Creating Your Own Drum Beats

Creating your own drum beats is a fun way to learn more about funk music and composition in general, and rhythm and time in particular. Most students (non-drummers) think that creating their own drum grooves is over their head, but the truth is that there are some basic and easy tips that you can learn to help you create your own drum groove-jam tracks or add drums to your own compositions. In this article, I’m going to show you a few tips that will get you creating your own drum grooves in no time.

Tip #1 – Change the Way You Listen to Drums

Most non-drummers listen to drum grooves and are in awe of how the drummer is able to engage both arms and legs simultaneously to weave a complex texture of rhythm. If you were to ask most people what the drummer is doing rhythmically, they would be at a loss as to how to break down the overall groove. The next time you listen to a drummer on any piece of music, do not focus on the entire drum groove or a particular pyrotechnic drum fill. Instead, focus on just one drum within the kit, for example, the snare drum. Try to figure out the rhythmic pattern of just the snare drum. On what beats is the snare drum played? Is the snare drum pattern a one-, two-, or four-measure pattern? Can you play the snare drum part (clapping or tapping) while counting along with the beat? Once you have a pretty good idea of what is going on with the snare drum, focus on a different drum within the kit (i.e., the hi-hat or kick/bass drum). You’ll soon realize that the drummer is playing a fairly basic rhythmic pattern on each drum, but when layered over one another the result is a rhythmically dense groove that can sound quite complex.

Tip #2 – Learn Some Basic Drum Notation

Often, seeing something written out can help our brains process what is being performed. So even if you’re not a drummer, it can be very beneficial to know how to notate some basic drum grooves, especially if you want to create your own drum grooves or are interested in writing music and want to find ways to communicate your ideas directly to the drummer.

Below is what is referred to as a basic drum map, showing you what drum notation looks like. Listen to the audio file while reading the music below in order to see where each drum of the kit is written and to get a sense of what each individual drum sounds like.

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Tip #3 – Learn to Write Out A Basic Rock Groove

The first step in creating your own drum grooves is definitely listening to examples of the kind of groove you’re interested in writing. Let’s take the example of a basic rock groove. Once you’ve gotten some practice focusing on individual rhythmic patterns of each drum in the kit, try your hand at writing out a simple rock groove like the one heard here:

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Tip #4 – Learn to Play a Drum Groove Using a Program Like GarageBand or ProTools (on a Midi Keyboard)

Programs like GarageBand, ProTools, Ableton, Logic, etc., are referred to as DAWs (digital audio workstations). They are music production programs (computer software) and range from free (GarageBand, for example, comes standard on Macs) to very expensive (i.e., a few hundred dollars). If you have a Mac and have not yet used GarageBand, it’s time to learn. GarageBand is a powerful resource and tool that you can use regularly in your practice in a variety of ways. If you’re interested in writing, producing, or arranging music, it’s probably wise to invest in one of these programs as they are now the industry-standard for how these music production tasks are performed. And since the midi keyboard is the tool of choice for entering data using these programs, we keyboardists have a distinct advantage. By selecting a drum kit in GarageBand, my midi keyboard keys are now each assigned to a different drum of the drum kit, allowing me to “play” drums by playing the notes of the keyboard. When I create my own drum grooves, I can do so quickly in GarageBand by playing the 2-bar groove using a midi keyboard, cutting and pasting the groove to reach the desired length, and then exporting the groove as an mp3 audio file for use in my practice.

Here is a simple 2-bar drum groove that I created by playing each part individually on my midi keyboard into GarageBand, then cutting and pasting the 2 bars until I had 8 measures of music.

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Tip #5 – Transcribe Your Favorite Drum Groove

Growing up I was a fan of the Dave Matthews Band and thought the drummer in that band (Carter Beauford) was something very special. Although I’ve never studied the drums formally, I recognized something pretty unique about Carter’s playing. His sound and style of playing the drums is distinctly his own. His use of the hi-hat (how he leaves out certain notes in his hi-hat patterns) creates a syncopated feel to his playing not often heard in pop/rock music, and his fills always sound incredibly melodic to me (especially when setting up new sections of a song). I’m also a big fan of grooves in odd-meter (i.e., 5/4 or 7/4 patterns). So, I decided to transcribe and create a drum groove based on Carter’s playing on the chorus of the Dave Matthews Band tune, “Seven.” (Listen at the 0:47 mark which is the start of the chorus). I might use a drum groove like this in my practice sessions if I’m trying to work out some improvisation ideas in 7/8 time, or just to get some practice playing a groove or comping in 7/8 time so that I can begin to get comfortable with the feeling of the odd meter.

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Tip #6 – Learn to Use the Quantitize Function of Your DAW

Once you’ve gotten familiar with creating your own drum grooves, quickly discover the “Quantitize” function, which adjusts any messy rhythms by aligning them precisely where they were meant to be played. This function can obviously be used as a crutch, or as an excuse for not really having to improve your own internal sense of time. But I’ve always used the “quantitize” function as a tool and opportunity to measure my own sense of time, and to gauge the accuracy of my rhythmic placements when compared to the flawless precision of the computer. When used this way, the quantitize function can be a tremendous asset to your rhythmic training.

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Willie President
Willie Myette is a pianist, serial entrepreneur and author of over a dozen books on piano and music education. He received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in under 4 years. Willie is the creator and president of online piano instruction sites Jazzedge® Academy, Jazz Piano Lessons and HomeSchool Piano.

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