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On The Beat (Part 18)

Further explorations into the elusive feel of jazz are the subject of this month's drum programming column. Nigel Lord dons his bebop beret and gets hep with technology.


CONTINUING LAST MONTH'S THEME, THE DIGITAL DRUM MACHINE IS FURTHER INSTILLED WITH THE HUMAN SPIRIT OF JAZZ - CAN IT REALLY BE DONE?

IN THE INTRODUCTORY article to this series I promised that the patterns would be fairly simple to begin with, but would grow in sophistication as the series progressed. Well, some 18 months down the line things have indeed taken a more complex turn - triplet patterns, five dynamic levels, grids resolved to 16 and 24 divisions per bar...

AS we will see from this, the second part of our investigation into jazz rhythms, there's some pretty serious programming to get your teeth into. Though there are only five patterns, they require some 27 separate grids in their notated form - and that doesn't include those which are repeated within a pattern and which, to conserve space, have been combined.

In fact, you'll even be spared my usual preamble this month: if you need convincing as to the viability of jazz programming on the drum machine, check out last month's article. Better, program the patterns into your machine and see what you think. Better still, program this month's patterns into your machine and see what you think about them. Your next song might just find itself built round a jazz rhythm track.

As drum tracks must be programmed out of context (without the benefit of other instruments characteristic of the genre) it is often necessary to fall back on some of the more recognisable idioms to give a pattern an authentic flavour. In the case of these examples, this has been achieved by adopting triplet programming throughout, and by pressing into service a ride cymbal part to give each pattern "that swing" (without which, it has oft been commented, it don't mean a thing).

(Click image for higher resolution version)

This isn't to suggest that all jazz rhythms are in triplet time or have a ride cymbal sizzling away in the background. But these elements do serve a useful purpose in making the patterns instantly recognisable as jazz, and should at least be preserved until your have the rhythms firmly in your machine (and in your head). After which, you can do with them what you will; indeed, if you have any intention of producing truly authentic jazz tracks, your work in programming these rhythms will have to be regarded as just the start of your efforts.

The appearance of bongos in three of this month's patterns (and last month's) may puzzle some of you - though not, perhaps, if you were a fan of jazz in the '60s. The fact is, the bongos - and also the congas - are two undiscovered/forgotten jazz rhythm instruments which can be relied upon to add an extra dimension to a track. Bongos are particularly effective as they stand in welcome contrast to the softer, rather "woolly" (by rock standards) sound of the jazz drum kit. And being played by the hand rather than the stick, they can also be much more expressive.

Whilst I'm not claiming the bongo parts in these examples achieve anything like the expression of the real thing (to prevent the patterns becoming too complex, I've deliberately limited their dynamic range) I'm sure you'll agree each of these patterns sounds better with the instruments than without - although as ever, the choice is yours.

While there isn't room to go into individual descriptions of each pattern (and finding the words to describe six different jazz grooves would be somewhat harder than writing them in the first place) there are, nevertheless, a few programming details I should include, particularly for those who missed last month's article where the grid designs were changed. The four different dynamic levels - from low to high (1,2,3,4) - are represented by open, lightly-shaded, heavily-shaded and solid diamonds. These should be programmed at intervals of 25, 50, 75 and 100% of the volume range of your machine.

In addition, grace notes - represented by smaller open diamonds - should be programmed at 10% or less of the available volume level. Once patterns have been programmed, individual beats can be adjusted in volume in either direction and the overall mix (which is not expressed in the dynamic range of individual instruments) may be set up. Where there is a choice of instruments, opt for softer, shorter voices in preference to heavy, more ambient sounds (particularly the snare drum), but once programming is complete, be prepared to experiment.

Patterns should be programmed in the order a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h for each example; as mentioned earlier, where identical bars exist they have been printed only once, but are clearly indicated as being repeated. In pattern two, notice that the medium (2) dynamic snare beat at the end of bar four is programmed midway between the low (1) and high (4) beats and not midway between the beat divisions. Flams are indicated by the letter "F" in an open diamond and need to be adjusted to match the feel and tempo of the patterns in which they occur. Tempo itself should be kept to within the range indicated unless the pattern is altered in any way; if it is, you may find yourself having to make adjustments to accommodate the changes you've made.

And that's about it - except to say that if you decide any of these patterns are so utterly brilliant they've changed the way you think about drum machines, you could express your appreciation to me on the back of a £10 note via the editorial address...

(Click image for higher resolution version)


(Click image for higher resolution version)


Series

Read the next part in this series:
On The Beat (Part 19)



Previous Article in this issue

Anatek Pocket Sync

Next article in this issue

Roland MV30 Studio M


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

 

Music Technology - Mar 1991

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Feature by Nigel Lord

Previous article in this issue:

> Anatek Pocket Sync

Next article in this issue:

> Roland MV30 Studio M


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