost. I say that because as far as I know, most affordable drum machines either stick to simple rhythms or you have to do all the complex poly-math and weird workarounds to make it do stuff besides 4-4 time signatures. In the right DAW, you can set your time signature and compose away knowing that everything is going where it’s supposed to. I mention time signatures specifically because I don’t know much classical theory, but I do know large portions of it are not in 4/4.

Of course, this is making some assumptions like she has a computer (or tablet, or a phone) that can run a basic DAW, that you don’t care if she’s spending more time at the computer, etc.


Exactly, I’m looking for something straight forward with as little menu diving and as small a learning curve as possible to start with. Just basic step sequencing and real-time recording so she can see how different sounds at different lengths, along with rests, go together to create patterns, and the basics of writing/notation, which is why I was looking for a more basic–ish old drum machine/sequencer. Something like the Volca Sample would be great but I don’t know that she’s ready for that. If she was I’d probably just get her an old QY. I have considered an app, but she has a Kindle with no midi capability and Amazon’s app store sucks for music apps, with the exception of maybe the G Stomper stuff.

Caustic 3 is amazing app. Check it out by yourself and then judge.


If you can get one cheap I think the Electribe ER 1 would be a good choice, I’m not sure it does poly rhythms though.

1 Like

This! i gave an electribe to a neighbors kid awhile back.(old school version emx 1 i think)
Kids that age are incredibly smart!
he was making cohesive material in a couple weeks!
you actually want to keep them away from the phone.
after all there is no app for hands on creativity!

Unfortunately, these shot up in price recently. I kind of regret selling mine for a hundred bucks years ago (granted, I got it for that as well).

Yeah there is that! i too am amazed at the skyrocketing prices of seemingly innocuous and outdated hardware.
it’s just another boys in the rich club making things too expensive for us mere common folk.
kinda like you can’t build a hotrod with your kid,cause it cost,s too much.
Drag racing…he with the most money wins…etc. etc.
i too regret parting with it.

Haha. Me too man. I’ve owned two ER-1 MKIIs and an MKI. Nothing sounds like that drum machine lol.

1 Like

Sure, there’s some of that. But on the flip side, we have all the quality Behringer clones for dirt cheap and in general the used market is flooded with all kinds of boxes for more than reasonable going rate. I’d say it’s a pretty great time to be into hardware boxes right about now.

1 Like

I stand corrected!..bastard…

1 Like

Caustic 3 is great, I’ve had the full version quite some time now. The free version is worth trying out to test the water.

Could always do the little pocket operator from teenage engineering. They’re pretty cheap and you could just hook it up to a speaker. Would probably be really best for a kid, as well. It looks like a little Gameboy.

This too(isn’t out yet). Someone mentioned in the hardware megathread:

I mention them because cheap and might be fun to mess with.


+1 for Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator

I would probably go with something like Korg Gadget. I think the piano roll is more transferable and a better way to visualize note length and rests. Ultimately your piano roll style midi is closer to music notation so I think that is going to be easier for her. I started in classical and jazz and the first time I saw a midi window in a DAW, I think it took me 5 seconds to understand it. Maybe 30 for the velocity.

I know its more than what you wanted to spend but i just can’t see past a Volca Drum.

Its perfect, and more than just a drum machine.

PS Giving a 12 year old an app for a present doesn’t wash with me, id think she’d appreciate something physical.

1 Like

Novation Circuit?

Someone asked this same question on Elektronauts or Reddit and that was a popular answer and while I haven’t used one I’m inclined to agree based on ehat I’ve seen of it.