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On The Beat (Part 21)

Previous episodes of MT's definitive drum programming series have covered rhythms from around the globe. Nigel Lord takes stock and considers some patterns that belong only to the beatbox.

Returning home from a global examination of rhythm, MT's resident rhythmatist collects his thoughts and presents a selection of diverse drum patterns for your entertainment.

TWO YEARS AGO, when MT's Editor first asked me to give some thought to the idea of compiling a short series of articles on getting the best from your drum machine, I envisaged a run of possibly four to six months, a couple of dozen well-chosen examples - and a handful of letters questioning the validity of including such an article in MT in the first place. Now, some 20 instalments later, I'm looking back on a series in which we've examined some pretty sophisticated programming techniques, explored rhythmic form from all the key areas of the globe, and topped the two hundred mark in the number of examples used to illustrate each article.

Not only that, but we still receive letters giving a thumbs up to the series and leaving us in no doubt that it is of considerable help to those who realise the need to give more time and thought to the programming of rhythm tracks, but who have previously felt out of their depth in this somewhat alien discipline.

So what's left? Well, in terms of examining specific styles and different rhythmic genres, I have, I must confess, just about reached the end of the line (unless, of course, someone "invents" a handful of new styles within the next few weeks). However, I still have a considerable reservoir of as-yet unpublished patterns on which to draw which will be of interest to most programmers, and I shall be including these to bring the series to its conclusion.

The patterns, as you will see, are a pretty mixed bag, and in many cases represent rhythms which I was unable to use in articles outlining particular rhythmic forms - either through pressure of space, or (more likely), because they were not "pure" enough to act as usable examples. Needless to say, many of these hybrids are extremely interesting in their own right and to that extent are more likely to spur your imagination than the patterns which I included to illustrate a particular point.

Including them now should also mean that the next few articles are more likely to contain "something for everyone" - unlike previous months when, I suspect, complete articles were passed over by those not interested in that particular subject matter. Of course, I'm sure a significant proportion of you will be happy simply to add these patterns to your existing libraries in much the same way as you collect synth patches or samples. The only problem you're likely to meet here is finding a suitable pigeon hole in which to place them, and a name to put to them (though I hope you'll use the kind of inventiveness encountered in the naming of synth voices.) It's standard programming again this month, and there's nothing particularly difficult about any of the patterns. I've again used extended grids (with six or eight divisions between beats) to improve legibility and (with the exception of Pattern 8) the patterns are notated so that tempi may be set to the preferred values on or around the 100bpm mark.

Pattern 1 has a vaguely hip hop feel to it with fairly heavy-duty bass drum and hi-hat lines, and something of a call and response interplay between the handclaps and bongos.

Running at a similar tempo (110bpm), Pattern 2 actually feels to be moving much quicker than it really is. This would make it of use in situations where you have to maintain a fairly moderate tempo, but also need to prevent the rhythm track from dragging. Beyond this, I wouldn't care to speculate on where the pattern might be used as it has no definite style. However, this is as much a reflection of its adaptability as anything else - so don't be put off.

Don't be put off either by the mention of MC Hammer in connection with Pattern 3. Though it does, quite definitely, have the feel of a track by the baggy-trousered one, it is also a very insistent pattern - thanks to the relentless bass/snare combination. I wouldn't make any claims as to the originality of the basic groove, but the bongos do help lift it above the everyday and give you something to listen to as well as to tap your foot to.

Pattern 4, by virtue of its triplet timing, falls somewhere between jazz and go-go in feel - and if you think that sounds like an interesting combination for a dance groove, you'd be right. At a tempo of around 100bpm, it might seem a little slow for the dancefloor, but in practice this isn't noticeable. I've added a cowbell part for interest but this can just as easily be left out or substituted with another instrument, if required. Either way, nothing is likely to affect the basic feel of the pattern.

Patterns 5 and 6 are broadly similar insofar as they are the kind of patterns which people would probably refer to as being Latin in feel but which actually have no real connection with rhythms from that part of the world. Their Latin flavour stems largely from the inclusion of a syncopated cabasa line and the fact that neither relies on the predictable fall of the snare drum beat to provide the dominant rhythmic structure of the patterns. As you'll find if you program them, however, they're just as compelling as their Latin counterparts and should prove readily adaptable in a variety of contexts.

On the other hand, there's Pattern 7... This really is a bit of an oddity. It originally started life as an Argentinian tango which I decided not to include in the articles on South American rhythm, on the grounds that the name would probably put people off (the cha-cha-cha almost met with the same fate). However, on reviewing the new Cheetah drum machine for MT's sister magazine, Rhythm, a few weeks ago, I noticed it had a very similar tango included in its onboard patterns and this actually sounded pretty good. I decided, therefore, to dust mine off and see what could be done with it.

It occurred to me that the other great no-go area for contemporary musicians was the field of military music (...not without good cause) and coincidentally, like the tango, this is often written in 2/4 time. Could I perhaps take two highly unfashionable styles of music and fuse them together to form a highly-compelling whole? Program the pattern and decide for yourself - I think you might be pleasantly surprised. You'll need two snares - long and heavy for snare 1 and short and tight for snare 2 - and a castanet voice, though this could be substituted with finger clicks or a high-pitched wood block. Incidentally, I've notated the pattern in 4/4 time for convenience (I don't know about you but I've never really seen the point of 2/4), and I've used a triplet grid in order to accommodate the castanet and second snare drum parts.

To finish with, Pattern 8 is another hybrid - though I wouldn't care to speculate on the elements which go to make up this one. Despite this, and the fact that it doesn't have a definite beginning or end (it just cycles round and round), it's rather neat and certainly worth the programming time. The way it is notated, it has to run at around the 190bpm mark, but there's nothing to prevent you doubling up the beats per bar and halving the tempo.


Read the next part in this series:
On The Beat (Part 22)

Previous Article in this issue

Keeping Score

Next article in this issue

Beats Working

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


Music Technology - Jul 1991


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Feature by Nigel Lord

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