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On The Beat (Part 3)

Building on the patterns explored earlier in this series, adding expression is the theme of this month's drum programming column. Nigel "Reet" Lord changes his accent.


BEFORE BEGINNING THIS month, I'd like to clear up a few problems arising out of the first two articles in this series concerning tempo. It seems a number of readers have been a little confused by the absence of any tempo indicators for the patterns I've included up to now, and have written in for guidelines as to the speed at which they should run. The simple answer, of course, is to decide for yourself. Obviously certain rhythms need to be played at quite precise speeds (and where this occurs I shall endeavour to include the necessary information), but otherwise, all I can say is put your finger on the tempo button and take it off when it feels right.

Really, the whole purpose of this series is to act as a spur to your own creativity. The patterns are provided as examples of certain techniques which hopefully can be applied to your own rhythms. Of course, I'm well aware that some readers will simply copy them verbatim and leave it at that, but this is hardly the wisest way to go about improving your programming skills. If certain information isn't included with a pattern, take that as a starting point for your own experimentation. 'Nuff said?

Right, this month (and next) we're going to be looking at ways of embellishing basic patterns. Generally speaking, the overriding pulse of a rhythm is determined by the position and frequency of the snare drum (or whatever instrument is being used in its place). This means that, within a given pattern, provided we leave the snare line more or less intact, we are free to modify and add to the other instruments (often to the point where the pattern is completely transformed) without upsetting the basic rhythmic structure too greatly.

It's feel we are referring to here, and just as last month the hi-hat was used to inject a little spice into what would otherwise have been quite routine rhythm patterns, there are a number of really quite simple techniques we can apply to the other instruments which take us further down the road toward rhythmic inventiveness.

Starting with another of those patterns which have become the life blood of the "can't be bothered" school of programming, pattern 1 uses the standard bass/snare/hi-hat combination to produce a versatile, but ultimately rather cliched rhythm that you will no doubt be familiar with...

Give the pattern a rather more interesting bass drum part, a syncopated hi-hat line and a handful of tom-tom beats and we have something a little more stimulating - see pattern 2.

The use of accents is critical in this arrangement, particularly on the hi-hat. The bass drum accents are there to distinguish between normal notes and grace notes. Really it should be written with the grace notes de-accented or lowered in level relative to the normal beats, but the grid system doesn't lend itself to this kind of notation. The reason they appear as grace notes is to do with the way a drummer would play the figure. In order to bring the pedal back fast enough to play the following beat, these notes have to be played very quickly with a consequent loss in volume. This isn't intended to suggest that we necessarily try to make drum machines sound like real drummers, it merely sounds better if we do it this way. Try it and see.

Pattern 3 uses the same rhythm as a base, and provides an interesting variation on Pattern 2. Here, besides rearranging the bass drum line slightly, we've introduced a regular open hi-hat part to give the pattern a pleasantly insistent feel. The tom toms, as in the previous example, are not used in the conventional (and somewhat hackneyed) way to roll or fill-in between various rhythmic figures. Rather, they are simply there to accent and provide a little interest at the end of the bar. The crash cymbal at the beginning is entirely optional, but if it is used, be sure to keep the level well down. (If this appears to betray a natural predjudice against crash cymbals, I won't attempt to deny it.)

Incidentally, it would also be worthwhile chaining patterns 2 and 3 together - and even interspersing pattern 1 between them. Experiment!

Pattern 4 is a slightly modified version of the original rhythm we used as the basis for the last two patterns, and from it we can develop a really driving groove with a slightly latin feel to it.

In pattern 5, again, accents are crucial, especially on the closed hi-hat "lead-ins" to the open hi-hat beats. The rather cryptically named Percussion line can be used with most percussive sounds instruments like shakers, wood blocks and sidestick being particularly effective.

Finally this month we come to pattern 6, a rhythm which again uses pattern 4 as its base, but in doubling its length has allowed us to slip in a couple of neat hihat beats which give it a nice edge. The Percussion part may again be given to a shaker or sidestick, and there is considerable space to add various other percussive voices should you wish.

Speaking of doing-it-yourself, or not, as the case may be, suggested tempi are 90 to 125bpm for patterns 1-5 and around 140 to 180bpm for Pattern 6. Which, if my memory serves me correctly, is where I came in...


Read the next part in this series:
On The Beat (Part 4)

Previous Article in this issue

Kawai K1 II

Next article in this issue

C-Lab Explorer 32

Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Oct 1989


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Feature by Nigel Lord

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> Kawai K1 II

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