Revitalizing MIDI Drums
Many may rightly argue that the great advantage of sampled, electronic drums is that they don’t force you to use ‘realistic’ rhythmic patterns or drum sounds. Most dance music, for example, is created using incredibly fast, accurate patterns and sounds that have only the most superficial relation to something that can be reproduced by hitting a stretched drum skin with a wooden drumstick. The ability to create rhythms by programming, layer by layer and step by step, of course, offers great scope for imagination and freedom from technical and sound restrictions imposed when it is necessary to play and record a real drummer.
However, it happens that the sound and feeling of a real drum part is required, and circumstances – time, place, lack of funds or lack of a drummer – force people who themselves do not play the drums to “rattle” something in the sequencer. And, although the sequencer part will never be a perfect imitation, there are many things you can do to make it seem more convincing.
1. Do not forget about the physical limitations that real drummers are subject to. Obviously, drummers have only two arms and two legs, therefore, the maximum “polyphony” of the drummer is four sounds at the same time, but there are also other restrictions on the physically capabilities of the performer. Many of the characteristic rhythms of rock and pop music include even 8th or 16th hat or cymbal notes. Above a certain pace, this necessarily involves both hands, as a rule, alternating notes are played, so it is important to understand which hand does what; for example, you cannot beat a hi-hat and snare drum or crash at the same time if you use both hands to keep the beat rhythm at a high level:
Revitalizing MIDI Drums (20 Tips for Revitalizing MIDI Drums)
2. For the same reason, there are certain sounds that cannot be combined realistically in one rhythmic pattern. You cannot switch instantly between brushes and drumsticks, or between using a normal hi-hat and a tambourine hat on the top plate. Drum sticks can be used to produce rimshots, but brushes and beaters cannot, so it would be illogical to mix rimshots and play with brushes. Also, combining a hat and a ride in the same batch will not be quite common – they are usually located on opposite sides of the drum kit.
3. Please note that the force of impact on the reels cannot be constant. To some extent, there will be a random change in the strength of each strike, but there will also be more predictable changes. In the drums of popular and rock music, for example, the first beat in a measure is often emphasized, while the reggae rhythms are characterized by an accented third beat. There are also physical limitations on how hard you can hit the drum: beats played in quick succession will always be quiet, as you cannot raise the drumsticks high, or get a longer pedal stroke on the barrel between beats.
4. Do not ignore the dynamics within the song. In dance music, drums are often heavily compressed, as changing the level can cause some of the rhythm to drop out of the mix. Real drummers, however, use crescendo and other dynamic effects to add more senses to the part; often, for example, they play with increasing volume before the chorus.
5. Use sounds that correspond to the dynamic level of a particular drum part. Some percussion instruments, such as sampled cymbals, actually sound loud, while others (rimshots, bongs and claps) inevitably sound quiet. Also, the drum part, fully reproduced by the sequencer, will sound a little false if the quiet sounds “sink” in the reverb, as from a strong blow.
6. Use only drums that match the style of music you are trying to emulate, and remember that real drums contain a limited number of drums.
Few of the rock drummers have wind chimes, timbali, tablas or claves in their standard drum kit. Similarly, if you want a 60s pop sound, the 808 synthesizer worker is unlikely to help. Some virtual drum kits contain a huge range of volumes, but it is best if you select two or three and use only them. In addition, be careful when playing drum parts with brushes: the so-called ‘brush’ sets of some synthesizers actually replace only snare drum samples, and the sounds of cymbals and volumes are sampled with ordinary sticks.
7. It is important to have a sense of rhythm and be able to build a rhythmic sequence in the mind, but it is much more difficult to analyze the small changes in the rhythm that produce this feeling.