How do you write/sequence drums?

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crownbird
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How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by crownbird »

Hello, I've noticed that I usually work faster when I have percussion to play along to, but I can't really write percussion without other material (e.g. guitars, bass) to base it on. So I'd like to know how everyone here deals with percussion, and when in the writing process you work on it. Are drums the first thing you work on, maybe the last? Do you sequence drums live in the DAW with a MIDI controller, or use a mouse/keyboard?

I'd also like to know how you sequence drums, as it takes me way too long to write drums, and kind of halts the momentum of songwriting for me. I currently use Hydrogen drum machine, as I like the lag/lead controls, random sampling, and you can easily change the velocity of notes.

Any ideas? I'd like to hear about how you work with drums, and what software you use for sequencing and sampling as well.
I make music, released at https://royalgloom.bandcamp.com/

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sysrqer
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Re: How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by sysrqer »

I'm guessing I make different music to you but I think it's similar in the creative process. Many people think it's best to write drums later or last, many people start with drums, I suppose it depends on what your idea is, whether it is focused on a guitar riff or if you have a particular rhythm in mind.

If I were making guitar based music again (I haven't really done so for 20 years at least) then I would tap in drums, at least at first. If you have some riffs then just play in on a midi/computer keyboard the basic beat and loop it, get going with your recording and then fill in the drums later on. In any genre I don't think this is a bad way to go, it's often nice to hear the drums properly supporting the rest rather than fighting for dominance and attention.

I find programming drums in a sequencer like reaper, ardour, qtractor pretty long and boring but you can speed it up if you know some variations of the typical beat so learn generally where the hits happen (learn a few patterns) in your music and you can draw it in pretty quickly. Even better, spend an hour making some midi loops and have them saved in your template so you can grab a few different basic beats quickly. On that note, create a template with whatever you need, midi loops, different kits if you use samples inside the daw. I don't use Hydrogen but it might be possible to change the kit via midi so you could have different loops controlling different drum kits/sounds. This would be a very quick way to change up the drums.

Above all though, just think about how drums are played. Each hit has a different volume which affects the tone, and each hit is often not on the grid, so think about this when you are writing drums. Use ghost hits (barely audible but contributing to the groove) and varied velocity to make interesting drum tracks, velocity itself can make a huge difference. Detail and variation is key but this can be easy. Write a basic loop, copy the loop and change something, copy both loops and make them one loop, change something in that, copy change something, copy etc. You can quickly build up a lot of variations and then just go in and edit as necessary, again details like fills and cuts, quick when you know when they should happen generally.

Right now I mostly use VCV Rack for making music, sometimes recording it in to Reaper and mixing/creating/recording there. I like modular for drum creation but that's probably not your thing. Same for Renoise for drum creation too but that's probably not where you want to go. It sounds like you might like drumgizmo, I don't think it comes with loops (I could be wrong) but you could download some midi loops for your genre and use drumgizmo to play them, the kits sound very good (lots of velocity and tone differences) and then adjust as you like.

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Re: How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by tavasti »

I mostly start with some very simple beat that I make with clicking with mouse. I can't make any proper beats with pads.

Later I replace that simple beat with something better, mostly importing drum beats as midi. Currently using midi from MT Power Drum kit and commercial beats from ugritone.com (they have discounts often, I have gotten their 'allmighty' offer).

I should learn to make my own drumbeats, but this far haven't been able to do stuff I like.
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English Guy
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Re: How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by English Guy »

I put down a basic drum track then record more of the song before I introduce more complexity. I used to use hydrogen but now I do it directly in Mixbus / Ardour using midi.

I have started a series on youtube that will go through the process. Part two expected when I get some work obligations out the way.
https://youtu.be/TrxHq9iZP8E

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crownbird
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Re: How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by crownbird »

sysrqer wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 7:33 pm
I'm guessing I make different music to you but I think it's similar in the creative process. Many people think it's best to write drums later or last, many people start with drums, I suppose it depends on what your idea is, whether it is focused on a guitar riff or if you have a particular rhythm in mind.

If I were making guitar based music again (I haven't really done so for 20 years at least) then I would tap in drums, at least at first. If you have some riffs then just play in on a midi/computer keyboard the basic beat and loop it, get going with your recording and then fill in the drums later on. In any genre I don't think this is a bad way to go, it's often nice to hear the drums properly supporting the rest rather than fighting for dominance and attention.
I usually make rock/metal music, but I was curious of how some EDM-like material would sound. I agree on your suggestion with guitar based music. I recently tried writing a guitar-based track to a metronome, and writing drums over that. I feel I worked much faster writing a draft on guitar first.
tavasti wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 7:51 pm
I mostly start with some very simple beat that I make with clicking with mouse. I can't make any proper beats with pads.

