Drum Programming (Part 4)
A Series By Warren Cann
In this month's instalment, Warren Cann circumnavigates his drum machine in search of the perfect song map.
If you've been following this series, you will by now have learned how to break a song down into its arrangement and itemise a bar-count of its component parts. The arrangement we're using for demonstration purposes is as follows:
|Count-in hi-hat click||4 bars|
|Bass & Drums intro||4 bars|
|Riff x 2||8 bars|
|1st Verse||16 bars|
|2nd Verse||16 bars|
|Chorus 1||12 bars|
|3rd Verse||16 bars|
|Chorus 2||12 bars|
|4th Verse (short)||8 bars|
|Chorus 3||12 bars|
|Chorus 4||12 bars|
|Solo (over riff x 4)||16 bars|
Now let's begin to flesh the thing out. I'll describe this exactly as it can happen, including bits where you (I) might change your (my) mind. Things don't always end up tidy in the real world, so, let's say that, for whatever reasons, the beat that you've been jamming to while working on the song is in pattern 25 on your drum machine. That's now your main beat, your jumping-off point. For the sake of not having to begin part way through your Pattern Data list, push the world around a little — copy Pattern 25 to Pattern 01. Why not to Pattern 00, you're thinking. Good question: I always reserve Pattern 00 for the count-in, just as I always reserve Pattern 99 for two bars of silence. The two numbers easily stand out for instant recognition. If, through a happy accident, you're using one of the patterns contained within the data set of another song, you should save everything first (though it should already be saved somewhere!) then delete everything you don't need. There may be a few related patterns that contain stuff you might want; if so, keep them — stick them somewhere back in the 80 or 90-somethings — you can always lose them later.
Meanwhile, back at the the count-in... yes, you need one. Even if you intend the song to start with just drums or percussion, and figure you can use that as a count-in (true, you can), you can still come unstuck later on. What if you decide you want a low, bass drone to come in with the drums? Or a 'wacka-wucka' wah-wah guitar part? It can be a pain trying to chase the start point by guesswork alone (though there is a way around this, which I'll cover later).
Even if you did give yourself a count, you could still be caught out; what if that drone and wah-wah guitar sounded so good that you then decide you want them before the drums, too? Yes, you can play while the count is playing, but that's sort of back to square one. If you think that you're likely to want to do this sort of thing, especially if you're in the studio and the song's arrangement is not yet written in stone, then the solution is simply to give yourself a much longer count. I usually use a four bar count-in; bars 1 to 3 are eighth notes played on the hi-hat (somehow they're more musical than a cowbell clonking away), and the downbeat of each bar is accented like a metronome. The fourth measure is in quarter notes; I use only the first three, and the fourth quarter note is silent. Why? Once the song is finished, someone — possibly you — is going to have to mix it, and when they do, they'd prefer not to have to actually erase the count (since they might want to remix at some point). It's certainly prudent never, ever to erase a count-in unless you absolutely, positively must. You have been warned.
When mixing down to stereo, you listen to the count, and drop into record on your cassette deck or DAT just after the last click of the count. If there are four clicks in that bar, the time you have to drop into record goes by pretty quick; if you only use three clicks, then you have more leeway. Four bars isn't a lot but it's long enough to give you some space to play with at the front of the track, should that be necessary, and long enough to give you a good run-in time to get the feel of the tempo when overdubbing: you want to be spot-on from beat one, not playing catch-up over the first few measures.
