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HERE ARE SEVEN BEAT CREATION TIPS TO GET YOUR DRUMS GROOVING.

 

These days, a lot of artists are asking us questions on mixing and mastering, when the fundamental beat of their track simply isn’t working. 

So in this tutorial we are going to strip it right the way back to a blank canvas and go through 7 useful tips to get you well on your way with creating your own beats and rhythms.

 

PUSH THE TEMPO

This almost sounds too obvious to mention but it’s imperative that you get your BPM in roughly the right range for the genre otherwise you will waste a lot of time trying to figure out why you can’t get the track to sound as you want it to.

An effective way of setting your tempo correctly is to turn on your metronome in your DAW. Now you can imagine what speed you want your track to be and dial it in. Or an even better method would be to play a track from your computer with the rough vibe of what you want to create. As it plays use the tap tempo button in time with the beat to tap a tempo in. This will give you a good indication to the tempo after a few clicks and from here you can round the figure up or down to a whole integer.

Finally you can search for popular songs tempos on Beatport or using Dj equipment such as Traktor, pioneer or Mixed In Key. This will also give you the key signature of the tracks.

 

Here is a rough guide to the common tempo’s used in a few different genres…

  • HOUSE MUSIC 120BPM – 130BPM
  • TECHNO 120BPM – 140BPM
  • DRUM AND BASS – 160BPM – 180BPM.

Another point to note here is to make sure the key signature is set correctly. This is usually displayed next to the tempo and in electronic dance music will typically be 4/4 which means 4 beats to every bar.

If you turn the metronome on and adjust this setting you can see how the time signature alters the phrasing of a track.

 

VARIETY IS KEY

Without variety, our drum programming would be very boring and flavourless. Variety is important to keep up the momentum in a track. You should aim to add some form of fill, edit, or turnaround point every 4 or 8 bars. This could be as simple as adding or removing a kick or something more advanced like a snare fill or complex clap pattern. This helps to keep listeners engaged and pulls them into the next section of the music.

 

adding fills to a drum loop

A simple drum loop with fills at the 4th and 8th bar of the section.

 

SETTING TRENDS

There is never a right or wrong way when making music or programming beats. However there are some general rules that will keep your beats on the right track when followed. These rules can vary slightly dependant on the genre but the fundamentals are the same in getting the framework of your beats down. A bar is measured in 4 beats. Usually the first beat also known as the ‘1’ or the ‘downbeat’ will start with a kick, in house music this will strike on every beat and the claps will fall on every 2nd and 4th beat.
Once you have this initial pattern down you can add in other elements such as various hi hats on 8th 16th and quarter notes to fill up your pattern.
As we previously mentioned this set of rules changes from genre to genre. Dubstep and breakbeat patterns have a more broken hip hop feel to them where the kick may not hit on every beat.
In time you will understand the rules for each specific genre and learn how you can bend and break these rules to create your own unique beats.

setting trends metric positioning

A typical 4×4 house beat

A typical dubstep beat with a syncopated kick drum and a heavy snare on the 3rd beat of each bar.

 

VELOCITY

Velocity relates to how hard a note is played. When programming drums, this usually relates to the volume of each note. Velocity programming can be assigned to almost anything. A common setup is to have the velocity effect a small portion of the filter cutoff or filter envelope decay. Velocity is absolutely paramount for injecting life and groove into your drum patterns especially in cases when alternating the pitch would sound disjointed such as in hi-hat patterns. In these cases note length, placement and velocity are your only tools.

 

A hi-hat pattern using velocity changes, note length and a manual swing on every 2nd 16th note.

To test this theory in your DAW, create a hi-hat pattern that is quantised to every 16th note and duplicate it a few times.
Leave the first pattern straight as it is. For the second pattern set the 2nd and 4th velocities to 50% and set the 3rd note velocity to 75%. Ensure that the velocity to volume control is turned up to at least 30% so you can hear the effect.
For the last pattern try adding your own velocity pattern. Now listen to them all back and take note of the huge difference that this makes without even changing the note length or timing. With these three techniques combined the possibilities are endless.

A hat sample with amplitude and filter cutoff modulation tied to the velocity by varying percentages. this sample also has subtle pitch, filter, pan and volume automation via an LFO.

 

GROOVE SELECTOR

Almost all new DAWs now come built in with a groove – swing functionality. This allows you to add a pre-mapped velocity and timing grid to your audio or midi clips. This will nudge your transients off the grid in a musical or swung manor similar to how a real drummer would swing a groove to make it more funky when playing it live.
To add grooves to your tracks you can either select the set grooves from the swing as groove drop down in logic or you can access them from the groove pool and even extract them directly from your own audio tracks in Ableton.

Ableton’s groove pool.

 

THE POWER OF DECAY

Decay times can alter the feel and groove of a track drastically and particular attention should be paid to how they are set and they’re timing ratios in comparison with one another. To test this theory build yourself a simple drum pattern and set up a midi controller or macro knob to allow you to adjust the decays of each of your tracks using a sampler. Whilst the track is running, play around with the different decay times and see what grooves you can come up with.

 

This drum rack has macro controls set up on the decay of each individual sample giving it complete control over the groove.

 

CHOKE GROUPS

When a real drummer is playing. The open hi-hat cannot be played at the same time as the closed hi-hat as they are set up on the same peddle. This means that the closed hi-hat is choking the open hi-hat. This is known as a choke group and is important for making your drum sounds more natural by not having the different hi-hats decays overlapping. This can easily be set up in a drum rack using the choke option in the chain menu or simply by using slots 7 and 8 in the impulse device which are automatically set to the same choke group.

Slots 7 & 8 on Ableton’s Impulse device are automatically set to the same choke group.

 

In Ableton’s drum rack we can access the choke groups from the chain selector then we can select which group we would like to assign any individual sample to.


These tips should help you get on your way to creating your own beats and grooves. This is only the tip of the iceberg though and if you would like to know more then check out some of our video packs.

 

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