Quantize and swing are a perfect match in the music production world. When drum machines and samplers were first introduced years ago, these were perfect for making beats because it eliminated the “human” feel of banging on the pads. With machines such as the MPC and the SP1200, quantizing and swing were essential, because without it, many classic beats that we know and love would
To quantize is to line up notes that are slightly off. Let’s say you have an MPC and you’re making a drum pattern, so you bang away at the pads and make something dope. When you play it back though, it sounds off, why is that? That’s because YOU hit the pads and your timing was a bit off, which is completely natural because we’re not robots.
By quantizing your drum track, it automatically moves all your notes over a bit and lines the up where they’re supposed to be. Now when you play it back, what happens? It’s perfectly on beat, but there’s a side effect of this: it sounds like it’s quantized. It sounds robotic and too stiff, lacking that natural feel that a drummer would have. So what do you do?
Swing is to the rescue! What Swing does is it adds that human feel to your pattern, but it doesn’t shift the notes over like quantizing does. It creates a bouncing groove within the rhythm, if you can understand that. It has nothing to do with shifting notes, but it rather involves the timing of the notes.
Let’s say you listen to a drummer playing live. Since he’s not a robot, when he plays the drums, it won’t soudn robotic, instead the drums will actually sound live. But when he’s playing, it’s all about the timing. Don’t be confused though, because it’s not about the drummer playing sloppy and his timing being off, instead it’s about HOW the drummer is playing. He’s on beat, but the way he plays the drums is what’s unique to him because every drummer is different.
So, Which Is Best?
Now that you know what quantizing and swing is all about, should you use it? Or should you play your patterns naturally, giving them more of a human feel? You may be quick to say, “of course I want to use it, my timing is terrible”, but you may want to re-think that.
J Dilla was known to use a natural feel to his beats. He preferred his beats to be un-quantized, and that’s why he had his own unique and distinct sound to every beat he made. I know it’s difficult to get the timing down when you’re hitting the pads, but drummers have been doing it for ages, and they have no problem with it!
I think when it comes to Hip Hop or any other genre that makes use of quantizing and swing, we’re so used to doing it like that. There’s been many times where I made a drum loop and it sounded great, but I still quantized it then added swing – because I’m used to it. It’s also because that’s the style of today, and everyone is doing it. But sometimes I test myself and try to make a drum pattern purely dry and without the need for quantize and swing, and most of the time my timing is good.
It’s completely up to you which one you use. The easier and better sounding way is to use quantize and swing, but doing it all-natural is not bad at all either. If J Dilla did it natural, then it’s possible, isn’t it?