Akai MPD226

Everything About Drum Programming – Noisylabs

Table of Contents

3 Things you Need for Great Drums

Drum programming is a tool you need to master. 

Having good drums is essential for rhythm and groove in a beat. If you want people to move when your song plays, make sure your drums keep it groovy. There is no BPM threshold you need to meet for a track to have a groove. All it has to do is make people move.

Another factor to good drums is “swing”.

Swing makes your drums sound human-like. If you’ve ever seen a live band play a track you usually hear digitally, you’ll notice differences.

There are small delays every other beat. Drum programming replicates this by adding swing. It’s important that you have the big 3 when creating drums:

  1. Rhythm
  2. Groove
  3. Swing

Why Should you learn to program your drums?

There are plenty of reasons why you need to learn how to program your own drums. One reason why is to become a versatile artist.

Being able to learn how to program your drums means you don’t have to depend on samples, or drum kits.

The second reason why you need to know drum programming is to find your style. In the beginning, you’ll probably start experimenting and copying other drum patterns.

You’re basically going to learn drum programming by experimentation anyways. Doing this consistently will eventually help you find your own style. You’ll understand what you want to do with your drums, and understand your tendencies.

The biggest reason why you need to learn drum programming is you become more resourceful.

You won’t have to purchase drum kits or look to other producers for help. You also avoid having to use overused loops and stock beats.

There are more reasons as to why you need to learn drum programming. But, before we get into drum programming, let’s talk about the drums itself.

What are the Different Types of Drums?

If you’re new to drums, then it can get confusing. There are terms for drums and each drum has its own unique sound.

Listening to modern hip-hop/rap means you’ve probably heard of a “hi-hat”.

A hi-hat is a high pitch drum instrument. It’s a combination of two cymbals and a pedal. If you’re looking at a drum set then you’ll notice a hi-hat cymbal is shaped like a UFO on a stand. 

hi hats

Source: Amazon.com

Another drum sound you need to know is a “kick”. A kick drum is low-pitch and it’s also known as a “bass drum”.

A physical kick drum has a shorter duration sound in comparison to an electronic kick drum which can be adjusted. 

kick drums

Source: Edrumcenter.com

The final type of drum you should know is the snare drum. The snare drum is usually faced right in front of the drummer. It’s comprised of 2 heads which create a high-pitch sound. It’s known for making a sharp and loud crack amongst the drum set. 

snare drums

Source: Amazon.com

Different types of Drums

  • Hi-hats
  • Kick drums
  • Snare drums

 

There are different types of drums but these are the main ones you hear today.

How to get your Drums Right

  • Adjust the velocity

Adjusting the velocity means adjusting the loudness of a beat. This is important because you want to accentuate specific beats. Sometimes you’ll want to lower the velocity, other times you’ll want to strengthen the velocity. It depends on what you’re going for. 

What’s for certain is you can’t strengthen the velocity of each beat. Knowing the velocity for each beat will get the best out of your drums.

  • Tempo

Tempo is basically the speed of the music. It’s measured by beats per minute (BPM). BPM is important in determining what type of song you’re making. 

  • Quantize

Quantizing is when the software places your rhythms in a rhythmic grid. It keeps your beats on time. Quantizing your beats is something you don’t want to overdo all the time though. A good time to quantize your beats is when you’re making dance music. When people are dancing, the last thing you want your music to do is be off-beat. 

Another reason to start quantizing is when you’re transitioning in a song, or to a different song. A subtle difference is key. Always keep the tempo and beat timing in mind when quantizing.

  • Humanize

Humanizing a beat is the direct opposite of quantizing a beat.  it’s good to not quantize to make sure your drums sound human. It gives it a more authentic feel. The trick to doing this right is determining which beat you need to emphasize.

  • Mix your samples like a real kit

Mix your samples and drums like you’re not using software. This makes the drum sound realistic and it doesn’t crutch your abilities as a producer. There are times where you might have to dig in a crate to make a beat. If you rely on software 100% of the time, you can’t be the best producer you can be.