Later I replace that simple beat with something better, mostly importing drum beats as midi. Currently using midi from MT Power Drum kit and commercial beats from ugritone.com (they have discounts often, I have gotten their 'allmighty' offer).

I should learn to make my own drumbeats, but this far haven't been able to do stuff I like.
I'm the same way with pads, my velocity is all over the place when I record the MIDI from it. I think it might be satisfying to learn to make your own drumbeats, at least after making a few beats/fills that you really like.
English Guy wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 2:36 pm
I put down a basic drum track then record more of the song before I introduce more complexity. I used to use hydrogen but now I do it directly in Mixbus / Ardour using midi.

I have started a series on youtube that will go through the process. Part two expected when I get some work obligations out the way.
https://youtu.be/TrxHq9iZP8E
Thank you very much for that tutorial, I'm most likely going to switch to sequencing in Ardour with Drumgizmo to sample sounds now; you made it seem very easy! I feel it won't be as quick to enter beats and manually adjust velocities as it is in Hydrogen, but using Ardour/Mixbus + Drumgizmo would have the benefit of not having to re-export every track to make quick change, and you could also write drums along with all the other instruments in Ardour. Looks a bit daunting if I want to switch my kit from hydrogen to drumgizmo however.
I make music, released at https://royalgloom.bandcamp.com/

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Re: How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by tavasti »

crownbird wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 10:12 pm
I usually make rock/metal music, but I was curious of how some EDM-like material would sound.
For EDM, beats are so simple that even I can make them with mouse clicks. And because EDM beat needs to be 100% timing and same velocity, no problem in that :-)
tavasti wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 7:51 pm
I mostly start with some very simple beat that I make with clicking with mouse. I can't make any proper beats with pads.
...
I should learn to make my own drumbeats, but this far haven't been able to do stuff I like.
I'm the same way with pads, my velocity is all over the place when I record the MIDI from it. I think it might be satisfying to learn to make your own drumbeats, at least after making a few beats/fills that you really like.[/quote]
For me problem is not limited to velocity, also timing is bad. I agree, target is to learn making own beats, but I have so much other things to learn with my music production. Therefore that has to wait.
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Latest track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycVrgGtrBmM
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mixe
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Kick drums & basslines from sine oscillators, LFOs and envelopes (Re: How do you write/sequence drums?)

Post by mixe »

Some time ago I was asked on another forum to share how I create kick drums with modular synths, in a wider discussion about the low end in techno music production, which also covered basslines. I suggested the following steps, which include examples based on VCV Rack (https://vcvrack.com) and I think this may interest you. It's mostly about sound design rather than sequencing, but through this workflow I learnt the two ones are closely related: for example, with the right kick drum you can sort of make a bassline without even using a bass synth (at least for some music genres). As said, this is a modular synth workflow, but it works within many other DAW, frameworks or setups. Everything mentioned below is open source and freely available on Linux.

1. have a sine wave oscillator (VCO) with an FM input. I use https://library.vcvrack.com/Fundamental/VCO. Connect it to your mixer. Set it initially to something between 50 Hz and 100 Hz. Set initially the FM input to 0
2. have something to trigger the envelopes (for example a clock generator like https://library.vcvrack.com/ImpromptuModular/Clocked) or a square/saw VCO or LFO). Set it to the desired beat of the kick drum
3. have two ADSR (or ADR) envelopes. I use this one: https://library.vcvrack.com/Fundamental/ADSR. Appropriate values vary according to the pitch of your VCO. Try starting with Attack=0%, Decay=50%, Sustain=0%, Release=50% on both of them. Alternatively try Attack=0, Decay=200ms, Sustain=0, Release=200ms for envelope 1, and Attack=0, Decay=20ms, Sustain=0, Release=20ms. Experiment!
4. the output of envelope 1 modulates the volume of the sine oscillator. You could connect it for example to the volume level input of the kick drum channel on your mixer (or to a VCA like https://library.vcvrack.com/Fundamental/VCA-1 for further processing)
5. the output of envelope 2 modulates the FM input of the sine oscillator, so connect it there
6. trigger both envelopes at the same time. For example, connect your BPM clock to the GATE input of both envelopes
7. at this point you should have a very basic kick drum on each beat per minute. Now it's time to experiment and to listen how changes in each component of this small system affect the sound of the kick
8. on the sine oscillator, play with the level of FM input. Given how we set up initially the envelopes, the higher the value, the stronger the kick hits. Note how this also affect the pitch of the sine wave. Leave FM input to something more than 0
9. play with envelope 1. Slowly change each A/D/S/R parameters, listen how the sound changes, bring it back to initial position, change another one. Then slightly change two of them together, listen again, etc
10. same with envelope 2
11. add more pieces if you can and try to *modulate* everything (instead of turning a knob to change a paramater, have a module doing that for you. I think you'd call these "automations" in a DAW?)
12. add a VCA between the sine oscillator FM input and envelope 2 and connect an LFO or other source of modulation to the VCA, so that you can modulate the amount of signal being sent to FM input (rather than the shape of the signal, which you're doing with the envelope)
13. connect a slow LFO (say, 0.2 Hz) to one of ADSR inputs on one of the envelopes (I use https://library.vcvrack.com/Bogaudio/Bogaudio-LLFO because you can set range and offset of its output, extremely useful). Try changing speed, range and offset of the LFO. Variations to the release of envelope 1 can lead to interesting grooves
14. connect another slow LFO (maybe at a different speed, say 0.3 Hz) to another ADSR input and again listen, compare, etc
15. you can also use another ADSR envelope for this. Maybe use a second separated trigger to hit it. Depending on the rhythmic relationship between the two triggers, you can build "modulation rhythms" this way (I don't know if there's a more appropriate term for this. But I find it an extremely effective technique in dark/heavy/atonal/hypnotic techno or ambient music)
16. if you have a sequencer, you could connect it to the V/OCT input and create a bassline (as you've seen, FM modulation affects the pitch of the oscillator. So do this after you're happy with your FM modulation. I'm not sure this is a good approach if your music is heavily based on melodies and harmonies. It can work in someone's workflow and with some music genres, but not in other cases)

You can play for hours with these basic elements and come up with many different sounds. You won't be able to create every kind of kick drum, but you may realize how some well-known sounds come to life, which can be a good starting point.

Further readings:

* Synthesizing Drums: The Bass Drum https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... -bass-drum
* Practical Bass Drum Synthesis: https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... -synthesis

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reteo
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Re: How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by reteo »

So far, my practice is to pick one specific drum (I usually pick the snare), and make that the "heartbeat" of the song (it doesn't vary in timing, except during transitions). Then, with the other percussion instruments, I start making a wider pattern, often one that spans multiple measures.
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Philotomy
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Re: How do you write/sequence drums?

Post by Philotomy »

When composing, I pretty much never start with drums (although obviously I have time signature in mind). However, I rarely compose in the DAW. For me, composing mostly happens on instruments (or on paper) outside of the DAW, and then I use the DAW/recording/etc. to realize that composition. An exception might be a section that is purely improvised (e.g., an improvised guitar solo -- "composed" as it's recorded). And it's an "organic" process, so sometimes some composition happens in the DAW, even when I started out with the song composed outside the DAW.

In any case, when I start a DAW project, drums are often (but not always) one of the first things I address. I tend to create some basic patterns that fit the song and assemble those into a rough structure. My first pass is often very basic.

Right now I'm using Bitwig as my DAW. Like Ableton Live, Bitwig has a "clip launcher" view and an "arrangement" view. I typically create drum patterns as clips in the clip launching view, and then record them to the arrangement in the proper order.

When creating the drum patterns/clips, I typically use Bitwig's Drum Machine device with whatever drum kit/samples I want to use. (I've also used Hydrogen, but haven't gone that route, lately.) I tend to vary how I enter the MIDI information. Sometimes I use the mouse and the clip editor. Sometimes I enter it with my MIDI controller, using either the pads or keyboard. Sometimes I combine the approaches.

Once I have the basic drums arranged for the song's structure, I give the other tracks/instruments attention, using the drums as my foundation for the song's structure. Eventually I'll circle back to the drums and edit them to make them more interesting and varied. That can be things like introducing fills, but it can also be things like varying velocity, etc. For example, say I entered a very repetitive high-hat with a constant velocity. I'd probably go through and apply some chaos to the velocity, varying the sound slightly throughout the track.
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