Program drum beats that sound like a real drummer!

You won’t always have a real drummer available, or it may not be practical to get a drummer to record tracks for your project, but you don’t want your beats to sound like a robot.

We’ll discuss in this article how to program and create beats that sounds like a real drummer! To start off with, you’ll need a DAW (digital audio workstation software) that has MIDI sequencing or ‘piano roll’ editor.

Create Dynamics in your Midi drums

A great trick to make your programmed drums sound more realistic is to create dynamics. This is particularly important for programming hi-hat and ride cymbal parts. For a standard 4/4, 8th note beat, Accent the beats of the bar by increasing the velocity (volume) for these notes. Your hi-hat track should sound like; ONE and, TWO and, THREE and, FOUR and. Notice beats 1,2,3 and four are emphasized in the same way a real drummer would accent these beats.

Edit Velocity to make is sound more realistic

If you want to make it sound a bit more natural again, emphasize beat 1 with a slightly louder velocity. You might want to play around and see what feels the most natural for the particular groove you’re creating. You can apply this same concept to kick and snare parts throughout the beat. A drummer will normally accent beat one on the kick drum (bass drum), so you you should increase the velocity on the kick sample for this beat.

If you have an intricate or busy complicated kick pattern going on, you’ll want to adjust the velocity for each kick sample so it sounds more natural and fluid. The other thing you can dot to make your kick sound more natural is to use a couple of different samples. Use a louder sample with more attack for the accented beats, and a more mellow sample for the quieter notes. For your snare tracks, once again the same principles apply.

Vary your sample selection for a more natural sound

If you’ve just got a simple groove going with the snare on beats 2 and 4, you might not need to do too much to the velocity – it might already sound pretty natural. However you could consider varying the sample slightly. A real drummer won’t always play all their strokes the same, so using a couple of different snare samples or varying the sample with equalization will help create a more organic feel.

Fruity Loops or FL Studio is a great audio production software package that allows you to do all these things easily and quickly.

Lets have a look at how to edit the velocity on your hi-hats in fruity loops. Select the hi-hats channel then click the ‘VELOCITY’ button. You’ll see the velocity for every beat of the bar. Remember we want to accent beats 1,2,3 and 4, so in this case we’ll decrease the velocity of the other beats.

Great – you’re now on your way to creating beats that sound like a real drummer!

Frequently asked questions about programming drums

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Tim Wells

Hi I’m Tim Wells – an experienced session and live drummer, mixing engineer and all-around lover of music! I’ve been passionate about music from a young age and I’ve had the great privilege of creating and performing music all around the world. I've had the incredible experience of touring as a live drummer through over 10 countries, performing in festivals, clubs, street corners, churches and cafes in front of audiences anywhere between 8 and 8,000! I've also spent time in the recording studio as a session drummer, but also as a recording and mixing engineer.

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