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On The Beat (Part 28)

MT's beatbox programming series survives the acid test of the recording studio. Nigel Lord renews his efforts in bringing the rhythm divine to your drum machine.


Variety, they say, is the spice of life; variety is also, it seems, the spice of a good instalment of On The Beat.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in conversation with the house engineer at a local 16-track studio. The band being recording there relied heavily on sequenced drum tracks and - apparently - had a handful of patterns onboard their machine which had been culled from this very series. Having always been intrigued to find out just how well other programmers were able to interpret the information included in each article, I arranged to call round to the studio to hear just what they had managed to do with the patterns.

The results were much better than I could have predicted; admittedly the rhythms they had selected were some of the simpler dance patterns I outlined last year, but the rhythms had lost nothing "in translation" from page to program. I was delighted to find the band had used several variations of the original patterns timed to coincide with different elements within the songs.

In the absence of a drummer or percussionist, programming duties had fallen to the band's bassist, who had the articles passed onto him by the vocalist/keyboard player who bought Music Technology. Why had he opted to use patterns from the series? Because a rival band with the same beatbox were using most of the good demo patterns for their songs. Couldn't they have written their own, I wondered? No - no-one in the band knew where to start; having previously all worked with drummers, rhythm was considered to be something of a black art. How, then, had he been able to program variants of the patterns? That wasn't so much of a problem, it seemed; the hardest thing was always thinking up the original idea - that was what he liked best about this series. By the way, how did I manage to come up with so many?

To my chagrin, they stopped short of concluding that it was because I was an enormously talented git - but no matter. My immortality was assured. A (sadly) unsung band was recording unknown material in a little-used studio. So this was rock 'n' roll. Still, they were using one of my rhythm tracks...

This chance meeting with one of the series' users was actually quite helpful in finding out just where the problems lie for most people when confronted with the task of writing a rhythm track. It transpires, for example, that on those occasions when they had come up with an idea of their own, they found it worked well when played in isolation - or perhaps with the bassline - but put into context within the intended song, didn't sound quite so impressive. And indeed, this is a problem which one often comes up against in the process of programming a rhythm track.

Anyone who's ever suffered a disaster at the hairdressers will probably see an analogy here; it's all too easy to get your hair done in the style you want, but finding a style which suits the face underneath it is quite different. This is, of course, one of the reasons I go to such lengths to encourage experimentation with the patterns presented each month. Whilst I accept their use as a source of useful ideas and inspiration, copying a pattern verbatim - and sticking to it - is unlikely to provide you or your music with anything like perfect rhythm - unless, of course, a song is to be built from the drum track upwards. Even then, there's always room for movement within the structure of a song.

This is seldom a problem for real drummers as they usually default to an altogether more predictable level of playing, which, because few in the rest of the band are capable of improving upon it, is usually left as it is.

Hopefully, with several hundred patterns to choose from already and more added each month, this series should provide you with a sufficiently large library of rhythms to make it possible to select one suitable for material you're working on. And if this seems like rather a lot, consider for a moment how many synth voices the average keyboard player has access to - or how many samples.

Any one of this month's patterns should make a worthy addition to anyone's collection. Each are highly individual, and each contain enough rhythmic ideas to keep you button-pushing for hours. Though all are fairly complex patterns to listen to, there's little here to tax a reasonably competent programmer. Once again, the real difficulty lies in finding easy categorisations for the six patterns. But that's something I shall leave for you.

A couple of programming notes: in patterns which feature two snare drums, make sure you assign the longer sound to Snare 1 and the shorter, drier voice to Snare 2. Similarly, in example three, you should opt for more open-sounding, double-headed toms for the first three of the voices and (as indicated), a well-damped, drier instrument for the fourth.





Series

Read the next part in this series:
On The Beat (Part 29)



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Yamaha MDF2 Midi Data Filer

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C-Lab Unitor 2


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

 

Music Technology - Mar 1992

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Feature by NIgel Lord

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