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Beginning Drum Programming: Basic Beats

"It's as simple as walking down the street, snapping your fingers, keeping the beat"

Starting out

Just about every popular music style is currently played in 4/4 time. Our initial patterns will also be only in 4/4. We will also only split our beat into 16th notes. Later on, I will look at other time signatures to see how we can adapt our basic patterns to them.

The simplest beat that we can possibly make is to play a note on the first beat of the bar:

This can be then moved to any other beat in the bar or any division of the beat:

We then come to two beat patterns, on the first beat and third beat:

Then any possible combination of any two beats or divisions of the beat within the bar.

Next are three beat patterns:

Then four beat patterns:

At this point, we have not used any duration values smaller than a quarter note; even when we shift within the divisions of the beat, each note is considered to last its full value, particularly if the pattern were to repeat itself.

Using more than one instrument

Single hits are great stuff. Single instruments can be great too. Why not have more? No reason we canít.

Before writing for multiple drums we might take a moment to consider the ranges in which each of the instruments in the kit traditionally cover.

  • Bass Drum: in the bottom end of the frequency range, but sometimes with a prominent click from the beater hitting the skin.
  • Snare Drum: upper mid range with lots of noise in the initial hit
  • Hi-Hat Cymbals: upper mid range with some frequency overtones
  • Crash Cymbals: upper mid-range with lots of noise in the initial hit
  • Ride Cymbals: lower mid-range with lots of noise if hit hard
  • Rack Toms: upper mid-range to lower mid-range with clicks from the sticks
  • Floor Tom: Upper low range with clicks from the sticks.

Another consideration is whether you are trying to emulate (mimic) a real drummer or are happy to have an octopus playing for you; a real drummer can only hit four instruments at once at the most (unless they head-butt a cymbal or tom). So, if you want to have more than four parts of the kit playing at the same time we begin to move into octopus territory in the writing and playing.

Back to the grid

Now we are going to start with the basic patterns and add some new ones. Most of the new patterns simply divide the beat into smaller note values using 8ths and 16ths.

The straightforward rock, 4-on-the-floor pattern

Variation 1: More Hi-Hats

The main variation is to play 8th notes on the hi-hats.

Variation 2: Less Kick

Now we cut the kick drum back to two beats, 1 and 3

Variation 3: More Snare

Simple snare drum variations:

Two 8th notes on the second beat

Two 8th notes on beat four

Four 8th notes, two on beat two, two on beat four

Variation 4: More Hi-hats

Sixteenths on the Hi-Hats

Variation 5: Somewhere in between for the Hi-Hats

Various 16th-8th note combinations.

8th-16th-16th

16th-16th-8th

16th-8th-16th

8th-16th rest-16th

16th-8th-16th rest

Variation 6: Put these patterns on the kick or the snare.

Exercise for you to complete on your own.