Drum, the little thumps and clips that make you nod your head and tap your feet. They’re the backbone of most modern music. But given that they’re so important, how do you go about laying down a groove?
This article isn’t going to focus on the sound of your drums. The Producer Confidential Production Stacks are full of all the samples you need. Instead, this article focuses on different ways to lay down the rhythms. So let’s start programming.
1. The basics
Start with the basics. Most modern genres of music use some combination of a kick on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4, and then hats at least on every beat. You can learn a lot by building the basic beat for your genre and then seeing how you can change the feel by adding and taking away parts and moving around the hits.
House music for example has been using the same basic pattern since it began. A kick on every beat, claps on 2 and 4 and hi-hats on the offbeats. (If you’re not so well up on your electronic music theory lookout for upcoming articles diving into these topics.) Adding some more snare hits, or closed hats on top of the pattern, along with some swinging rhythmic swing are great ways to give the music more groove and help it bounce more.
Learn the basic drum patterns for your genre and then start to mess around with them to find different grooves and see what it does to your body.
2. Recreate old breakbeats
Much of 90s hip-hop was created from breakbeats sampled from disco, funk, and rock records. So recreating these breaks is a great way to hear and understand how those songs used groove. You can go scour old disco and funk records, or even chop the drum breaks out of hip hop records, but many of these breaks can be found online.
Just rebuild the break using your own samples and then play around with it. One of the big advantages of recreating these breaks and playing around with this is that it could form the basis of your next track. Clearing samples is expensive, and not clearing them could land you in legal trouble. But drum patterns are generally not copyrightable. So recreating these breaks with royalty-free samples puts you in the clear to use these patterns. Although it’s always good to add some of your own flavor to it.
We’ll cover how to stay on the right side of copyright law in a future post. Or if you don’t want to work up drum samples yourself checkout the Producer Confidential Productions Stacks for royalty-free drum loops from some of the world’s best producers.
3. Copy artists you admire
Once you’ve got the basics of your genre down you’ll want to figure out what your favourite artists are doing to stand out. The best way to learn this is to copy them. Grab the audio file of a track you admire and drag it into your DAW. Loop the section of the beat you like and see if you can create a pattern that matches it.
You can do this by ear – if your ear is good enough. But there are a few technical tricks that can help you to figure out different parts of the pattern. Percussion generally has sharp transients so you’ll be able to pick out a lot of them by looking at the waveform in your DAW. Low pass the track below about 100hz and bounce it and you’ll be able to see the kick pattern. Similarly high pass or notch the track to figure out what’s happening in the upper frequencies. Slowing down the track will also allow you to hear exactly what’s happening rhythmically. This will be particularly helpful for anything Trap inspired, Trap hihats get wild.
Recreating the rhythms from some of your favorite tracks will help you understand what the rhythm is doing during different parts of their songs. And how the rhythm is being used to support what’s happening in the rest of the beat.
4. Play it in
It may seem obvious, but you can also just play in your drum patterns. You don’t have to have the coordination of John Bonham or Keith Moon. All you need is some kind of midi controller and persistence. You can play the drums in one part at a time. Kicks first, then snare, then hats, etc. This gives you the chance to play around with drumming that isn’t in time, which can be a breath of fresh air in a world where most music is robotically precise.
Getting off the grid, and hearing how playing in front of or behind the beat could open up music in a way you’re not expecting. (If you’ve remade some breakbeats you might already have heard this.) Try tapping out patterns and then let them loop for a while. Then quantize the same pattern and compare the two. Which one sounds better, which one has more groove? Some of this will rely on you having a little bit of rhythm. But even if you don’t you can always take a pattern that’s on beat and move the hats or snares around to hear how it changes the groove.
Let us know in the comments below if you’d like us to write about syncopation and groove in a future article.
5. Learn to drum
This follows on from the previous comment. But learning an instrument, particularly the drums, can really open up the way you program drums. You don’t need to get a drum kit to do it. Take something like Drumming for Dummies. You can learn a lot about the fundamental patterns of drumming and how the different parts of the kit combine. You’ll learn about ideas like flam and grace notes, and how these can affect a beat’s feel. Learning to drum, even if you only ever plan to drum on pads, is a great way to understand how drum patterns are built and to hear what the different grooves can bring to the music.
There’s a big advantage of starting your music theory journey with drums. And it’s that drum notation and how it looks in midi are much more similar than other forms of music theory. As rhythm forms the basis of all music it’ll give you a solid foundation to build any subsequent music theory on top of. So if you haven’t already dived into music theory, drums music theory is a great place to start.
So there you have it. Five ways to get you started getting your groove on. If any of these inspire you to make tracks, let us know in the comments. Or if you don’t want to start your rhythm journey from scratch check out the Producer Confidential Production Stacks for drum loops from some of the world’s best producers. Groove to go.
And don’t forget to check out some of the other articles in the Producer Confidential back-catalog for more ideas to get you moving and shaking.