  • Use reference track

Whoever said copying was bad never tried to be an artist. If you’re serious about creating great drums, don’t be afraid to listen to other tracks with drums you like.

Listen to your favorite songs and cue in on how the sounds are. This is a great way to recreate drum kits to your own song.

  • Create your own reverb

Reverb is basically different types of echoes. Compare your footsteps in an empty wooden room to footsteps in a bathroom. Different right?

Drum programs come with their own reverb. If you want to stand out, take that stock reverb out and create your own reverb.

  • Add saturation

Adding saturation is similar to humanizing your beat. Let’s face it, DAWs can make you sound too perfect.

If you’re looking for vintage sound, you need to add saturation. Listen to your drums. And when listening, figure out what’s missing. If it sounds thin, add some mids to emphasize those drums. If it needs something on the top, make those adjustments.

All of these techniques will make it easier to create your drum loops.

Principles to get your Drums Right Summary

  • Adjust the velocity
  • Identify the tempo
  • Use quantization when necessary
  • Humanize the sound
  • Mixing your samples
  • Use reference track
  • Create your own reverb
  • Add saturation

What are Drum Loops?

To understand drum loops, all you need to understand is what a “loop” is.

Loops are fun. They create rhythm and make songs catchy. 

A loop, in musical terms, is a sound repeated over and over. If you listen to a song, and hear a voice deliver the same sounding material, then you have a loop.

A drum loop means drum sounds are repeated throughout the song. We wanted to write about drum loops because drums are a big part of songs. Producers overthink drum patterns when it’s all about feeling.

We understand though, drums can make or break a song. Drum loops also let you get creative. You can experiment and try out different things. Experimentation is creativity at its peak. When you experiment, you’re letting your mind flow and do what comes to mind.

In fact, looping drums can be the foundation of creating a beat. Artists start creating beats in random ways, but creating the drums can be a starting point. You just need the right equipment.

Where do I Create Drum Loops?

To create drums, you use what’s called “DAWs”.

DAW stands for digital audio workstation. You can compile a whole beat in these DAWs. For a broke artist, DAWs can be pricey. In these workstations, you can create a drum pattern from scratch, take a sample pack, or get drum kits.

Obviously, the easiest choices are getting drum kits or sample packs because the heavy work is already done. But, don’t let that discourage you. 

When searching for samples, keep in mind that low quality samples can come from free and paid sources. Please do your research before buying samples.

Different ways to Create Drum Loops

  • MIDI vs Audio: 

You have 2 choices when creating drum loops. There are pros and cons with each, so it all boils down to what you prefer.

MIDI

MIDI is great for swapping out drum samples, storing drum kits, and humanizing. Editing drum samples is made easier by being able to make adjustments in a few clicks.

The cons for working with MIDI come down to the difficulty of doing things. The first hurdle is it’s hard to use loops. Another hurdle is the mixing. Your drums might sound muddy and off-beat when using MIDI.

Audio

Audio is great when you’re looking for a template for your drums. It’s always nice to build off others instead of re-inventing the wheel.

If you’re working with more acoustic genres, audio is a great option. You can tweak certain things like swing and work a different angle.

Another angle you can work is the sample. You could make so many variations of the sample using a different pitch, speed, or add in something different.

A downside to audio is once the sample is set, you’re stuck with it. Imagine an artist hearing your beat and saying they don’t like the sample. Once that’s taken away, the whole aesthetic of the song disappears.

It also sucks because you have to get more technical. Everything isn’t set up for you in a DAW. You have to get more technical. But, people who want to be great don’t let that deter them.

A lot of this comes down to preference though. There are pros and cons with both obviously. Sometimes you might want to work with samples, which means you’ll go with audio. Other times you’ll want to go MIDI.

Your best bet is to be good with both. Nowadays, versatility is a skill itself. Being a versatile artist known for your creativity is the best formula to creating quality drum loops.

