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Old 08-16-2004, 10:19 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Tutorial - MIDI-Drum Writing Basics

Blatently ripped off this article from Tweak's site ( www.tweakheadz.com ). In this article, Tweak outlines some basic do's and don'ts that will help you get started in writing your own MIDI-Drum parts.


Class 21a
MIDI DRUM TRAPS 'n TIPS - How to make your drum tracks come alive


Its been long said that to get authentic sounding drum tracks in your midi compositions you have to "think like a drummer". This is not as easy as it might seem. Go listen to some midifiles that are out there, where the composer can't hide behind audio drum loops. The art of midi drumming is becoming a bit of a lost art. But for the really true professional doing mainstream, rock, top 40, country, i.e., all the stuff that makes money, drum loops simply will not cut it. And bringing in a drummer and miking the kit--hours down the drain, often leaves no option but to do MIDI drums. It is possible to get authentic, live sounding drum tracks from a keyboard, sound module or drum machine that may fool the ear into thinking you have a real drummer. But to get it, you need to really know drums like a drummer does. And interestingly, many of the techniques drummers use to get their signature sound are things that are difficult or at minimum time consuming to do with midi sequencers. Here's a short list of drum accents:

Cymbal chokes, flams inside of rolls, playing light "ghost hits", playing cymbals with soft mallets, rim shot in the middle of a roll, exploiting the timbral variety of a drum by going from soft to hard hits, tapping back and forth from the center of a cymbal to its periphery, playing the snare slightly ahead or slightly behind beats 2 and 4 often differently for each bar, playing with brushes on toms and cymbals, double hitting a drum with two sticks, one slightly behind providing a "snap". That's the short list. And the important thing about good drummers is that they they don't repeat these accents all the time. They put them in whenever they think they can get away with it, not only at the fill.



The drum is an intensely dynamic instrument. Even with the very best midi multilayered drum module, it will not come close to the natural dynamics of a real kit. The solution to this is to have several keymaps of the same kit, one played soft, medium and loud. You can switch between them at different points of the song. This is often a better answer than using a typical velocity switched kit

Velocity editing:

Most good modules and drum machines have velocity routed not only to volume, but to a low pass filter. This makes the hard hit brighter as well as louder. The trick here is to go into the event editor of your sequencer and make sure every hit has its own unique velocity number. If you must use looped patterns in your sequence, make sure you do this before you hit the loop command. This is extremely important on cymbals as real cymbals never sound the same twice.

Offsets to the Snare.

The drum pattern gets it's feel from a number of factors. The feel might be described as "uptight" "tight", "in the pocket", "laid back" "loose"--there are many more ways to describe them. Much of what gives the pattern feel is the position of the snare relative to the center of beats 2 and 4. For a tight, near jazz feel go into your event editor and select all the snares and move them a few midi ticks ahead. Do it while you are playing the pattern to you can instantly hear the result. For a ballad feel, usually a tad behind the pocket, move the snares the other way. The groove will relax.

Stop the Hi Hat machine:

Whenever there is a drum fill and only use a pedal hat. This is what happens with a drummer if he needs his sticks to go somewhere else. One thing drummers do not do, ever, is to play the same hi-hat pattern from the beginning to the end of a song without stopping. So why did you loop the same hi hat track throughout your composition? They also don't use the same tom roll every 8 bars.

Limit yourself:

Drummers, by nature, have only two hands and two feet. This means at any given moment in time, there should be no more than 4 notes sounding. Drummers instinctively know this and if they are going to get a great drum sound they have to do things with these 4 hits to make them really stand out. Drummers don't have 64 different percussion instruments they can play simultaneously. With MIDI, you are rather unlimited. This is a problem that leads many a midiphile astray! Its a great idea to impose limits on yourself so every song does not sound "over drummed" If you force yourself to think this way, you will appreciate what drummers do with a trap kit of 10 basic sounds and 4 notes.

Quantize on!

You've probably heard that to get "natural" sounding tracks you need to turn quantize functions off and keep them off. Don't buy it! Let the Tweak correct the record here. Very few of us have the ability to lay down a consistent drum groove on a keyboard without some form of correction. The trick is to fully use quantize tools to the max to get the authentic drum sound. What you should try to avoid is quantizing the entire drum track. Instead, select only individual drum lines and quantize them. For instance, quantize all the kiks and perhaps all the closed hi hats, but leave the rest unquantized. Then go back and see where your snares are. Quantize some of them, but manually adjust others to be ahead and behind the beat and add flams on certain hits. Your sequencer has a "groove quantize" function. This allows you to consistently add offsets to 8th, 12th and 16th notes. Perfect for tweaking the kik and hats. However after quantizing your work is not done. Now you go back and manually add the accents, leading notes, the flams, the soft notes, fix the rolls and change velocities on any hits that sound the same. Do the crash cymbals last and experiments with sliding it ahead and behind the downbeat. Sliding it ahead a few ticks often adds incredible excitement to a climax, and moving it behind makes it sound like a royally expected crash.

