A challenge that many producers face in the early stages of learning is getting the knack of programming drums. In this 3-part tutorial series, we’re going to dissect some classic drum grooves, and show how to program them in a DAW. In this example, we’ll be using Ableton Live to create a classic Jackin’ House beat.
The samples we’re using are mostly stock samples from Ableton Live, with the addition of a Kick from James Wiltshire’s Free Sample Pack available here. However, you can use any of your own samples to create your own take on it. If you’re using Live, you can download our project file here.
Here’s what we’ll be making:
In this tutorial we dive right into one of the most popular drum patterns of all time – HOUSE. The foundation of any house beat is that driving 4×4 kick that drives the percussion. First things first though, set your DAW to 123bpm with around 20% swing.
Now grab a nice kick sample and drag it onto a new Drum Rack. We’re also going to layer a 909 Closed Hat sample, to add some subtle top frequencies. Subtlety is key here – use the Fade Out function to shorten it to around 175ms and drop the volume so it’s not overpowering the kick. Program a 4×4 beat with a syncopated hit at the end of a 2 bar loop as pictured. Drop the velocity of the last hit to around 45. We’re also going to use NI’s Transient Master on this Drum Rack to tighten up the kick and make it a little punchier. Set the Attack to about 25% and the same for the Sustain. Lastly, in the FX chain add a Compressor and bring the threshold down to about -10db.
Now you should have something like this:
Load a new empty Drum Rack on a new MIDI channel and drag a 707 Snare, a 909 Clap and a Rim Shot sample onto any available sound slots. We’re going layer all three of these sounds to create a richer sounding snare. Create a 2-bar loop and program these on the upbeat, and again adding some syncopated hits at the end of the loop to create some groove.
One key to making great house beats is to have lots of percussive elements that drive the groove, so we are going to add a couple of open and closed 909 hats, a closed 808 hat and a ride. Lets begin with the Open 909 Hat – a key element in classic house music. Create another new MIDI track with a drum rack and load an Open 909 Hi Hat. Be sure to shorten the release time to about 225 ms for a tighter groove and place these notes on the off-beat. Place a few syncopated notes at the end of the phrase with a low velocity so they add to – but don’t disrupt – the groove’s flow.
Next, load a Closed 909 Hat sample, increase its pitch by 1 semitone and place these at the end of the first and second bar of the loop as pictured.
Nowload a Closed 808 Hi Hat and program a 1/16th note pattern – 4 notes for each beat. Vary the velocity levels for a more natural feel and swing. We also added an Auto Pan effect to give it width in the mix.
Now we add another closed 909 Hat – this time we drop its pitch by 2 semi-tones, and lowered its sustain to -60 and programmed these on either side to the open hats, this adds a lot more drive to the groove.
Finally, we add the ride cymbal to really make the groove flow. We chose a 707 ride and dropped its release to 3 ms.
Here’s what we end up with:
What house track would be complete without toms? Continue the process with another MIDI track and a fresh Drum Rack, add a 909 Low Tom sample and some conga hits of your choosing. Less is more when it comes to extra percussion, so experimentation is key. Here’s what we settled on:
The final step involves grouping all 4 channels together and applying some audio processing. We added the new DIRT plug from Native Instruments to add some crunch and subtle distortion, followed by Ableton’s Drum Buss, which is new in Live 10. The Drum Buss is particularly useful for shaping the drum transients for the whole mix whilst adding some subtle compression, low end EQ and general mix glue.
Experiment with creating some slight variations of your beat by copying the clip and subtracting and adding elements. Create a couple of basic fills while you’re at it and that about sums up House beat programming! You should now have a nice and crunchy ol’ school House beat, ready to add some heat to with some vintage style pad chords and bass lines.