February 6, 2008 2:04 PM

This is an experiment to see if I can create a drum machine beat that swings.

I'd like to hear other people's secrets to creating beats that breathe.

(Not that there is anything wrong with purposefully mechanical sounding beats. I love those too. Right now, I'm just trying to figure out how to make a drum machine sound just 'off' enough that it sounds right.)

posted by umbĂș (2 comments total)

Hey, not bad.

I'm kind of obsessed with making my sampler driven beats sound natural - whether I mean to or not they tend to come out like I was trying to act like there wasn't a machine involved so much. Most everything I've posted on here was made on an MPC and you can tell at least subconsciously I'm trying to act like it wasn't.

Some things, I've found useful to accomplish this:

Have at least a couple of instruments without any quantization. Usually I do quantize my drums, but not pianos or organs and stuff. Sometimes I will bang out a drum beat with quantization on, but then go through and nudge lots of the individual hits just a bit out, some of them a bit early, some a bit late. You get a feel after a while how far you can stretch things before they sound audibly off. But the interplay between some rigid parts and some loose parts can really get the whole thing sounding right.

Pay attention to volume envelopes. Lots of times the fix for a beat that has a wrong sounding hit or two is to decrease the volume of that hit rather than move it. Volume dynamics can make a super-rigidly quantized drum beat sound natural as anything.

Offsets. An effective way to get things to swing pretty hard is to take a whole track that you've already written out (this works great with hi-hats) and pull the whole thing forward a bit (or back). This can create a sense of urgency or laziness. The whole track might be rigidly in time with itself, and rigidly offset, but the outcome is way breathier.

Delay. I use this on hats a lot. Instead of putting 4 hats in a bar, I might put 2 or just 1. Then get a delay on it with the right amount of feedback that fills in just the missing hits. And you make the delay timing a little early or late and you get a feel that drifts a bit but with a satisfying snap to the Ones.

James Brown once said something to the effect of he didn't give a shit what anyone in the band played in the middle of things as long as they nailed the Ones. Depending on the song structure you will tend to have some Ones that are more important that others, but no matter what you do, it tends to be A Good Thing from a listeners perpective if you nail the hell out of the One as precisely as possible. You do that and you get a lot more leeway for weird rythm stuff the rest of the time.

I tend to find that I like the One and at least one snare per bar to be pretty strict on time, and minor kicks and hats can be all over the place. And I find it easier to start with something that hits good but doesn't breathe, and make it swing, than to try to coax something that breathes but doesn't have an authoritative boomsh into the fold.
posted by 31d1 at 3:49 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

i do my swing beats in 6-8, i think. That is, each bar is made up of two sets of 6 eighth notes, or 12 eighth notes in all. This may technically be two bars, it's been a long time since theory.

in any case, using the 1st, 4rt, 7nth, and 10nt beat as 1,2,3 and 4, i can use the remaining notes as syncopated off beats, stretching them by quarter's and half's when i need straighter off beats.

did any of that make any sense?
posted by es_de_bah at 12:44 PM on March 6, 2008

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