Programming Drums

Discussion in 'Drums' started by sioux, Jun 12, 2003.

  1. sioux

    sioux Guest


    Would you say that most people program their own drums from scratch in a sequencer or do more people use samples and loops, or a combination of both?

    I'm at the beginning of learning drum programming and want to get proficient as quickly as possible...of course.

    I do have a music degree and played in a band for years so it's not the total, total beginning, but I can't say I ever paid attention to the details of the drum rolls for example. I do have a drum machine and the Triton Studio has great drum kits and patterns, but I have been "guided" to do my own drum programming. That's great for the long term, and the other things I mentioned are great for the short term, but I'm trying to figure out how to bridge the gap.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  2. Nate Tschetter

    Nate Tschetter Active Member

    Feb 28, 2001

    Well, I have a few suggestions...

    -Don't quantize 100%

    -Don't use fixed length loops for everything. For example, maybe you have a stonking four on the floor type kick and snare thing. Well, you can loop that as a one bar pattern but play in your hihat or cymbal parts in a longer loop. Or, loop the cymbals and play in the kick and snare all the way through the tune. Same for percussion.

    Programmed drums typically sound programmed because you get the same drum being hit the same way in the same place every time. Minor variations in timing will diffuse that a bit. Along the same lines, minor variations in pitch (and I really mean minor), amplitude and timbre will also help.

    -Record some sort of human element. Go down to the drum shop and get some small shakers, tamborines, etc and play those in.

    -Try to cop some of your favorite drummers. These days, its easy to take a tune, load it into your sequencer, match the tempo of a couple bars and duplicate that as MIDI.

    -Take your sequenced drum parts and reamp them into a room, mix some of that back into your track.

    -Get a 15" speaker and a snare drum. Place the snare on top of the speaker and run the snare drum track into that speaker. Mic the snare...instant drum replacement.

    And...I'll save my best trick to date for a later time. :)
  3. sioux

    sioux Guest

    Thanks Nate! Ah, I probably varied the velocity too much. Darn, I'll have to come back and read this. Massive thunderstorm happening.

    Got that.

    I've never used loops. I've just drawn in the midi notes, played the drums live by hitting the keys, or used a drum machine. What you're saying is if you're using loops, to use a loop for one instrument but not for all of them - play those "live" that aren't looped so there is a "real" feel to the overall. ok. Got that.

    I've read a lot but I've never heard of varying the pitch - I hear you...slightly. I've only varied the velocity. That sounds good. I will try those things.

    I hadn't thought of that. Sounds good. I will do that.

    I haven't ever done that either. Here's where my technically challenged self comes in. You're saying to load the piece into the sequencer so you can see the tempo, etc. Then are you saying to create a couple of bars of drumming like what you hear on the piece you imported by actually drawing in the midi notes? I'm not quite sure what you mean by "duplicate that as midi."

    LOL, these must be meant for someone else! These tricks are out of my ball park at the moment.

    LOL, an incentive/teaser. I love it. I will come back for it later....I won't forget either!

    Thanks a lot for your suggestions! I will start working on those immediately since I'm about to start a new piece.

  4. UncleBob58

    UncleBob58 Active Member

    Apr 9, 2003
    Fairfield County, CT
    Home Page:
    Whats happening Souix!

    I do all of my sequencing in Digital Performer and am not familiar with all of the sequencing functions in the Triton.

    I mostly use an ASR10 sampler. Its ability to multilayer sounds 8 layers deep is why I love it for drum tracks. The problem with most synth based drums and most people who sample is that the velocity changes just make the same sound louder or softer and do not affect the tone of the "drums" at all. A good drummer knows how to use velocity changes to get different characters out of his kit, and good sequencing (if you are trying to do "real" drums) should try and emulate that. The multilayered sounds of my personal sample arsenal do just that.

    I usually start with a basic beat, hard quantized, and record the rest of the bed of the track (bass, keys, whatever). Once I have the basics together I start to work on the feel. DP has some nice Groove Quantize functions which definately help the feel. It's never perfect but is a really good starting point.

    Each verse could have a slight variation. Open the hat a little more, cross stick the snare, change the kick pattern slightly. Find places where the "band" can accent the vocal. Don't use the rimshot snare until the chorus. Every fill should be a little different. Blatently steal fills from other tunes and then modify them. Fool around with the tempo map. A band will naturally speed up coming out of a verse into a chorus and, coversley, slow down going back into the verse. The bridge/solo/break is going to pump a little harder than the rest of the tune, save the really hard bangin' stuff for there and the ride out. Don't have a high hat play on the cymbal crashes. You have to think like a drummer. Play air drums to discover what to leave out. Use the foot hat to keep time like a drummer would.