Use Alternate Drum Controllers:

I just got a Yamaha DTxpress midi drum kit and it has really changed the way I think about drumming forever. There's allot of different options these days and those really serious about make great drum tracks might consider them It's a lot easier to think like a drummer when you are one! One of the big advantages of A MIDI trap kit is that you have to play it like a drummer--you get to feel the rush of bashing to the song, kicking it in the butt to make it move, playing harder when the break approaches, slamming the cymbals exactly when needed. And the really cool thing about these controllers is that, unlike real drums, you can play them all night long at a reduced volume or with headphones, and that you don't really have to be a great drummer to immediately dig the benefits. Put your sequencer in loop recording mode and just do the kicks, the snares then hats, etc. Then quantize away all your errors. There will still be enough uniqueness left over to have a living and breathing drum track at the end.

Class 21b

HOW TO WRITE ORIGINAL DRUM TRACKS - Fast and Furious in a MIDI drum sequencer

Here's how to write drum tracks really fast on a midi sequencer. Don't let the simplicity of my approach fool you into thinking this is an article for beginners. OK, lots of pros know about this, but I'll bet many an intermediate tweak does not. What I am talking about here is a "way of working" a "workflow" so to speak, which will work no matter what type of music you are doing. The goal is to build a drum track for a song in about the same amount of time as it would take to audition a bunch of loops to find the right one. Except here, at the end, you have a totally original drum track that, instead of staying the same as the song progresses, moves and breathes with the song. This method works in the midi domain of a sequencer. Because we are using midi and not audio, we don't have to mess with time stretching or beat chopping or any of that. We can tailor the drums to fit perfectly, change tempos, add fills and lead-ins with zero problems. It will work with software drum machines, real drum machines, samplers, and synth drum sets equally well.

Drums for the Verse

This 16 bar pattern will fit a typical "Verse" section<<Selection in Document>> in a standard pop song. Using this method you can have it done in minutes and it will be totally original, with no looping.

Step 1: Define a one bar pattern you really like. Just one. So work hard on it ok? Add a groove quantize template or spend time with the way the kicks roll out or the way the snare sits up. Don't adorn it with too much clutter, just make it basic, tight, catchy.

Step 2: Click on the pattern. Press CNTL (or Copy) and drag (or paste) it to the next bar to the right. Merge the 2 so it's now a 2 bar pattern. Make a few subtle changes to bar 2, for instance drop out a hi hat or move a kick to an 8th note.

Step 3: Click on the pattern. Press CNTL (or Copy) and drag (or paste) it to the next bar to the right. Merge the 2 so it's now a 4 bar pattern. Make a few subtle changes to bar 4, for instance add a hi hat at 16th notes or add a flam to a snare.

Step 4: Click on the pattern. Press CNTL (or Copy) and drag (or paste) it to the next bar to the right. Merge the 2 so it's now a 8 bar pattern. Make a few subtle changes to bar 8, for instance a little tom action or some snare action resembling a roll or mini-fill.

Step 5: Click on the pattern. Press CNTL (or Copy) and drag (or paste) it to the next bar to the right. Merge the 2 so it's now a 16 bar pattern. Make significant change to bar 16, because this is a major pillar if the song, you should design this fill to lead into the next part of the music.

Drums for the Chorus

When you do the "chorus" use the same basic pattern but make the hits louder. You might change from playing hi hats to crash cymbals at certain points, or add a tambourine track to replace the hi hats. After you define 1 bar of your chorus, work just as we did above, with subtle changes at first. As you approach bar 8 of the chorus, you want to drum up some excitement as the song should be peaking here.

Drums for the Verse II

Yep. Simple as pie. Copy bars 1-16 to Verse II. No, don't leave them that way, go in and make a few subtle changes here and there. Move a few kicks, alter the rhythmic pattern of the hi hats but keep it close. This is all you have to do to keep the listener's ear from going "aha, that's a copy of verse 1". In particular, make sure you go back and change the fills at bar 8 and 16.

Drums for the Chorus II

Oh, you have the secret now. Just copy Chorus I to Chorus II. Go in and make it a little different, typically a little louder, and throw in something that might be expected, but in a different way, like a cymbal choke, a tom build, add a bit more drama

Drums for the Intro, Break, Ending

Depends on the song of course, but these are the most fun to program. And you'll be having more fun because following this recipe you'll have saved a lot of the drudge work in coming up with a totally original track

Summing Up

What is cool is that all these subtle small changes add up. While every bar has the same basic foundation, every bar is different, which lends to the perception a real drummer might be at work. As you go back and fine tune your part, ask yourself, "What would a real drummer do here?" Those final edits can really make the track standout, and you will be the envy of those who think drum programming is hard and time consuming. Shhh... don't worry, I won't tell.

Take my Tip and use it well,

All the best,

Rich the Tweak
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Old 08-16-2004, 11:59 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial - MIDI-Drum Writing Basics

Thanx man! This should help me get started.
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Old 08-21-2004, 05:22 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial - MIDI-Drum Writing Basics

POD what prog you create your Drum Trax with?????

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Old 08-22-2004, 03:46 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial - MIDI-Drum Writing Basics

I use Fruity Loops and Cakewalk Sonar.
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Old 09-05-2004, 11:54 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Tutorial - MIDI-Drum Writing Basics

Cubase vst is very clever regaurding drum editing . From my point of view tho i prefer to have my drums quantised spot on .i have experimented with loose quantise , and its not for me .
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drum loops, drum machine, fruity loops

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