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Beginning Drum Programming: An Overview

"Beat the drum, bang the rocks together, clap your hands and stamp your feet"

This tutorial series will cover beginning material in the areas below. Each of these areas is a separate tutorial.


  1. Basic Beats
  2. How To Mix It Up With The Snare Drum
  3. Shifting The Kick
  4. Hats Vs Ride
  5. Dynamics
  6. Accents
  7. Using Fills
  8. Rudimentary my dear Watson - programming drum rudiments
  9. Multi-Bar Patterns
  10. Other Time Signatures: 2/4, 3/4, 6/8 And Other Odd Times
  11. Compound Meter (12 Time) Vs Simple Meter (4 Time)
  12. Triplets and other tuplets
  13. Groove - the mysterious workings of musical styles
  14. Other topics if requested

I will add the hotlinks to the list above for each tutorial as it is uploaded

Introductory thoughts

Drums (and drum machines) are at the heart of almost every musical culture on the planet. Playing drums well is considered a desirable skill in these cultures as well.

Writing for drums is really no different to playing them in many ways. You make instrument selection, beat placement, accents, and loudness choices. All of these are part of playing the drums in real time.

When writing, however, you have the chance to revise your choices before committing them to tape (actual or virtual) or your project. You can also create a library of basic beats, fills, and hits that you can import into your projects.

This series of articles is about creating a midi library of drum patterns that you can use again and again as starting points in new projects. You can use the patterns as triggers for a mapped sampler such as NI Battery. You can use them to drive a hardware drum machine or a softsynth.

Your platform (DAW - Computer and Software combination) for creating your music in is not as important as the basic skills needed to manipulate your musical choices. There are other sites that carry on the DAW evangelical debate - I do not care for it at all: if it works for you use it, if it doesnít, then donít use it. The rest is religion.

Language considerations

There are two systems for naming musical information and data in use today: these are roughly referred to as the US tradition and the European tradition. I have been educated in the European tradition mostly, so I am more comfortable using some words than others.

The following words are interchangeable throughout this series of articles (i.e. they mean the same thing as far as my writing is concerned):

There are probably others as well, so I will update this list from time to time; if you donít recognise a word, check back here to see how I have used it and how it relates to your musical naming tradition.

Notation used

I am using a standardised Drum notation as follows:

I am also using a standardised Drum machine/Editor layout grid as follows:

I am using the diamond symbol ◊ to show where an instrument is played within this grid.

I will use different colours within the symbol to show dynamic level as well as accents:
To be added when we introduce dynamics

I will also use screen shots from Cubase Studio 5.1 when appropriate.

Later, an expanded layout grid may be used.