    None of this is engraved in stone and you should always have fun and experiment, but these are tricks that have had people asking "Who was the drummer?"

    Mixing is a whole other subject, but suffice it to say that I put LOTS of my stuff through speakers and track it to disk to get some real ambience.

    Have fun!

  5. sioux

    sioux Guest

    Hi Uncle Bob :)

    I use Digital Performer too. I LOVE DP. :) Even though the Triton has a sequencer and sampler I don't use either of those. I use DP for sequencing and Kontakt for sampling. The Triton does have good drum kits and drum patterns though. Prior to the Triton I was using a drum machine but both are limited in the long run.

    Ah. Good point. I had not considered that.

    Good one! That is what I will do then. I know DP has good Groove Quantize but I haven't used it yet.

    I just did a piece with my first drum programming. I followed a Tweakhead article. Basically it said to get the first bar perfect and then copy it eight bars, changing the 4th and 8th bar with the rolls, etc. Then copy that another 8 bars, etc. It certainly worked better than nothing! I have read these suggestions you give and will follow those.

    Well you and Nate both....ok, I'll come back and get instructions on that once I get some satisfactory drum programming down. I will have to understand how the cabling for that works. Not my game I'm afraid. I have everything going into Digi001 for audio. I can't imagine that you would just take those cables and plug them into your speakers??

    Thanks a lot for your advice! I can't wait to master drum programming so I can get on with it.

  6. Nate Tschetter

    Nate Tschetter Active Member

    Feb 28, 2001

    What I mean by getting it down as MIDI is to load up an audio file of a tune you dig, pick a couple of bars, match the tempo of the sequencer to those bars and try to program the drums close to what you hear.

    About drawing stuff in, well, there's no rules but I'm a much bigger fan of just playing it in from the keyboard.
  7. falkon2

    falkon2 Well-Known Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Heya... I program my drums from scratch using a combination of my own samples and ns_kit wav files. Everything is drawn in tediously by clicking the mouse. ;)

    slightly confusing question here: Suppose I only have one sample for each cymbal crash I have. Is there any way to trick listeners into thinking that it's a real cymbal being hit many times in quarter beats rather than one sample playing over and over again? Right now the only thing I'm doing is varying the velocity somewhat.

    Two things I want to try are to run just a specific band through a compressor with medium attack time (so that the first hit sounds different from the subsequent hits in timbre), and playing with real-time EQ. (I have the means to automate EQ with envelopes to change dB, Q and frequency real time)

    Any other ideas?
  8. sioux

    sioux Guest

    I think I like that approach the best myself. It seems more natural to do and the result is not so fixed.

    Thanks much for your time and suggestions. :)

  9. Nate Tschetter

    Nate Tschetter Active Member

    Feb 28, 2001

    Hi Falkon. There are a few ways to get this but it all depends on what your playback device can do. Here are a few ideas:

    - One way is if it can modulate sample start time from velocity. The way this works is, you want lower velocities to start the sample later so there isn't as much "stick" or attack in the sound.

    - Another thing that will help is applying a filter with an envelope to the cymbal. Depending on how you look at things, you can use a low pass filter that opens up with higer velocities so the cymbal goes from dull to bright or you can use a high pass filter that opens up at higher velocities so the cymbal adds fundamental as you play it louder.

    I suppose, realisitically you want some kind of mild bandpass filter that does both of these things.

    -If you can't do all this stuff, another way is similar to what you were thinking. Just record is as audio processed a bunch of ways and then crossfade and frankenstein them together.

    BTW, what is ns_kit?

    And...I draw stuff in all the time, its perfect for certain kinds of music but I like playing parts in much more. Just a matter of preference.
  10. falkon2

    falkon2 Well-Known Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Heheh... the only keyboard I have "regular" access to belongs to my friend, and has so-so touch sensitivity. Add that to the fact that I do most of the work on this here laptop now and the midi interface is on the PC makes it much more trouble than it's worth, unless I were to record audio from the keyboard samples itself (too synthed for my taste, though).

    So, that kinda rules out keyboard drumming for me. I'm pretty proficient at it, though ;D.

    Yeah, I suppose having velocity-triggered enveloping and band passes could work. I was also thinking of letting the sample of the previous hit overlap with the current hit (instead of being choked), but I don't know how authentic that would sound.

    The ns_kit set I was talking about is a pretty authentic sounding sample set for free that can be found at Only thing I don't really dig about it is the cymbals sound a little thin (though if they're put in the background and "butchered" somewhat, no one will notice) and the kick drum is both a little slow and wimpy without loads of processing that would make it sound... well... processed. The toms are top notch though - REALLY great sounding attacks that cut through distortion guitars, and you can really have those earth-shaking rolls just by boosting the mid-bass range somewhat. The snare is also pretty interesting - more than 60 different samples means snare rolls don't have that synthesized quality about them. Different samples for muted and unmuted, left and right hand, rimshot and normal, and more than 10 velocity layers for each of those!

