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On The Beat (Part 23)

The drums, the drums, everywhere I go I hear drums. Nigel Lord presents another selection of rhythm killers for you to program into your drum machine or sequencer.

More eclectic rhythmic machinations provide us with this month's fix of beatbox programming - a warm welcome to you of the beatbox generation.

AS WITH THE last couple of articles, this month's grist to our (seemingly unstoppable) rhythmic mill comes unfettered by musical labels or classification, but could, nevertheless, be said to benefit from a single unifying theme. Each one of the seven patterns, though distinct in terms of structure, has a definite good-time feel to it which should ensure its popularity either as a dance groove or within an up-tempo rhythm track for one of the less cerebral pop styles.

Within these 28 bars of programmed percussion, you'll find elements of many of the styles of music we've covered over the months, including house, rap (hip hop), jazz, go-go - and a sprinkling of Latin - all living side by side and contributing to the general air of joie de vivre which surrounds these rhythms (it must be the summer).

As you'll see, there's some pretty heavy instrumentation in a number of the patterns, but this is purely in terms of quantity - there are no complex programming lines. Other instruments can (and should) be substituted where you regard them as being more appropriate to their setting; where possible, try substituting a number of similar voices (and tunings) before deciding which to choose. Contrary to what you might think, the more instruments that are added to a rhythm track, the more important it becomes to ensure each one sounds exactly right. Sparse arrangements tend to be much more forgiving of individual voice characteristics.

Broadly speaking, in the patterns where two bass drums or two snares exist, try to select voices which are distinct from each other: heavy ambient ones for the simpler parts and shorter, drier ones for the more complex - such as the second snare in Pattern 6, for example. Where multiple cymbal sounds coincide (ride, hi-hats, crashes), you'll need to get to work with the pitch control to preserve definition - and don't forget this extends to the cabasa wherever this instrument is included.

With the right choice of bass drum voices, Pattern 1 makes an excellent place to start. Surrendering none of its dancefloor appeal to the power generated by the two bottom-end instruments, it's also suited to a rock setting. As we all know, no self-respecting "heavy" would stoop to using a nancy-boy drum machine so I'll leave it to your (hopefully) fertile imagination to decide where to place a groove of such power and danceability.

With jazz presently being a popular influence on the dancefloor, Pattern 2 should receive a warm welcome. Its ability to veer between the two genres depends to a considerable degree on how "big" the bass and snare drum are made. It will tolerate heavy (even gated) voices, but this will be at the expense of the fluid feel you'd expect of a jazz rhythm.

The same is true of Pattern 3 but here we're moving away from jazz towards salsa and Latin - or perhaps I should say pseudo-Latin, as this pattern is unrelated to any recognised Latin rhythm. As is often the case, it's the instrumentation which provides the Latin tinge; remove the cabasa and congas and you're left with something decidedly "north of the border".

If it's crossover (and a damn good time) you want, check out Pattern 4. It's inspiration is in the music of Screaming Target and it reflects their blend of rap, reggae and (virtual) jug-band rhythms which bury themselves in your skull and resist all attempts at removal. Of course, it's nothing more than a group of musicians with sound pop sensibilities applying a little lateral thought. But in the words of Vic Reeves, "what a refreshing change..."

Though not nearly so distinctive, Pattern 5 is worthy of your attention, particularly where you need the feel of a fast rhythm, but where tempo is restricted to the preferred 120bpm mark. The feeling of pace is achieved through the programming of four or more bass drum beats in each bar, and a fast ride bell line filling the spaces left by the other instruments. The bongo parts are optional and, when used, should be kept low in the mix. You might even try substituting congas.

In Pattern 2 we introduced jazz to the dancefloor; Pattern 6 takes it a stage further. There is an argument suggesting that where jazz meets dance, the result is go-go, but with that particular genre having (sadly) slipped from public attention over the past couple of years, mentioning it by name isn't the encouragement to try the pattern it once might have been. But regular readers of this series, more than anyone, will know just how contagious triplet-based dance patterns can be.

Finally, this month, a rap pattern which, though destined for the dancefloor, has a poppy flavour to it which, sadly, puts it somewhere in MC Hammer's neighbour-hood (the ghettos of Beverly Hills and Bel Air). Fortunately, it happens to be a pretty infectious groove which is just crying out for a complementary bass line. Anyway, if you're going to steal, steal from the rich...


Read the next part in this series:
On The Beat (Part 24)

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Oberheim Drummer

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


Music Technology - Sep 1991

Feature by Nigel Lord

Previous article in this issue:

> Beatbusters

Next article in this issue:

> Oberheim Drummer

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