How to Program Realistic Drum Parts

The key to programming realistic drum parts is to play them in with your midi controller. Fortunately, you don’t have to have amazing rhythm to sound like a studio drummer. Playing in your drum parts will give a human feel that you can get right by tightening up your midi manually and using proper quantinization techniques.

There is a lot of care and technique that goes into getting a part to sound human beyond drawing in midi notes. This video show you how to build up a realistic sounding drum part step by step. Your drums should not be directly on the grid and you should have a variety of velocities to fit your groove at the end.

Learn to Play Basics

A long term plan to get better at sequencing realistic drum parts is to simply put in the work and practice playing drum grooves on your midi controller. There are multitude of benefits to taking this approach.

  1. You'll spend time listening critically to drummers and the details of what makes up their parts and grooves.
  2. The grooves practiced will start to be embedded into your musically DNA and you'll ultimately be a better music maker because of it.
  3. Programming will become faster, easier, better and more fun, beats the fertilizer out of drawing in midi note by note.

Learning how to play basic drums on your fingers will take some time and the point isn’t to become a flawless player. You can always program in drum fills with your pencil tool and move notes around to add details to your drum parts. The ability to perform in a groove will fit closer to the song much faster than any type of midi randomization functions could do.

If you have no experience as a drummer or even as a musician, start by trying the most basic drum patterns around, eighth notes on the hi-hat (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & ect) and then kick on 1 and 3 with the snare on 2 and 4. Record yourself and see what results you can get after you use the techniques in the video to tighten up your parts.

AC/DC’s “Back In Black” is a great album to study for learning basic drums. The parts all have great grooves, many are very simple, yet extremely powerful. Billy Jean by Michael Jackson is a deceptively hard groove to replicate but worth trying as great exercise. Even if you don’t take the time to really practice, a few hours explored one rainy day can really have a deep impact on your productions.

Grow As You Go

Sometimes you might not hear what drum part you want, or the part is simply too complicated to play in.

When a part is too complicated or not coming to you, feel free to draw it in first so you know what you want.

After the part has been sequence try recording the beat or it’s separate parts, slowing down the track if needed. When you play in the parts you add your personal feel.

As you are creating new tracks, try recording in a few extra drum takes for practice and to get a more diverse selection of grooves. It takes a bit of extra time in the beginning but over the long run this can significantly speed up your work flow.

If You Refuse to Play

If, for whatever reason, you really hate the idea of playing in drum parts. The very first tutorial I ever made on Music Sequencing shows you how to use midi functions to add randomization to your midi, bring it off the grid, and vary velocities.

I strongly recommend performing in drum parts but midi functions are a good alternative to know. Some programs, like Digital Performer, include midi functions to quantize midi to human grooves. Still, they’re not going to be tailored specifically to your song in the same way you recording them in would be.

Thanks for reading, you might like How to Build a Home Recording Studio From Nothing to Everything that truly details everything you’d need, even if you have a billion dollars.