    Edit: fixed link
  11. pandamonkey

    pandamonkey Active Member

    Dec 28, 2001
    Great topic. I'm sure we all struggle at times trying to be unique!!
    Firstly, there are some great tips already so this post was well worth taking the time to read. I must say though, there seems to be a common attitude from each of you when it comes to style. Why is it that you all seem to insinuate that you need to make your drums and percusion sound linear? I couldn't give a rats ass if my drums sound like I hired a pro to play his nards off. I love listening to electronic music, I make electronic music and I don't mind things that sound "fake" at all. I'm not suggesting to go out and buy canned beats and just do a little cutting and paisting and you're finished. That would be crappy too. I suppose that it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. However, do whatever works. I have no problems sampling anyone else's beats or using beat loops as additional elements. While no one wants a five minute song comprised of purely sample cds, sampled beat loops can be sooooo handy. For me, getting a catchy melody down is the first thing I try to do. I like to have a basic template in front of me so I can map out where I want things to start sitting. I will take a basic "four on the floor" beat and copy it for say 16 bars, just so I have some background rythm while I'm working. Beats are so important, but in the beggining stages I don't like to spend my time hammering out beats when I don't have a song to work with yet. Arguably some styles revolve around the beats first and foremost, take The Chemical Brothers for example, they have a huge emphasis on the rythm and beats so maybe they would disagree....That's fine too. If you slice and dice sample cds, you can have some beautifully recorded samples at your fingertips to work with. No one's mentioned using Recycle with a "Rex player" as a plug in. Reason's Dr. Rex is great for taking a basic beat and tweaking the $*^t out of them. (although I haven't used it in over a year, ha ha) There are a lot of loop/Rex players hitting the market these days. What about battery? There are many soft samplers on the market that make sampling and re-sequencing beats with a MIDI controller simple. Although it has it's limits, I love using Acid for mapping out things like a 4 beat bar. Try importing 5 or 6 samples or loops into acid and mucking with individual tempos, pitches,plug-ins cutting, paisting, relooping and then save it all as one personally made beat loop. I don't have the luxery of having a wonderful work station with 40 mint sounding drum kits included so getting my drums to react differently when keys are hit with different velocities is more difficult.. I sampled a hi-hat a couple of tracks ago that ended up playing right up front in the mix from start to finish. For one thing, like I said, I don't mind if people think it sounds electronic but I didn't want to create something too boring by keeping it identicle, hit after hit so I dreamed up a couple of tricks.. Plug a phaser into a drum track, either individually or bus some or all of your drums to one place and stick a phaser there.. A little modulation can create variety as well as give your various samples a little more continuity if they are modulating together.. Whichever approach you'd like. How about bouncing down a drum track and loading it into Kontakt. Have it play through contact and treak out Kontakt's FX with a midi controller... You can tweak the pitch of your drums slightly at different parts of the track to change them up a bit too. I recently bought Protools LE so automating FX is easy but before I had the means to automate, I would use Kontakt to automate FX parameters.
    MY KONTAKT TRICK - Load one track like a bass line into Kontakt. Trigger one solid MIDI note in your sequencer to start the track playing throught Kontakt. Tweak all of Kontakt's FX parameters recording the MIDI data throughout the song, Solo and bounce that Kontakt track back down, replace orig. Bass line with the new one that has the automated FX on it courtisy of Kontakt! I believe that if I create a drum roll non-linearly and it sounds that way, what's important is that I like the way it sounds. That's all. There is nothing in the world that should be considered "wrong" when creating music. I also like to try and useplug-insin combinations that change the timbre of a sound but so that the educated listener still has to guess what kinds of FX you are using. Why does reverb on a kick or snare have to be reverb at all? Try using reverb to fatten up a tone or the quality in a sound without any realease or tail to it. Try gating things so badly that they sound kinda cool. etc.
    Holy crap, my hands are tired! Hopfully, at least one thing up there meant something to someone!
    P.S. - Check out DFX VSTplug-insonline. they're free and they are cool!
  12. falkon2

    falkon2 Well-Known Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Haha... I actually read that whole post. :D

    Good points, all in all. The problem with me is that when a song comes to me, usually I have a firm idea of what I want to do rhythmically, right down to drum rolls and such.

    I suppose I'm a perfectionist, all-controlling dictator at heart, but I want to be able to have something sound exactly the way I want... This often rules out working with prefabbed stuff and trying to tweak it to my liking.

