Programming MIDI drums

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Bill Saunders

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« on: October 21, 2018, 06:55:59 AM »
Probably my least favourite part of putting a complete song together is writing the drum track.

Like many others, I rely on MIDI drums and, by and large, on the pre-written loops that come with the likes of Addictive Drums 2, BFD3 etc. Sure, I often add some one-off hits and bits and pieces, but essentially, the body of the song is supported by loops and fills, written by someone who has never heard my song. There are hundreds, if not thousands of loops to choose from in various styles, and the choice, therefore, is overwhelming. I typically audition a few loops, get bored (!) and more or less select one at random. I might well change to a slightly different pattern for the chorus and the break.

The result is that, yes, it "fits", it sounds better than if I had no drums at all, but for the most part, the drums sound pedestrian and very, very predictable. If I try loops that are slightly out of the ordinary, they will rarely work at all with my song, so, although there are thousands to choose from, only the normal boring "bread and butter" ones really work.

The drum samples themselves within these drum packages sound absolutely superb normally, so what I would like to do is to create my own drum track from scratch. I have tried, but find it incredibly difficult to produce even a half interesting beat, let alone a decent fill. I sometimes have in my head exactly what I think the drums should sound like, to support the song, but assuming that I can get what I think I have in my head into the DAW, then 9 times out of 10 it sounds ridiculous and unrealistic.

So I give up and go back to the boring pre-constructed loops.

As you can tell - I have never been a real drummer. I would really appreciate any pointers you may have to help me get off the ground with writing my own drum tracks.

jamesh

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« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2018, 01:07:40 PM »
Hi Bill

I tend to create my own drum tracks as I can never find loops that really fit my songs either, and though Im not a drummer, on balance, I think that a simple rhythm that works with the song is better than a more complex one that is wrong for the song.

I listen to the track again and again and gradually add fills or shakers as I "hear" where they are supposed to be.

My view is that the "feel" of the drum groove is more important than the complexity.

As a bit of tangent, I tried to accurately copy the general drum/bass groove of a song by Demi Lovato/Clean Bandit called Solo as I thought Id try and write a pop song with a very current feel. I found it really difficult to mimic.

Its probably goes without saying that its more than just the drums that make the groove/feel of the song, with the bass being key, but also, the actual drum sounds, when they cut off and the reverb etc having real baring on the overall feel. Triggering them at the right moment is only half the battle.

James

cowparsleyman

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« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2018, 02:54:18 PM »
Whato @Bill Saunders

This is a subject close to my heart as I, like you, felt so vulnerable that I couldn't play drums and programming drum sequencers properly seemed to be the work of the Devil himself, so I did 2 things to try and solve this.

1. Learned to play the drums and read drum notation. (managed to bash/wallop my way to Grade V before the pain in my hi hat side hip caused me to give up) - I respect anyone who can play triplets on different drums.
2. Learned to programme my drum sequencer.

And both of those things took me a lot of time, and money. So maybe that's the answer... but I ended up saving a load of time by investing in learning how to do it properly. I would never call my self a drummer, but I now do understand more what's going on, what sounds OK, and how to do it on a kit, even though I probably can't do it on a real kit.

I also agree with @jamesh that it's the groove more than the complexity that matters.

I don't know if this helps but here's a few tips that I found and still find very useful, especially if you want a more complex sound.

but before that I would strongly advise to write out how you want the arrangement, that is, how many bars for each element, intro, verse, chorus etc. then the drum programming will be easier, as you'll know where the fills will be....Have a pattern for each section, such as Verse Pattern, so at least you can use the template for Verse pattern2, when you can possible change something in it, add an open hat, or a splash at the end...Many MIDI drum sequencers have a 'Song' feature, where you can string the different ielements  such as verse, chrous etc. together in the order you want them.

Before I embarked on learning MIDI drum programming I took the time to try to understand about MIDI, what it is, and how it works, what's going on when you tick a box in a midi drum sequencer, or hit a cymbal on an electronic kit, or press a key on a midi synth, that helped a great deal, also how to string up the different devices, using MIDI Thru, etc.

1. Keep each drum/cymbal on it's own track - you can do a lot on getting the right production sound.
2. Have more than one track for kicks and snares - again you can work wonders with beats, syncopation, etc.
3. Try loads of ideas, make mistakes, some will be wonderful.
4. Don't always put a turnaround at the end of a verse.
5. Use all different types of kit, mix up acoustic and electro drums
6. When programming midi be very aware of the smallest beat that you will play, then set your grid to that otherwise you won't be able to play it!


Very often I use a mixture of 5 or 6 kits, it can be challenging in getting the right EQ/dynamics for them, but it's all a good learning experience.and I can guarantee, when folk are listening to the finished song, they are not saying "goodness he's got a Breaktweaker backbeat with a Spark2 fill, with some yamaha oak custom acoustic sections" they'll just listen and either like it , hate it or something in between, and probably not notice the drums at all.

They will always notice my 'real' drumming as it's nearly always of of time  :D (not always by much, but that was one of the most surprising things about learning to play the drums was how hard it is to keep dead on the beat), so that's where audio quantizing in my DAW helps.

I honestly hope this helps.

cpm

Oh yes and one more thing, If you are a lead guitarist...... don't play the drums like one!  8)


« Last Edit: October 22, 2018, 03:00:36 PM by cowparsleyman »

Bill Saunders

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« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2018, 04:31:01 PM »
Thanks for your input @cowparsleyman and @jamesh

Like many things, if you want to do them properly, there are no shortcuts as such. CPM in particular, I salute you and the huge investment in time and no doubt money that you’ve made. For me, it is about effort and reward - I’m not going to teach myself to play real drums and notation because, being blunt about it, I’m not sufficiently interested and probably too old to want to bother! I am just looking to progress a little bit from where I am.

Certainly for the music I write, 95% of the time, simple is all that is needed. I don’t want the drums to be overly fancy and distract from a good song. My lead guitar playing is good at doing that already!!


cowparsleyman

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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2018, 03:38:05 PM »
@Bill Saunders - Yeah, sounds right, keep it simple, it's just I like to try new things...

Rich