Better Drum Programming

I have been having quite a bit of fun with my Digitakt, but I’m finding myself making some beats that are a bit too wild. That can be a good thing in some music, and I think it just demonstrates the power of the Digitakt, but I’m curious… for people integrating it into a bigger setup, what is your approach to making sure the percussion is punchy and that there is just enough to make the track groove without being distracting?

I almost feel like I “have” to use all 8 audio tracks, even though that is ridiculous, and in popular music, you can find numerous examples of songs with only 4 drum sounds. Also, I don’t have much experience with physical drums, although getting some would be something that I think would certainly help.

Do you have any advice or resources for making beats that build that solid foundation for the rest of the song or have any Digitakt-specific tips?

I’m making some hip hop beat for the fun, and what I try to do is not use conditionnal trig for drum or juste 1 or 2 sometime for special perc. The brain like when the drum pattern loop perfectly.
I don’t use the 8 sounds for the drum, kick, snare, hat, sometime open hat, sometime perc. I like to add some low tone bass in the groove to make it more punchy. I use max 5 tracks for the drum loop. Sometime less when I program kick and snare on the same track, or multiple perc and bass on the same track too.
When my drum loop is good, I add movement by changing velocity on the hat, and humanize (if I didn’t fingerdrummed) by changing the microtiming on some kick and snare.
I use the 3-4 remaining track to add melodies and FX. But If you have other machines, just don’t use track 5 - 8

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A nice method to combat this - at least for me - is to keep thinking that you need to leave some audio tracks free for doing transitions.

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Keep in mind, regardless of which gear one is using, that track number available does not always equal rhythms required to be used.

Some tracks can be transition hits, accents stabs or just general spiciness. I find the overcrowding happens when one feels obliged for every sound to have a constant rhythm.

The skill comes in being able to distinguish the difference of what is necessary

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Great topic.

Check out this article https://www.edmprod.com/drums-guide/

I esp like the 2/4/8 approach.

One thing I did was make a project called “Drum Study” and created many of the beats on the DT in the article. It was a good learning exercise.

Regarding fundamentals… one thing I’ve learned is to always tune the volume levels for the kit. Its surprising what a few +/- Db on a hat or snare can do for a beat. It’s often overlooked, and not sexy, but balanced levels on percussion is as important as the rhythm.

Best regards,

Gino

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That is a fantastic point. I think that is a pretty fundamental growth milestone for utilizing sequencers in a way that doesn’t have that harsh “next pattern” flip. I’ll have to experiment with this one. Thanks for the idea!

It depends on the song you’re building. If you already have something else recorded and playing already (like a melody or a sample or something) , I usually try to get in the groove myself and sing a beat that comes to mind. No matter what it is, it is most often what I feel is a natural companion to the other element.

So if u have a super simple pad going, maybe stick with a 4/4 kick until u have another element that will set the rhythm, after that u can think of the song as a band playing together. If the drummer knows the bass line that is coming he can play the rimshots or snares beforehand to set the swing for the listener. It gets cohesive like that! At least for me :slight_smile:

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  • A drummer only has four members, and rarely hits with all at the same time.
  • Ghost notes (with very low velocity) are nice to get some groove, especially with trig condition (use % probability)
  • A bit of swing sometimes change everything
  • I usually use some hats or kick as a metronome, and then finger drum the other parts in live recording mode. I find this the key to get what I have in the ear !
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On the Digitakt, for most patterns I like to use up to around 4 tracks for drums, then leave the rest open for any more unique percussion, tonal parts or one-shots. Not a hard-and-fast rule, but just something I tend toward.

I’ll often use the “designated” tracks for kick, snare and toms, where snare and toms are any kind of percussive sounds that fill those roles. Then, because I tend to use hats more than claps, I’ll often put both closed and open hats on track 4 instead of the marked claps. Tracks 5-8 will then tend to be open for other things, and for muting and real-time sound manipulation, I can more consistently think of things in terms of drums on the left, other stuff on the right.

A side effect of all this is that my basic grooves tend to not be too busy.

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Really getting a grip on how low hi-hats should be is one of last years duh-moments for me :slight_smile:

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Absolutely.
As a drummer, you just can’t put all instruments on the same volume level, different instruments = different volumes, for sure. Excellent point to make, regarding drum programming.

It‘s baffling how effective the most basic stuff really is.

Balancing the levels and paying attention to the panning of your drum kit can absolutely make the difference between an annoying mess of sounds that clash against each other and a nice, clear, cutting rhythm.
Also dynamics are important, so p-locking the volume parameter, but with intention usually makes a big difference as well.

What do I mean with ‚intention‘?
I try to think of how a real drummer likely would hit the drums or try to figure out if there are any elements that I want to highlight and why, then I try to think about how to accomplish that task.

I‘m not a drummer, so my understanding is rather limited, but it‘s quite clear to me, that how hard I‘d hit a drum at any given time is influenced by anything I play before and afterwards as well as everything else that’s going on in the track.

I learned recently that the way I approach drum programming actually has a name, though unfortunately I forgot what it‘s called.

I usually use only one drum sound per sequencer step, basically like I‘d use a monophonic step sequencer for drum sequencing.

Every step I program as well as the relationship between the different elements thus get much more attention.

Also I‘ve noticed that I‘m using less elements for my drum programming than I used to have like three years ago (usually 3-5 tracks in my Octatrack are dedicated to drums).
I actually wanted to get a Nord Drum 2 to expand my Octatrack as eight tracks just weren‘t enough.

Glad I didn‘t get one, though^^

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Talking about tuning, taking care of the pitch of each percussion so that they go with each other is often overlooked. Use your ears for this.

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yes tuning is very important. Also when you layer kicks, use different attack times for each layer so that they dont cancel each other out.

and what many forget is to use dynamics. the dfam is very good on this as you can change velocity and tuning on every stroke. you can add punch to the downbeat, if you lessen it on the other notes, its always a matter of relations. if all strokes have the same loudness then nothing can stand out. Dont overuse you compressors and limiters to even out the differences of the single strokes.

one nice mixingtool is unfilter from zynaptiq. it can add fundamentals dynamically and adds punch to even the thinnest kicks.

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My drummer friend years ago called this a “linear” drum beat. One piece of the kit is playing at any given time, never more

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This cant include the hi hat…can it?

lot´s of good tips mentioned here.
what you can also try: make copies of a pattern
you think is overloaded and try to do variations of it by
just deleting steps.

depending on the music you make also try to listen to
it without percussion instruments at all.

there are lots of drums/percussion tutorials on youtube for example. that can be really helpful for programming beats even if you just practice with your fingers on a table (i prefer that to actual drums)
when programming think like a drummer.

in some cases it´s all about sound and mixing. 4 on the floor etc…

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Also great advice to apply to traditional patterns with Melody, bass, etc…

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Not the tail of an open one obviously but yeah that’s my understanding of linear drumming - not hitting more than one thing at a time. Maybe an actual drummer can clarify. but I watched some linear drumming youtubes and it was pretty inspiring for programming.

I’m intruding here as an OT user but worth mentioning that using a mono sample track for linear/style drum programming is a bit more extreme than a real drummer doing it precisely because all the sustaining drum sounds get cut off, rather than naturally layered as with a real kit.

And yes - hats very low, rides even lower

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The one beat I remember he came up with for a song we wrote yes–hat is considered one part.

And like someone else pointed out its a bit different on a monophonic drum sequencer due to notes decaying

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