Wanna create more organic beats? Well, after following me through this article you can. I’m going to show you 6 easy to learn beat programming techniques, that will make your beats sound and feel more organic.
Some techniques may seem basic and obvious, and yes, they are. But as soon as you incorporate them into your production bag of tricks, you’ll notice how powerful they are.
Before we dive into the beat programming techniques, we will go through some basic theory (I’ll keep this short, promised:-)).
Let’s start with the theory and have a closer look at why we perceive something as organic versus something we perceive as artificial. And also why you should apply that knowledge to your music.
Why Is It A Good Idea To Make Your Beats Sound Organic?
An organic beat sounds more interesting over a longer period of time. In other words, it doesn’t get boring after the third listen. And it creates another sense of energy than a static drum loop.
What Do We Perceive As Organic In General?
When you transfer the question to the physical world (What makes a product look and feel organic?) it would be uniqueness and little imperfections. We perceive products made of natural materials such as wood or stone as more organic than products made of plastic.
No wooden table looks like another one, even if they are perfectly manufactured. The texture is never the same which makes the wooden table look organic. The exact same table made of plastic would have a more artificial look and feel.
The same is true for drum beats. It’s little imperfections and changes that we perceive as organic. Like little variations in timing and velocity, but also slight changes in sound (a drummer never hits the drum at the exact same spot) that would make a beat organic.
Ok, enough philosophy:-P Let’s dive into the 6 drum programming techniques that make your beats sound more organic:
Probably the easiest and quickest way to add some kind of organic feel to your beats is adding swing. (Every DAW has a swing feature. A quick google search will help you find out where to find it in your DAW.)
There are different swing measures. The most common one is the 16th swing. But I highly encourage you to experiment with all swing measures. 16th swing has a more energetic feel while 8th swing results in a more stumbling feel, which can be awesome!
Also, try various swing intensities. Slight to medium intensities (let’s say 20% to 65%) will result in an increased organic feel, while extreme swing setting will feel kind of artificial again. Of course always depending on your beat and tempo.
2. Playing Your Beats
This seems super obvious but for some reason, it is overlooked way too often to not mention it:
You will get organic results and imperfections when you record your beats instead of programming them.
Playing your beats with a midi controller or (if you don’t have one) with your computer keyboard is fun and can lead to more spontaneous and interesting results than the drag ‘n’ drop method.
Deactivate auto quantize while you record, so the beat is recorded the way you play it with all it’s timing and velocity variations. (There won’t be velocity variations with a computer keyboard.)
If you want to tighten your timing afterward, set your quantization setting somewhere between 90% and 98%, so you keep some of the imperfections of your playing.
3. Dragging Drum Hits Slightly Out Of Grid
This can be a lot of not so inspiring work. But the long-term results are well worth the effort. I’m talking about dragging each drum hit – note by note throughout the whole song – slightly out of the grid.
I tend to leave kick drums untouched and drag all other drums just a slight bit. Just a slight bit, so you will not really hear the difference but feel it.
I also personally prefer to drag the notes to the right for a more laid-back feel. Dragging to the left will produce a more driving feel.
I also like to slightly change the velocity of some drums note by note throughout the whole song. Even more work, but also worth the effort:-) Again, I tend to leave kick drums unchanged and work the velocity of all other drums.
4. Ghost Notes
When you study real drummers, you will notice that most drummers play ghost notes to spice up their beats. Basically, ghost notes are soft snare drum hits in between two “real” snare drum hits.
You can emulate that effect by putting some soft snare samples between your main snare hits.
You can also use the same snare sample throughout and lower the velocity for the ghost notes. This won’t sound as organic as using a softer sample but it will work none the less.
5. Filter Automation
A real drummer, no matter how good, never hits a drum at the exact same spot twice with the exact same power with the drumstick at the exact same angle. This all adds up to subtle variations in the tone of the drum hits.
You can emulate the tonal changes by using a little EQ automation. For a snare drum automate the mid and high bands of your EQ just a tiny bit. Move the frequency as well as the gain and Q-factor just a slight bit up and down. When you automate all three parameters of an EQ band in a different tempo you will have even more variation in tone.
Remember to automate only a tiny bit for a subtle effect.
6. Groove templates
Basically, a groove template is the fingerprint of a drum beat’s (or other instrument’s) timing and feel that you can transfer to your own beat.
(Every DAW I know of has this feature. Do quick search on Google or Youtube, if you don’t know how this works in your DAW.)
For example, you could create a groove template from an old funk drum break. Now you have a fingerprint of that drum break with all it’s timing inconsistencies (which is what makes this drum break groove as f*+&).
Now when you apply that groove template to your own beat, your DAW is going to quantize to the timing of the drum break instead of your DAWs static, perfect standard grid. That way you can steal your favorite drummer’s groove and use it for your own beats.
With the six drum programming techniques (swing, playing, dragging, ghost notes and groove templates) we covered in this email series you can create beats with a more organic feel. And that will make them sound more interesting over a longer period of time.
Experiment, find your favorite ones, combine them for maximum effect. And .. most importantly .. have fun playing and experimenting with these techniques.
Free Groove Templates For Ableton Live And Pro Tools
If you are an Ableton Live or Pro Tools user then I encourage you to download these 40+ groove templates.
The groove templates have been taken from all kinds of vintage funk drum breaks. I have included the original tempos of the breaks in the names of the groove templates. Anyway, use them in any tempo you want and listen to the results.
Enjoy and stay creative:-)
P.S. What are your drum programming tricks, that help you create better beats? Leave a comment and share your knowledge:-)