Orchestrate Drum Patterns for Better Beats
Beginner beats usually use only three elements of the drum kit. So, in this lesson you'll learn how to make pro beats by voicing them over the whole kit. But first... Tea!
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If your beats sound something like this (click play above to listen), then you’re missing an essential ingredient! Could you hear the missing ingredient? If not, don’t worry, that’s because the drum beat is actually pretty good exactly the way it is. The kick rhythm is super lively, from all the syncopation (which is an off-beat accent). The hi-hat rhythm is creative, because it’s not just playing the usual 1/8 notes. And the backbeat snare locks it all together. It’s a good drum beat! So, what’s the missing ingredient that will transform this good beat into a great beat? Orchestration!
Orchestration is how you voice your pattern across the drum kit. In other words, what element of the drum kit you play each individual rhythm on. Drum beats are most commonly played on three elements: kick, snare, and cymbals. But, your drums will sound more creative if you orchestrate them over more of the kit. Drummers tend to do this naturally, because the kit is literally right in front of them, so they see the elements they’re not hitting. For producers, though, it’s not that easy to see if there are elements of the kit that you’re missing.
As you probably know, there are four elements in a drum kit: kick, snare, toms, and cymbals. Within two of those elements though, there are also sub-elements, because a drum kit usually has two or three toms, as well as two or three cymbals (and, the hi-hats can also be played open or closed). Each element of the drum kit has a different function. We don’t have time to cover any of that stuff in this lesson, but if you wanna learn how to use each of the four elements based on their specific functions, then download our Hack Drum Beats PDF. Everything you need to know for making creative beats is in this one PDF, and it also comes with MIDI file examples.
STEP 1. TOMS
Most drum beats these days consist of only three of the four elements: kick, snare and hats. The most commonly underused element is toms. So, by adding toms into your beats, they’ll instantly stand out from all the generic beats most producers use. And, they’ll actually sound like something a drummer would play. One of the best ways to incorporate toms into your drum beats, is to partially re-voice your kick rhythm. In other words, move a few of your kicks onto the toms. If there’s anywhere in your beat where you’ve got two of three kicks in a row, move one or two of those onto toms. And feel free to use two or three different toms as well. With those toms in your beat, it’ll have way more depth and texture.
STEP 2. CYMBALS
Next, you wanna partially re-voice your hat rhythm. The easiest way to do that is to move a few hits from closed hats to open hats (or vice versa). This will enliven your beat, as that swishy open hats sound is the perfect contrast to the tightness of those closed hats. Also, move one hit over to a crash cymbal for an accent. The standard place for this is beat 1, but don’t feel like you have to accent beat 1. In fact, in our drum beat we accented beat 2, which adds a little unexpected flavour.
Right, here’s the new and improved drum beat with its expanded orchestration (click play above to listen), which now covers the whole drum kit. In the end we only re-voiced seven hits, but that’s all it takes to totally transform a good beat into a great beat. And on top of that, it now sounds like something a drummer would play! Thanks for being here in the Hack Music Theory community, you are truly valued, and we're excited to hang out with you again soon.
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