32 Drum Programming & Beat Making Tips

32 Drum Programming & Beat Making Tips

September 6, 2017 — We surveyed 45 expert music producers to get their very best music production tips… and the result was awesome!

Our panel of experts had so many great drum programming and beat making tips that we decided to organize them here for easy reference.

We asked each member of our panel to give us his/her very best tip or technique for programming drums or making a beat.

So here they are: 32 drum programming and beat making tips, according to our panel of expert music producers.

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Scott Hawksworth
Founder, AudioSkills

Click here to view the entire list of our expert contributors, including links to their social media profiles.

We asked the experts: What’s your best tip or technique for programming drums or making a beat?

  1. Start with a basic beat and add more layers to it. — Bjorn Akesson, BjornAkesson.com
  2. I tend to edit drums as I record. I’ll use Flextime or Elastic Audio depending on the programme to quantise any minor slips of a live drum kit and use the best sections of each take before moving on to bass and guitar etc. This means that I don’t have to make a drummer record particular sections over and over and it avoids any slips in timing when it comes to recording later tracks. — Kurt Martinez, KurtMartinez.co.uk
  3. If you’re new to it, take a MIDI file from a VST drum plugin (Addictive Drums etc) and delete everything except the hihat (or kick drum or …), try to hear the whole groove in your head and play the rest of the drums with a MIDI controller. — Cristofer Odqvist, Magnetic Sound
  4. Standard (non-obvious) theory for most of dance music: keep odd number 16ths on the grid, and nudge the even numbered 16ths to the right a bit. — Adam Pollard, Multiplier
  5. Using beats mode in Ableton on the gate function with transients selected will create rhythmic content out of any sound. I often find inspiring rhythms in random chunks of audio using this method. — Nolan Petruska, Frequent
  6. Feel the rhythm and chose the best sound to build over it. A good beat will make your mind think good melodies. Also, be creative and create different fills, switches : loops are cool but not that much. — Mauro “Kenji” Serra, Music Producer
  7. Think of what a favorite drummer of yours would play. — Alex Salzman, AlexSalzman.com
  8. Generally I get live players to play. For certain songs you need real drums. But for pop and hip hop and beat driven stuff… experiment with the rhythms here too. Sometimes you can come up with cool stuff when you make a mistake. Try weird instruments that you wouldn’t think would work. Take sample and mess with them. Get creative. — Diona Devincenzi, DionaDevincenzi.com
  9. I actually like taking a beat that’s already out there, locking it into my DAW and then programming the kicks/snare the same. Then I program my own hat pattern and put all new music on top. I don’t know why that works so well but it does. — Ashton Price, Morph Productions
  10. Try to think like a drummer. I myself learned drums just for this reason. It’ll help you to create variances in volumes and timing, while still sounding tight and in sync with your track. Imagine a drum roll with each hit being the same volume. It’ll sound like a machine gun almost, but if you add variances in the volumes of each hit, it’ll start to sound like a real drummer. Apply this same mindset across all of your programming. — Brett Edwards, DJBrettEdwards.com
  11. Attention to detail matters. Don’t always put everything on the grid and use different velocities in an intentional way. — Matthew Tryba, MatthewTryba.com
  12. Think like a drummer. Don’t make something crazy and insane… aim for feel and flow. At least, that’s my take. Is your beat something that a real drummer would play? If not, something’s wrong. — John Lavido, JohnLavido.com
  13. Play the parts in realtime on keys/pads or v-drums for velocity and live feel, also move /vary hits slightly off-grid if they are perfectly quantized. — Jimmy Deer, JimmyDeer.com
  14. Typically I like to mess with loops and go from there. I’ll find 3-4 loops that fit the vibe of my track and splice them together to make something organic. It can be tough at first, but definitely worth it. — Chris Varvaro, pursound
  15. The more sparingly the kick is used, the more people anticipate it. Also, make the snare slightly mysterious. — Ark Patrol, ArkPatrol.net
  16. Listen to the way real drummers play their rhythms, and try to mimic certain details like more unique fills, velocity, and the timbre of their sounds. This can help with sample selection, and also make your drums really stand out, even if they aren’t crucial in the mixdown. — Ben Walker, Subtact
  17. Polyrhythms and syncopation are your friend. From African beats to Frank Zappa, adding a second drum loop – eq’ing it so it sits ‘behind’ the main loop and / or nicely sidechaining it so it does not argue with your main loop, will add extra funk and groove to your beats. — Lee TNB, The New Beatmaker
  18. Mix different sounds together to create texture. If you mix 3 different snares for example (a top, body and tail, proper tuned and EQed) you’ll get one thicker, with a greater impact. Also record sounds from nature and around you, city backgrounds, noises, etc, then edit/cut them to create bits you can use as one-shots for a percussion line. This will make your beats unique and stand out. — The Strange Algorithm Series, TSASProject.com
  19. Variation is everything with drums, nobody wants to listen to a static pattern throughout a track. Use velocity on snares, claps and hi-hats to change the feel of the rhythm and follow the 2/4/8 principle; At the end of every second, fourth and eight bar, drop in a single percussive hit or a ghost snare to change up the rhythm and add interest at the end of these bars. — Rick Snoman, Dance Music Production
  20. I always start every production by programming the drums first. Download high quality drum samples from the likes of Splice or Loopmasters and watch as your drum beats start to sound like beats off the radio. Sample quality of your drum samples are so important. — Aubrey Whitfield, AubreyWhitfield.com
  21. The one thing I try to do that separates a programmed beat from 99% of them is gradual evolution. How many times have you heard a synthetic beat that remains unchanged throughout a song? It gives the entire piece a robotic, cold feeling. Even minor adjustments as the song builds helps make the part breath. — Marc Plotkin, MarcPlotkin.com
  22. Don’t stress if you don’t know your way around a live drum kit. It’s really freeing to program beats without worrying about whether or not a drummer could physically play it. As long as it bumps and is structurally sound, I think ignorance is bliss! — Kate, K808
  23. Tune your kick and toms so that they fit the key of the song and make set the amount of decay on your kick so that it works better with your bass, a shorter decay would be the safer way to go in this case. — Idan Altman, IdanAltman.com
  24. To create more unique drum patterns, make a simple 2 to 4 bar pattern then move the start point to a different place within that pattern. You be surprised at how unique simple patterns can become using this method. — SoundOracle, SoundOracle.com
  25. Always start with the kick! That is the meat of the beat. Also, learn music theory.. the kick should always be in a rhythmic pattern while the snare always falls on the 2 and 4. For example; one.. two.. three.. four.. one.. two.. three.. four. Whenever you count the measure fall in line with the grid and the pattern, and there’s your awesome drum pattern. Also, quantizing will be your best friend! *insert great smile right here* — Chris Adams, Von Joie Music Group
  26. The drums are everything. They are the skeleton on which everything hangs in your song. Make sure they pop and they work symbiotically with the other elements of your track. — Phil Ber, PhilBer.com
  27. Layer your kicks and snares. Makes them hit harder and gives them a unique sound, instead of sounding the same as everyone else’s drums. I also like to pan my hats, percs, cymbals, snaps etc, all over the place, especially if there is many of them, this gives them their own spot in the mix. Makes each sound stand out more. — James TenNapel, Syndrome
  28. I think programming drums in MIDI is the way to go. I come from a step-sequencer based drum programming background, so this just makes sense to me. You can always record/resample your drums to audio later. If using Ableton Live, for example, load a Drum Rack or Impulse with some good drum samples. Then set up an empty 1-bar MIDI clip, set your MIDI editor grid to 16th notes, and practice making a variety of different styles of drum beats (house, dubstep, hip-hop, trap, drum & bass, etc.). Bonus Ableton Live tip…Don’t forget the “Convert Drums to MIDI” feature! Grab an audio drum loop, or a snippet of isolated drums from a song that you like. Right Click on the audio clip in Live and choose “Convert Drums to new MIDI track.” This will transcribe the patterns of the kicks, snares, and high hats into a new MIDI clip. — Paul Laski, P-LASK
  29. Don’t neglect velocity and swing, especially if you’re programming notes in with a mouse. Velocity and swing are the 2 biggest elements that give life to your drum parts. — Thomas Glendinning, ELPHNT
  30. Being a drummer myself I really like to hear things sound real. Before programming I always record myself playing a beat to the metronome using a shaker or sometimes just my hands on my knees through the whole song. Then, I’ll go through and tempo map the performance so all my programmed parts ebb and flow with a more human feel. — James Nagel, JamesNagel.com
  31. I make a Melody skeleton then add thickness in layers then I add Drums and fill last. — Cairo Dyvine, CDyvine Muzik Group
  32. I believe in almost being able to sing or scat what you want to produce, so I always use that as a rule of thumb. — Pedro Esparza, Music by Pedro Productions