Our main, source pattern for the song is now Pattern 01 (see Figure 2) and it's a certainty that, sooner or later, you will want to have a drum fill lead out of it — either to punctuate what's going on, or bring in another feel. Fills almost invariably end in a crash cymbal, played on the downbeat — which we already know is really the first beat in the measure after the fill. However many different variations of '01 with drum-fill' you end up using, you'll always need a pattern following it to use as the end of the fill. So copy Pattern 01 to Pattern 02 (see Figure 3) and overdub your crash cymbal onto beat 1 of Pattern 02's first bar. We're just going for a crash right now; I'll discuss fills (and hi-hat refinements) later. Keep an eye on your drum machine's display window for the beat/bar indicator; you don't want to accidentally put the crash in the middle of the pattern instead of at the beginning. The section of the chain where the four bars of our bass and drums intro crashes into the eight bars of the riff would look like this:
By now you've decided that you want a slightly different feel for the choruses, something in the same vein as Pattern 01 but simpler, more driving. Copy Pattern 01 to Pattern 03; this will be your main beat for the chorus. Erase the bass drum beats in the second bar of the measure, then make it exactly the same as in the first bar (see Figure 4). This pattern will tend to push things along, yet still relates to the feel you've established during the verse. To give things more of a lift, you could swap the hi-hat for a ride cymbal — it's the same part, but the extra zing of the cymbal's high-frequency ringing opens things up. Again, copy it to the next available pattern, Pattern 04, and then overdub a crash cymbal onto the first beat of Pattern 04's first bar. You know that the bridge won't really require a different beat from the verse. It'll need some accents and fills but they can wait for the time being. What you want now is the bass drum and hi-hat pattern that you'll need for the breakdown section. Go to Pattern 05 and program the .bass drum to play quarter-notes while the hi-hat plays 16ths (see Figure 5).
As before, you need its twin to use when you want a crash cymbal, so copy Pattern 05 to Pattern 06, then add the cymbal. Now that you have patterns for the verse, the chorus, and the breakdown, what else will you need? Nothing for the bridge or the solo — you're making do with the verse pattern for now. What you need is a finish, otherwise the song will just stop indecisively instead of ending definitively. Go to your first available blank pattern, Pattern 07, and record a single bass drum beat onto beat 1, then overdub a crash cymbal at the same place. This pattern's single beat will be the 'ending' downbeat of whatever comes before it; in context it will be the crash which underpins the sustained chord you're going to bang out at the end of the song.
You're almost ready to make the very first version of your Song Chain. You don't have any fancy fills programmed yet, but don't worry about that for now; they're easy enough to drop in. What you want at this point is to be able to press 'play' and have the skeletal frame of your song play correctly from start to finish. The cymbal crashes will help delineate the different parts, making it easier for you as you're playing along on keyboards or guitar — if you make the change into a chorus, for example, and there isn't an accompanying crash, then you know it's time to backtrack and find the error.
I mentioned before that I reserve Pattern 00 for the count-in and that I usually use a count of four bars; three bars of eighth notes, and one bar of quarter notes, with the fourth note silent. If you make Pattern 00 four bars long, it will break the formula we have established (we are endeavouring to keep things neat by always ensuring that one Step = one pattern = two bars). So, make Pattern 00 only two bars long, just eighth notes on the hi-hat with the downbeat of each bar accented — you'll need those accents to help you keep track (of your track); you don't want to lose your place during the count, especially if it's a long one, because you could decide to add sounds during the fade in.
Enter Pattern 00 in step 00 on the map. Make sure you use a soft pencil for all pattern numbers, because you'll be making lots of updates. Let's use another pattern for the remaining two bars... go to Pattern 98 in your drum machine, and use the first bar for the eighth notes and the second bar for the three quarter notes. Now enter Pattern 98 into step 02 We've made the number of steps in the song chain coincide with the number of bars elapsed Brace yourself: we can now proceed to insert the appropriate pattern numbers for the actual song. The bass and drums intro section is Pattern 01, which goes into step 3 and step 4. We want a crash to appear with the guitar riff, so enter Pattern 02 (its first beat is a crash, remember?) into step 5. Now that we're two bars into the 8-bar riff section, fill the remaining six bars by entering Pattern 01 into steps 6, 7, and 8. We're now up to bar 17 in the song and it's the beginning of the first verse, starting with a crash, so enter Pattern 02 into step 9. Then enter our main beat, Pattern 01, into the remaining steps of the verse; 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16. The riff is back at bar 33, so enter Pattern 02 into step 17 to get the crash, then follow up by putting another Pattern 01 into step 18. Begin the second verse with Pattern 02 (step 19), and finish the verse by entering Pattern 01 into steps 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26. The first appearance of the chorus is at bar 53, so enter the crash of Pattern 04 into step 27. Then finish the chorus by writing Pattern 03 into steps 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32.