    I also feel the need to have everything in my songs come from me, not from sample or rhythm CDs, beats or loops. (Of course, I'm not going to go so far as to chop down my own trees, build my own drum set and mics, record them samples myself, etc :D You get what I mean) so I really try to avoid prefabbed rhythms wherever possible.

    Again, like you said, it boils down to what we're each trying to accomplish. I for one can't imagine pounding rock with techno drums providing the backbone. I want the drums authentic sounding for that. On the flip side, it's hard to breakdance to a messy, live-sounding drum track compared to a regular techno beat with a lot of subsonic oomph.

  13. Opus2000

    Opus2000 Well-Known Member

    Apr 7, 2001
    Hey guys...

    I usually don't post in here but I saw this post and thought...hey, I'll share my experiences here!

    I found a cool thing to use...called Discrete Drums.

    It's a set of CD's of recorded drum tracks in segments. Each CD has about four or so different tempo songs and segements of each part. So, you get say a song at 194bpm with an intro, verse or 2, chorus or 2 and some fills and more. Each segment is 8 tracks...Kick, OHL OHR, Room L and R, Snare Tom L and Tom R!

    You pic and choose which segments go where and the sounds are killer! Although I believe the recording are done in the drummers perspective, which is odd for the audience persepective thang, you can just pan the L to the R and so forth to fix it.

    Now it may take a little tweaking to get them right but it's worth it in the long run!

    Real drums with a human feel to it! I forget who the drummer is but he's very good and the recordings are done very nicely!

    Just thought I'd share!


    Opus :D
  14. sioux

    sioux Guest

    pandamonkey ....I loved your post! Thanks for all the typing. Great ideas - loved the Kontakt one!

    Thanks Opus and falcon. :)

    I'm loving this. Lots of good suggestions, information, tips, tricks, and perspectives and all equally valid and valuable. I'm going to try them all.

  15. sioux

    sioux Guest

    Do you guys know about this person...Bob Clearmountain and his drum sample cd?

    link removed

    Those Discreet Drums look Good!!

  16. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member

    May 12, 2003
    Neuse River Watershed
    Home Page:
    I couldn't see in this thread a critical point:

    Learn how to play the drums.

    I don't mean this facetiously. and I think it's important even if you're not trying to emulate a drummer. I think understanding the instruments of percussion from an acoustic and player's perspective will greatly and positively influence the way you program drums.

    Study drummers. Study the drums.
  17. popcorn

    popcorn Guest

    Hi , Sioux!

    Some quick remarks:
    Nate Tschetter talked about pitch shifting the drums.Triton's kits are organized smart in that way just pitch some percents different sounds-it would be easy if they are on different trax.I noticed -if you change the pitch-the sound changes like in real playing.
    The other -we use very often two or three different snares with some volumes.In "Easy Feeling" they are 3.In that way you could sculpture the sound very easy!
    And after if you don't have enough trax in the sound module just record the midi trax audio and proceed with other tasks!

    Kind Regards!

  18. Fela

    Fela Guest

    I think that Todzilla has it right. As a drummer with 20 + years of experience, very few people get rhythm right. People crap out when it comes to recording drums and people crap out when it comes to programming drums.

    Most of the rock n roll beats that get programmed by budding songwriters and such could be learned in a few short days of practice on cheap, minimal gear. Drumming is not really complicated until you get into jazz, metal, prog rock, and orchestral stuff.

    Practice drums on drums. You will be amazed at how quickly you progress. You will be able to play your boom boom crack beats and the exact fill you want. In doing so you will learn about rythym and time which most starting songwriters sorely lack.
  19. sioux

    sioux Guest

    Hi Donny,

    Good info on the Triton and good tip. Thanks. :)

    Todzilla and Fela,

    well, yes, that's the part that is hard and the real reason I posted initially. But everyone was posting such good stuff otherwise I didn't address it.

    I've been around enough to know when drums sound right. The basic beat is no problem, it's the fills, etc. If I hear a fill I want to emulate, it goes by so fast I can't capture it in my mind or in the sequencer. I did get a book called The Rhythm Book in which he states that if you're going to program drums you may as well do it right. I'm hoping that will help. Thanks for your suggestions. I'm on it.

  20. Nate Tschetter

    Nate Tschetter Active Member

    Feb 28, 2001

    All excellent points. I just want reiterate that if you're going for an imitative sound, transcribing is a great way to get there. I'm doing takedowns two weeks out of each month and learn something new about drums (and every other instrument) whenever I do this.
Similar Threads
  1. killersoundz
  2. BigTrey
  3. ReelBigSpikey
  4. BigTrey
  5. SickOfTalk

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice