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Beat Box

BY NOW, YOU SHOULD have grown to hate this column. If you haven't, you're either very smart or a liar - possibly even both. The so-called Beatbox Learning Syndrome follows a strange pattern of elation and depression. The gist of the problem is this: every time you pass one obstacle, you come across another. The technial side of "quantisation" has been covered in fair detail in the last two articles; but by now you realise that understanding quantisation alone doesn't make your patterns sound right.

So what next? It's probably best to learn as much as you can about rhythm itself. So stop concentrating on editing functions, pan values, and increment/decrement sliders for the moment, and begin to think "music". And with that end in mind, this month we're going to investigate the difference between triplet swing rhythms and straight-ahead feels.

If you haven't access to a copy of the Climie-Fisher album 'Everything', it's worth nipping down to Woolies and shelling out a few spondulicks. It contains two versions of the hit 'Rise to the Occasion': the original album version and the Top Ten remix - Phil Harding's 'Hip Hop Mix'.

Patterns 1 and 2 of Diagram L carry the main rhythm of the original version. As you can see, the shaker part in steady 16ths gives the rhythm a "straight-ahead" feel. If you don't have access to a shaker sound, use a closed hi-hat - it'll give much the same effect. The Accents programmed are to bring out the first and third beats of the bar, or the first and ninth steps of the shaker part respectively. This helps move the pattern along dynamically, and we'll be covering this crucial aspect of programming next month.

Patterns 1 and 2 are repeated as a pair to form the backbone of the track. Notice how the bass drum rhythm of the second pattern reverses the feel established by the first. Neat. Later on in the song, the rimshot is replaced by snare drum, and additional bass drum beats are added on step 12 of each pattern, as shown in Patterns 3 and 4. The overall effect is to heighten tension in the track. Such techniques are common but effective; the more you listen to well-programmed tracks, the better you'll be at producing them yourself.

The 'Hip Hop Mix' has a completely different feel, because the rhythm track is programed as a "triplet swing". Instead of individual beats running steadily through the pattern, as in the case of "straight 16ths" (Patterns 1-4), the rhythm swings unevenly, shuffling rather than flowing along. This is achieved by making the first beat of each pair of notes twice as long as the second.

There are two main ways of programming 'triplet swings' on a drum machine. The most obvious is to use a quantisation value divisible by three, as shown in Diagram M (Patterns 5 and 6). Here the value 24 has been chosen, allowing a full 4/4 bar to fit into a single pattern. With a quantisation value of 24 in a 4/4 rhythm, each beat or pulse consists of six steps, as opposed to the four steps you'd find with a quantisation value of 16.

Let's examine Diagram M more closely: Patterns 5 and 6 are again repeated as a pair ad nauseam to form the basis of the rhythm track. The 'Hip Hop Mix' swings particularly well as a result of the interplay between the snare drum and the hi-hat. Note the kick the extra snare stroke on step 12 adds to the pattern: it's a common feature of dance music. The bass drum part of the second pattern varies in dynamics, so try omitting the notes in brackets and see how it affects the overall rhythm.

But I digress. As I said above, there is another possible way of programming a triplet swing. Some drum machines have a special "swing" function that allows you to adjust the ratio of the lengths of the two notes that make up a pair. For a straight-ahead feel, the ratio of the length of the first note to the second is 50:50 - as you'd expect, both being the same length. With the triplet swing feel, however, the ratio is 66:33. When the drum machine is quantised to 16, ie. a straight-ahead feel, adjusting this "swing" ratio can artificially give the same effect as inserting blank spaces in between pairs of notes. It just takes up less memory, which can only be a good move.

Patterns 7 and 8 are how Patterns 5 and 6 would look if they were programmed using a "swing" function. They're quantised to 16, but "swung" in a ratio of 66:33, so the overall effect is identical.

If your beatbox hasn't a "swing" facility, don't worry about the last two paragraphs. It's far more important to understand the basic principle of using a quantisation value divisible by three when programming any rhythms involving triplets. Besides, if the track contains any notes in between the pairs, then you can't use the "swing" function anyway, because it can only insert spaces, not notes. Anyhow, enough said. I don't want exploding heads on my conscience.

Next month: the ins and outs of using Accents. Until then, keep swinging...

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Phaze 1 - Copyright: Phaze 1 Publishing


Phaze 1 - Apr 1989

Do It Yourself

Feature by Tim Ponting

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