Drum Loop Processing Techniques

To understand drum processing techniques, you need to know these 4 terms.

4 terms you need to Know

The 4 terms are “Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release” which makes up the acronym of ADSR envelopes. It’s important to know these so you understand music production in general.

Think of Attack as the starting point of a sound. It’s the point where the sound begins and increases in volume until it plateaus. Decay is the opposite of attack. It’s the way a sound fades out. 

For example, reverb slowly decays in comparison to a small kick. Sustain is the point from the peak until the key/button/sound is released. And, release is easy to understand. It’s the time taken to go from the sustain stage to nothing.

What’s important is you know what transient shapers are. If you want to tweak with the attack or decay, use a transient shaper.

Processing Techniques

One easy way to change drum loops is to “EQ” it. EQ stands for equalization in music which means balancing different frequencies in the song.

If you want one part of a drum loop to be louder than the others, you need to EQ it. Producers do this to have a big drop right before the song gets in the beat, or in general, to match the heavy bass.

Producers emphasize kick drums in their loops a lot. They do this by filtering everything above 150 Hz which they then can process with a compressor to put emphasis on the kick drums. 

Compressing means to lower the sound if it goes over a certain threshold. It’s like a governing tool that automates having to individually lower each sound that does that.

Using these for your drums are essential because it will give your drums more space. There’s clarity and more impact when it appears on a track.

There are different compressors you can use. One type of compressor is the SSL which delivers small amounts of compressing. They’re suitable for sounds with faster attack and release times. This gives them an advantage over digital compressors musically.

Similar to MIDI and audio, it all comes down to preference. It’s more about knowing what each compressor does so you can use the right one for the job. Sometimes it’ll be an SSL compressor, other times it’ll be a digital compressor.

If you want bigger drums, then parallel compression is the way. The technique of parallel compression allows you to layer drums on top of the original drums. Compressing the two together fills in the dynamic range which makes for bigger drums.

Essentially, parallel compression is a mixing technique. It’s how some songs sound louder than others. It depends on what you’re going for. For a song to be at its loudest without breaking your speakers means it needs deep compression.

You can also adjust the sample with some plugins if you don’t like a specific part.

One way to do this is to use a plug-in. A good plug-in to do this is “Slate Digital’s Trigger”. If you were working with Audio, you can convert it to MIDI which is useful for this specific situation.

You can generate a great song by using a DAW like Ableton and adding some transients to the loops before going with MIDI. After that’s done, you can nitpick some of the drum sounds you don’t like and replace them with some samples, or add your own drums.

In marketing, you have what’s called A/B testing. And that’s when you have 2 experiments with something in common. For example, marketers use A/B testing on one website page and try 2 different experiments on that one webpage.

There is a similar thing you can do with music. You can duplicate a track and have each drum loop use different frequencies. Sometimes producers duplicate a track 4-5+ times to really experiment. The reasoning for this is to have 3 tracks each using a low, medium, and high frequency.

This is to see the drum loops at the full range of frequencies. The other duplicates will then have other variables added into it. Some of these variables include adding some reverb or delay in one track while adding a special effect on another. There is also another way to add something new to your drums, and that’s through plugins.

Drum Loop Processing Techniques Summary

  • EQ
  • Use a compressor to filter for threshold 
  • Use parallel compression for bigger drums
  • Use plugins to edit your loops and add effects
  • Create drum templates to experiment

Drum Loops Tips

A song can have multiple layers to it. You can have the sample, bass line, and vocals layering on top of each other. 

You can have a big drum going off on the 4 while your fast drums triple up. This is one creative way to take your drum loops to another level. Layer drums that have a different tempo on top of the original.

You can get many variations chopping up a loop and rearranging the hits. It’s basically creating another loop by switching where each part goes.

After taking each hit of a loop, it’s also interesting if you add a little effect to each hit. One chopped up part can have high tones while another chopped part can receive low tones.

