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Programming good drum beats:

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Garmonbozia, Dec 12, 2011.

  1. Garmonbozia


    Jul 21, 2011
    Okay, so I don't always have the luxury of playing with a good drummer, and recording one with the gear I have is next to impossible. So I'm stuck with beat programming. I own Battery 3, which I'm very happy with in terms of it's sample library. I also have Kontakt 4.

    Here's the problem, I really suck at writing good drums. I usually just get frustrated and end up writing a crappy loop and repeating until the end. Now, I bought some little drum pads, there the little Akai LPD8, nothing special, just 8 pads and some knobs for tweaking effects and what not. They kind of helped, made them sound a tad bit more natural, but boring nonetheless. And I always make mistakes and end up having to quantize.

    So i'm curious what other tactics my fellow bassist are using to get some solid and rocking sounding drum tracks. Mine just sound like crap. For me it's always the hardest part of recording. I get really frustrated and give up. Anyone got any good tricks of the trade?

    Note: I actually like the sound of Electronic drums, I'm in a sort of industrial band that I bring my jazz influences into, so Battery 3 works great for me.
  2. Roscoe East

    Roscoe East

    Aug 22, 2011
    I used to get a lot of studio work as a drum programmer in the 1980s. I think it was these two things that kept my phone ringing:

    - Keep It Simple! A lot of folks worry that their drum machine parts are too "boring" so they try to spice it up by throwing in lots of fills & accents & ancillary sounds that really don't support the music at all but mostly just serve to call attention to the fact that it's a drum machine. Don't succumb to this temptation! A simple solid groove isn't "boring", it's the foundation that an entire compelling tune can be built upon.

    - If A Real Drummer Couldn't Play It, Don't Program It! Obviously this is a genre-specific caveat; there are a lot of styles nowadays that are built almost entirely on the premise of conspicuous machine-like drum programming. But, presuming you're not programming parts for electronica or D&B etc., think about how a real drummer physically executes parts, and try to make the parts you program stick to the Two Sticks/Four Limbs paradigm.
  3. This is solid advice.

    As a home recording semi-newbie myself, I got a cheap drum machine on ebay to program tracks. For the first month or so, I used the pre-programmed tracks and edited them as needed. Recently, I've started creating my own tracks with it and, if you follow Roscoe's advice, it's not that hard.

    Personally, I can't stand the "tick-tick-tick" of a metronome in my ear when recording yet, I've found a consistent beat goes a long way towards recording good takes. So, a simple kick and snare drum pattern with some tastefully incorporated cymbal/hi-hat work fills the bill nicely and just sits nicely in the mix adding a more complete sound to your recordings.

    YMMV but, this process works pretty good for me.
  4. dave64o

    dave64o Talkbass Top 10 all time lowest talent/gear ratio! Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 15, 2000
    Southern NJ
    It takes some work, thought, and planning to come up with realistic sounding drum lines, so be patient. The extra attention to detail will be worth it. The ideas Roscoe east gave are short and sweet, so follow them.

    Some other things I've done is to put in some subtle variations to hits. For example, you might want to vary the velocity of some of your strikes, such as 8th notes on a hi-hat or ride cymbal. It might not be clearly noticeable on its own, but if you were to listen to a loop of the roboticly consistent 8th notes vs. a loop with some subtle variation you'll usually pick the one with the variations, even if you don't know why.

    Regarding Roscoe's "if a real drummer couldn't play it, don't program it" concept, try air drumming any drum pattern you come up with before programming it to get a better feel for the level of realism. For one thing, you won't end up with six different things happening at the same time (IOW, how'd that drummer grow two additional hands or feet?!?!), but you'll also help ensure that it's something a human drummer might play. Complicated fills might sound like a good idea when you first program them, but if a drummer sat down to play it he might find that some of the things you programmed are almost impossible to play.

    And if you're going to try the air drum idea, you'll need some combination of the following: a thick skin, a good sense of humor, or a good lock on the door. The first time my wife caught me air drumming a part she laughed her head off. We both eventually got used to it. :D
  5. Might not fit in with how you record, but I use PC Drummer to create drum tracks. It has many semi useful built in beats, plus you can easily edit them, or create your own from scratch, complete with individual beat volumes to create a dynamic feel. It can also set the timings to be dead on, or have a margin of error. As an added bonus, it's not to expensive. (~$50 US, cheaper than most first run games. :) )

    PC Drummer - Drum Machine Software Solution

    I agree with previous post that recommend the kiss method, and trying to think like a drummer.

    PS. I don't work for them. I've tried several PC drum kits, and this is the best I've found, IME. :D
  6. Best realistic drum patterns is to use an electronic kit and record the MIDI output.

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