The hardest part to doing anything, is sitting down and starting. The thing that makes this so hard is not having a picture or idea in your head of what the first step is. If you’ve never done something before, you don’t know what any of the steps really look or feel like.
But no worries, after this quick tutorial you’ll not only know how to begin, but you’ll have something to show for your efforts. You’ll have a drum beat to use as a foundation for your first beat or as a song starting to generate melodic ideas.
You still with me?
In part 1 of this drum series, I talked about the importance of drums in a beat and the individual sounds that make up a drum kit or a drum beat that you’re likely to run into when constructing your beat.
This post will cover the process in which you can record basic drums in your DAW, either as something to play around with or the actual rhythm foundation of your beat.
It all starts with this:
Choose the Drums
When choosing drums, you want to find drums sounds that inspire you. Since you’re just starting out I recommend beginning with the preset drum kits.
Preset drums kits are normally drum sounds that have been grouped together by their flavor or style based on popular music or common groups of drums sounds for that genre. Most popular DAWs will come with preset drum kits. They are usually categorized by genre. For urban music, as a starting point, the categories you’ll want to choose from would be: Hip Hop, R&B, Abstract Hip Hop, and UK Underground. However, keep in mind these are just starting points to get you up and running quickly. I recommend taking some time at a later time to go through all the genres and categories to familiarize yourself with these kits.
Once you have decided on a drum kit, you’ll need to choose a tempo. A standard hip hop beat will have a tempo of 90 to 100 BPM, but again this is only a starting point. I recommend you bob your head or tap your finger to get a feel for what tempo you should choose. Feeling is everything when it comes to making beats.
Next try to match the tempo you feel with the metronome. You can usually activate the metronome by clicking an on off button on or near the transport bar. The rate at which the metronome clicks is controlled by the tempo you choose. If you choose a high value, like say 120 BPM, the metronome will click fast and if you choose a lower value, like 60 BPM, it will click slower.
In beatmaking there are many things that can help us make beats more quickly or speed up our workflow. One of my favorite modes to be in when brainstorming new ideas is “loop mode”.
Loop Mode (loop) allows you to set the left and right locators (left and right arrows) in the sequencer to a specific number of bars that will loop, or in other words, once the play head reaches the right locator it will return to the left locator looping over and over until the loop mode or loop button is deactivated. I usually set the loop (left and right arrows) to 8 bars; the left arrow on bar 1 and the right arrow on bar 9. For simpler beats you can set the loop to 4 bars also, which is the left arrow on bar 1 and the right arrow on bar 5.
Loop mode is also good for focusing your ears on a certain section of a beat so you can zero in on melodic, timing and technical problems.
Enable the Metronome (click)
In addition to keeping time, the metronome can also help the timing of when you begin playing your notes or sounds. This is called the pre-count or the count in. This usually comes in flavors of 1 or 2 bars. This means that if your choose 1, you’ll need to wait 1 bar or a 4 count before you can begin recording. If you choose 2, you’ll need to wait two bars or a 8 count before you can record. I usually set this to 1 or a 4 count.
In some DAWs there is even an option called “wait” which means recording will begin on the first note or sound played.
Once you select your tempo, position yourself in front of your drum pads or midi keyboard and start playing the drum kit sounds to the tempo. This will help you familiarize yourself with the sounds and help you decide if the kit you have chosen feels right before you start tracking (recording). If you are feeling uninspired by the kit you have chosen, select a new kit until you find something that feels right. Remember during the process of making your beat, it should not only sound good it should feel right. While you’re experimenting try to find a drum pattern that you like. It can be a drum pattern from your favorite song or a super simple beat, it does not matter right now.
Now that you are familiar with the drum kit and have the drum pattern you want to record is on loop in your head, you need to record your first drum sound. To keep things simple, we are going to record each drum sound separately. However, If you want to play and record the drums simultaneously like a drummer in a band would do on a live drum set, feel free.
The 9 Steps to recording Your Drums
Here are 9 steps you can use to guide you in making your first basic drum beat. Keep in mind, although recording each drum sound separately is optional, if you’re a beginner or have never played an actual acoustic drum set before. I recommend this approach in order to better understand the elements of beat construction and the process of building a beat. Having the individual drum sounds on their own track will help when it is time for the mixing phase of beatmaking.
Step 1. Create three new instrument tracks by going to menu or using your DAW’s keyboard shortcut command. Name the first track “hat”, the second track “snare”, and the third track “kick”.
Step 6. Record the “hi-hats” by hitting the record button, which will activate the count-in. On the last click sound of the count-in, start playing the pattern you’ve practiced during the experimenting phase. (Note: to make things easy I recommend playing a simple pattern that matches the metronome click sound.)
Step 7. Record the “snares” by hitting record button, which will activate the count-in. On the last click sound of the count-in, start playing the pattern you’ve practiced during the experimenting phase. (For this example the snare could be played on the 2nd and 4th click of every bar.)
Step 8. Record the “kicks” by hitting the record button, which will activate the count-in once again. And on the last click sound of the count-in, start playing the pattern you’ve practiced during the experimenting phase. This can be as simple as a kick sound being playing at the same time as every other hi-hat sound.
Step 9. Listen to your drum beat for timing issue and feel, making sure everything sounds as tight as possible. Erase and re-record anything that does not sound or feel right.
At this point you should have a basic drum beat that consists of hi-hat, snare and kick drum patterns playing back in a 4 – 8 bar loop. Using this approach for creating drums will help you develop multiple skills that are important to creating more complex beats and songs.
Playing and programming your own drums versus dropping a loop into the sequencer, helps you to develop a sense of rhythm and timing (staying on beat). This will enable you to use quantize less giving you a more human feel to your music.
However, there are times when you will need to match a unique rhythm or groove that you have designed with your melodic instruments. Having the ability to play or program drums using a drum kit will help you match things a lot better because you will have more control over the individual drum sounds.
Other Approaches to Drums
There will be times when you have a melody, chord progression or sample idea that you will need to get out of your head as soon as possible. You won’t want to waste anytime, you just need a simple beat to keep time or put you in the right mode. This is one of the ways drum loops are very beneficial. You could create these drum loops yourself to use later as song starters or you can use drum loops that come with your DAW or a sound pack.
Breakbeat drum loops are a dope way to add an authentic hip hop vibe and loads of flavor to your drums. You can throw them in by themselves or layer them with your drum kit sounds.
A drum machine in a DAW is cool because it allows you to either record and play the drum sounds to a sequencer track or program drum patterns with its built in step sequencer. It is one of the most flexible approaches to drums in beatmaking. If you’re still learning how to stay on beat or have trouble getting the drum sounds to hit the way you want, I recommend using a drum machine if one is available in your DAW.
Drum machines can also help even the most seasoned beatmaker create complex drum patterns that maybe one would not be able to perform by hand.
Questions: What questions do you have about creating drums for your beats? Do you prefer to play your drums sounds with a kit, program your beats with a drum machine or simply drop in a dope drum loop?