Drums. It’s the cornerstone of any great beat, especially when it comes to any form of electronic-based music. When you hear really nice music then “the beat” (drums) drop in, that is usually when you start to bob your head and get into the music.
Drum tracks are fun to create, but it can often become very repetitive. This is why it’s necessary that you spice up your drums and see if you can come up with something new. Let’s try.
It’s Not Just The Kick, Snare, Hat
Whenever I start my drum loop, I usually stick to the basics: kick, snare, hat. It’s what works for me, but I also like to change it up occasionally, such as throwing in a cymbal, toms, or multiple kicks, snares, and hats.
There are many ways you can make your drum loop much more exciting, such as layering, using more than one pattern, and tweaking the amount of swing.
The first thing I like to do when changing things up, is to layer my drum sounds. In the past, I would usually sample one kick, one snare, and one hat – that’s it. But now I prefer to sample two or three of each because it allows me to really shape the sound of each drum.
So for example, I will take a kick that sounds thin or compressed, then layer it with a much thicker kick, so as to add a nice low end. By doing this, it really fills out the way the kick sounds, and it works very well with the bassline because it has the same kind of thickness.
When it comes to the snare, this one can be a bit tricky. You see, with the kick you can get away with layering a few of them because it just has to hit hard enough and play nice with the bassline. With the snare, it’s essential that it sounds really tight because it’s what listeners will really notice first.
The best thing to do when layering snares is to use the same concept as the kick (one thin, one thick), but you have to really make them sound as one. What I do is I’ll use one snare as my main one, and any other snare I layer with it will just lie there in the background, very subtle. Unlike the kick, I make sure the volume level of each snare is kept in check, otherwise the snare hit alone could drive a spike through any listener’s ear drum very easily.
The hat is also good for layering, but in a different way. I like to layer two different hats but offset one hat from the other, so it seems like a stuttering hat, or just alternate between both hats (which isn’t actually layering).
The Drum Pattern
Most of the time, a simple drum pattern is all you need. Actually, I always find it’s best to start with a simple pattern and then just gradually build it up from there. So instead of having:
It could just be:
KICK-KICK-SNARE KICK-SNARE KICK
The reason why I keep it like this is because I hear some patterns that are just going overboard, which makes the track too noisy. If you keep it simple, then add in a kick, snare, hat, cymbal, or tom as needed, you’ll be good to go.
Besides the actual drum pattern, another option is to have multiple patterns, but not like you may be thinking. Normally you could have the same pattern repeat for 3 bars and the 4th is similar but with an extra kick or snare thrown in. But what about having the same pattern for 3 bars, then on the 4th you have a completely different pattern? I once heard a song (I can’t find it on YouTube) that did that but it was actually every 2 bars, and it sounded amazing.
Patterns are very important, but there are a few other options that I think should be considered essential when trying to spice up your drums.
Quantization is one of those things that some beatmakers will embrace and others shun because it sounds robotic. I personally prefer to always quantize my drum patterns because I want to make sure everything is tight and lines up correctly. Others don’t even bother and would rather keep it sounding natural, the exact same way they played it when hitting the pads.
If you do use Quantize, that’s where Swing comes into play. Of course you can still use Swing even if you didn’t use Quantize, but Swing will help take the robotic feel from Quantizing and make it more natural. You can easily get carried away with Swing, but just remember that the whole point is to make it sound natural, not weird. Every time you use it, think of a drummer doing your pattern, and adjust the Swing accordingly.
The last thing you could try is a fun one: Note Repeat. It was made famous with a lot of Hip Hop songs because the Akai MPC had it, but now pretty much all hardware controllers as well as the software will have some sort of repeat option. Maschine has it, for example.
The great thing about Note Repeat, is that it’s fun! You don’t have to necessarily use it in your final beat, but nonetheless it’s fun to mess with it because it could easily give you ideas for your drum pattern. If you do want to use, it’s always good to use it on the snare and hat because the snare rolls just sound awesome, and the hat rolls really spice things up. Have fun!