The riff reappears at bar 65, so enter Pattern 02 into step 33, and finish by entering Pattern 01 into step 34. Begin the third verse by placing Pattern 02, the crash, into step 35. Fill the remainder of the verse's bars by entering Pattern 01 into steps 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, and 42. So far, so good.
At bar 85 the second chorus begins, so, following our policy of marking the changes with crashes, enter Pattern 04 into step 43, following up by entering our standard chorus pattern of 03 into steps 44, 45, 46, 47, and 48. We decided that, for the time being, we would use the verse pattern during the bridge, so enter Pattern 02 into step 49 and Pattern 01 into steps 50, 51, and 52. I'm sure you've got the hang of it by now but — as the great man says — I've started, so I'll finish. Pattern 02 goes into step 53, and Pattern 01 goes into steps 54, 55, 56, 57 (halfway mark in solo), 58, 59, and 60. The sparse bass drum and hi-hat pattern begins the breakdown section at bar 121 with a crash; enter Pattern 06 into step 61. The rest of the breakdown is pattern 05 (the plain, vanilla version of Pattern 06), so enter it into the squares representing steps 62, 63, and 64. The riff requires you to enter Pattern 02 into step 65 and Pattern 01 into step 66. The last, short verse starts with Pattern 02 inserted into step 67, with Pattern 01 bringing up the rear in steps 68, 69, and 70.
We've got a double chorus coming up, so enter Pattern 04 into step 71, and Pattern 03 into steps 72, 73, 74, 75, and 76, then complete the duo by entering Pattern 04 into step 77, and Pattern 03 into steps 78, 79, 80, 81, and 82. We're in the home stretch now... at bar 165 we have the end solo section; enter Pattern 02 into step 83, and Pattern 01 into steps 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, and 90. Now you can wrap it all up by using our solitary crash, Pattern 07. Enter it in step 91.
Wow... finished! Well, not quite. The next operation isn't, strictly speaking, all that necessary, but I'll point it out to you just the same. You might want to follow up that last Pattern 07 with a few steps worth of Pattern 99 — the pattern we've reserved as silence. Why? Well, there are two reasons you might want control of the drum machine even after the song has 'finished'. Firstly, some drum machines have a toggled option whereby a song chain immediately loops back to the beginning on reaching the end of the chain; if your loop option is accidentally 'on', it wastes a lot of time should this happen to you as you're laying down stuff with the tape machine in Record. And secondly, like the safety net of a long count-in at the top of a song, you might get a great idea late in the scheme of things and decide you have to extend the song. The bars of silence ensure that the drum machine is still putting out code for you to sync to, if need be. Many drum machines constantly emit sync code, whether in play or in stop. Others, however, only start the code when you press play and shut down when you hit stop; you may as well cover yourself. Enter Pattern 99 into steps 92, 93, and 94. As step 91 is only a single cymbal crash you have what amounts to eight bars of supervised silence at the end; if you think you might need more, just add on accordingly.
Now that you've completed your Song Map sheet (Figure 6), you can proceed to program these patterns into your drum machine's Song/Chain mode, using the map to check your progress as you go. When you've finished, play the song chain from the beginning, listen/play along, and determine that you've got it right. If the wrong pattern pops in or a crash occurs where it shouldn't; simply stop, check the bar number, and examine the drum machine display. You can see any errors made in the order of patterns entered into the Song Step Chain by cross-checking against your song map sheet. So far, we have a very bare, basic drum track with no frills but a structure which is correct. Next month we'll examine common mistakes made by non-drummer programmers and begin to add polish to the track.
Feature by Warren Cann
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