Pick 'n' Mix (Part 3)
Recipes For A Tasty Dance Track
Our dance music series continues with a selection of drum patterns, chords, and basslines for you to try out.
EDGAR G. ROOVER has generously kept back a few prime lines from his next album project for us to try out in our own songs.
In the previous two issues of RM, we've covered various aspects of dance music production, including the types of sounds that seem to work well, but now it's time to put it all together and see what comes out. To get you started, I've put together a few simple drum, bass and chordal parts which can be used as they are or modified to form the basis of your own compositions. Though dance music does demand specific types of sound, these needn't be anything elaborate and most budget drum machines and keyboards should provide something usable. Indeed, many of the best sounds for this genre come from the cheapest gear.
As you can see from the accompanying grids, none of the parts is longer than four bars, and I've mapped all the parts, including basslines and chords, onto a standard drum grid. It's an unorthodox way of approaching musical notation, but the general consensus here at RM is that it should be easy for those of you who don't read music to get to grips with.
For anyone out there who isn't familiar with a drum grid, perhaps a word or two of explanation is in order. At the top of each grid, you'll see an indication as to what tempo I recommend for each pattern — in these examples, it ranges from 85 to 125 bpm, but feel free to modify tempos slightly if it suits your purposes. I say slightly — pattern 2, for example, shouldn't really be much faster than its 85bpm indication if you want to preserve its laid-back, lazy feel.
On the left of the grids is a list of the parts you'll need to program in. I'll discuss the type of sounds I envisage for the various patterns a little later. Each grid is divided into boxes, each of which corresponds to one 16th note (or semi-quaver); 16 of these make up one bar of music in 4/4 time and all our patterns this month are in 4/4 time. For the drum parts, a black dot means that you program a drum hit into that step, while for the basslines, you'll see that I've placed note names in the relevant boxes. Where there are several shaded boxes after a note name, this indicates that the note is held for that many steps. Notes which occupy only one shaded box are held only for that step. For the chords, you'll see that I've done just the same thing — chord names with shaded boxes to indicate their duration. See the sidebar for the chord shapes you'll need — I've deliberately stuck with quite simple chords. Where you see, for example, D/1, this means that the chord shows a first inversion of D major. However, even if this means nothing to you, it won't affect your ability to program it in!
Pattern 1 is designed to run at 125bpm or so and has five drum sounds, a bassline and a simple, two-note chord accompaniment. It has something of a metronomic, Euro-house feel, and though there is some syncopation in the drum part, it feels straight and tight. The type of kick drum you're looking for is a TR909-style kick — short and tight with an electronic bite, but with some boominess. Snare 1 is a bright burst of white noise — 'Glass snare' on the Boss DR660 which was used to program these patterns — but any bright, gated snare from your own machine should suffice for this. Snare 2 ('Bright Snare' on the DR660) is another bright, aggressive snare, but it's tuned down and has its decay cut so that it is almost a click with little resonance or ambience left.
The open and closed hi-hat are vintage Roland types (CR78 hi-hats from the DR660) and are electronic and synthetic sounding. These are deliberately thin sounding with very little real body, rather than being in any way authentic.
For the bassline, you'll really need an analogue-style synth bass, ideally a rounded sound but still with a bit of edge to it. The sound I used when programming this was set so that a higher velocity brought in a sharper attack. The simple, two-note chords were played using the 'Fuzz Clav' patch on the Kawai K1, though you could substitute a cheesy piano sound for a different feel. Experimentation is, as always, the name of the game.
Pattern 2 has a much more laid-back, hip-hop feel and is ideal for rapping over.
Again, there are five drum parts, bassline and chord part, played this time with a string pad, though you could experiment with different sounds for this, or even drop out the chords altogether for a really stripped-down feel. Soundwise, a fairly heavy, big-sounding (but not ambient) bass drum sound would suit this pattern, and your snare should also be big but tight. You'll notice that there are three hi-hats in there — open and closed, plus a CR78-style closed hi-hat layered with a finger snap; this gives a cool, laid-back kind of feel which is quite effective.
You'll need a mellow, rounded bass sound, with lots of bottom-end weight, for the bassline. If you have access to a sampler, some television or radio dialogue samples and/or, perhaps, some static noise could add atmosphere to this pattern, especially if played without the chords.
Pattern 3 hikes up the tempo once again to the classic dance speed of 120bpm. The five drum sounds include an unremitting tambourine part, which helps to give the pattern its moving, rolling feel. Experiment with accenting on the tambourine part, to make it feel more realistic, and mix it well back so that it's not obtrusive. This is the most complex pattern of the three, including, as it does, a bassline, chords and a clav accompaniment. As for its feel, this will be determined largely by the sounds you choose. Harder, more raw sounds, coupled with something like wailing sirens, mournful echoed synth lead line, and crowd noise (taken from a live concert recording, perhaps) could give this pattern a very KLF, ambient rave feel.
But substitute a bouncing analogue bass, Italo-style piano and some soul-style female vocal melody snippets and you've got a passable Black Box pastiche. Even better, substitute some imagination, and you could end up with something a little more interesting. Remember that basslines can sound quite different even when changed around only slightly, so play around with the patterns provided and put your own stamp on them.
To give the chordal parts a more mechanical feel, try quantising their length as well as start times, or consider sampling things like piano chords and then trigger them back from your sequencer. As they say in all the best Mad Max movies "I know you won't break the rules — there aren't any!"
Feature by Edgar G. Roover