Another technique you can implement doesn’t relate to sound as much. Instead of loading audio channels with different effects, put your effects in return channels.

This allows you to save memory storage on your computer. This makes it so you can use more instruments and effects in your beat. 

For example, DAWs can send drum hits to different returns, and have different effects for each drum hit. Essentially, you can have all the effects narrowed down instead of having them on each layer.

Drum Loops Tips Summary

  • Layer original drum line with another drum loop
  • Chop the loop and rearrange it
  • Put effects in return channels

 

Drum Replacement

Drums are one of the harder instruments to record. There are many types of drums and it’s easy to mess up the recording process for drums. Maybe a kick that was recorded had no depth or the impact you intended.

Sometimes you’ll record a drummer, and you play it back and realize it doesn’t sound as good as you thought. This is where drum replacements are useful.

There are different ways to get drum replacements. First off, if you can avoid looking for drum replacements then this is even better. Don’t be afraid to tell a drummer to do one more session if you feel it isn’t right. They understand. You have to understand that they’ll understand if you think it’s not good. The last thing a musician wants is to sound bad on the final product.

Another way to replace drums is to use samples to fill in the gaps that need replacing. It’s obvious, but you need to pick a sample that matches the aesthetic of the drums you already have. Once you have one, blend it in your recording.

Don’t limit yourself to one sample though. One technique you can use is to blend different samples together. Use different process techniques like compression and transient shaping to blend these samples together. Doing all of this can make your samples sound unique.

How to Replace Drums Summary

  • Record a drummer
  • Use drums from samples
  • Fill in the drum gaps manually
  • Blend samples together

Making Drums Sound Powerful

A lot of what it takes to make drums louder incorporate what we’ve already talked about.

If you’re recording a drum session, you can make them sound louder if you push the room mics back. This records the natural reverb. You can also use dynamic processing to make drums sound bigger.

Dynamic processing includes compression. Use compression to reduce dynamic range and lower the volume levels of the loud segments down. This increases the gain and the whole thing sounds fuller. 

Another technique is to use parallel compression. Use a combo between compressed/uncompressed signal to make the drums sound fuller. Using the blend of compressed/uncompressed signal reduces the attack.

To create drums that sound full, add depth. Sure, the beat might already sound good, but adding depth gives it a 3-dimensional space. Adding depth makes it sound like you’re listening to your Airpods instead of stereo speakers. There’s more richness and clarity.

Adding reverb gives more depth to your drums. One type of reverb you can use is hall reverb.

Start with using a higher send level. This pushes your drums further back in the mix. The higher your send is, the more reverb there is. Use a send level range of -10 to -20 dB to create that depth. If you want your drums to sound closer, use a lower sound level.

Using parallel compression and reverb is enough to get your drums where you want. One final thing you can do is add parallel distortion. This will give your drums more aggression and push them over the top.

Making Drums Sound Powerful Summary

  • Use natural reverb
  • Use compression to reduce volume and reduce dynamic range
  • Use parallel compression to make drums sound full
  • Add depth
  • Add parallel distortion

Where to Find Drum Loops

3 great places to find drum loops are Loop Loft, Drums on Demand, and Loopmasters. Other places you can find drum kits/loops are from other producers.

Other producers make drum kits for profit, or other projects they’re going to use it on. Another seldom used, but obvious choice are drummers. They love to get on their drums and start playing. And, sometimes they walk away from the studio with a gem.

Your best bet, assuming you’re a beginner is to do a Google search of the sites we mentioned. Every time you have a site listed on top of the Google rankings, that means that site is dependable a majority of the time. It’s your job to find the perfect loop for your song.

The Best Technique for Drums

There are a lot of techniques and tips here. The only prereq you need for creating great drums is to be creative. Take time to give yourself space to get the creative juices flowing.

Techniques and tips will change as machines come and go. Your creativity is what will separate you from others. It’s what helps in creating a signature sound and style.

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