In this tutorial, we'll explore a number of techniques to make your drum patterns more intricate than ever and quickly set them up for easy triggering.
For the purpose of this tutorial, we'll begin with a simple Drum Rack on a MIDI track. I've used a custom Drum Rack of my own here, but any Drum Rack kit will do. To get started, I'll double-click the first empty clip slot on the track to insert an empty MIDI Clip.
By default, the clip will be one bar in length with a sixteenth-note quantization interval. By quickly widening the quantization grid to quarter notes using the widen grid key command (Command-2) twice, I can rapidly draw a four-to-the-floor house or techno kick drum with the draw tool by clicking in the note grid on the kick drum key in the first quarter note, holding the mouse down, and dragging right, to the end of the bar. While all the notes remain selected, I can turn off Draw mode by pressing B and click and drag up in the velocity channel to bring them all to maximum velocity (Pic 1).
Before switching to a narrower timing grid, I'll add my claps on the downbeat accents on the second and fourth quarter notes. Once I've written them in, I'll switch to the editing tool, select both the claps, and drag them ever so slightly off the grid, to the left, so they're a bit early – which gives the insistent feeling of “pushing” the beat forward (Pic 2).
PRO-TIP: Using the edit tool, click a note to select it, then drag it left or right to move it forward or backward on the grid, up or down to move it to a different key or drum pad, and hover over either the front or back edge of the note - until you see the bracket symbol - to stretch the note duration in either direction; you can also use the arrow keys to move a selected note or notes up, down, left or right within the MIDI editor.
Now, I'll switch to an eighth-note quantization grid by either right-clicking in the note grid and selecting that option from the context menu, or by striking the grid-narrowing hot keys: Command-1. At this point, I'll add some percussion hits on the off- or up-beat eighth-notes (Pic 3).
With our basic rhythmic backbone in place, I'll switch to a sixteenth-note grid by using the narrow grid key command (Command-1) one more time; if in doubt, the current grid quantization is always displayed in the lower right corner of the MIDI editor.
Within the first beat, I'll write in four consecutive sixteenth-note shakers with the draw tool. When you click to create a note, you can hold down the mouse and drag down to reduce velocity, or drag up to increase it; doing just that, I've written my shakers so that the upbeat has the most emphasis, the downbeat has the least, and the sixteenth-notes are somewhere in between. The velocity of a note is reflected in its color, with higher velocity values being brighter red and lower values closer to white (Pic 4).
I'll now select just this set of four sixteenth-note shakers and use the duplicate command (Command-D) three times to copy this velocity-enhanced pattern throughout our one bar clip (Pic 5).
PRO-TIP: Select a span of time including notes on one or more keys by clicking and dragging the edit tool within the MIDI editor; if unused spaces in the timing grid - called rests - are selected on either side of the selected material, these empty spaces will be duplicated or copied along with the selected note data – so if you don't want that empty space to be pasted along, be sure to not select it. The selected time span is displayed by the light blue bar along the top of the note grid, and selected MIDI data will be pasted to wherever the flashing vertical orange insert marker is located; to move the insert marker, simply click within the MIDI editor just in front of the desired note interval. At this point, I'll make sure the entire clip is selected by clicking the loop brace, and I'll now hit Command-D again – or click the Dupl. Loop button in the clip note settings to the left of the note grid – to duplicate the duration of the clip and all the data contained therein from one to two bars. Then I'll draw in a similarly velocity-edited closed high-hat pattern that's five sixteenth-notes in length (Pic 6), select those five sixteenth-notes of high-hat, and duplicate them throughout the clip. (Pic 7)
Syncopate, Syncopate, Syncopate
Our rhythm remains fairly straightforward at this point, so now it's time explore the space between the beats. Before expanding the duration of our pattern, I'll add some key syncopated accents that I still want to repeat within a two-bar phrase: I've added new notes on the Stabs, Open Hats, Rides, Sticks, Congas, Bongo, Bass Hits and Snares 1 drum pads. Since the Closed and Open Hats reside on the same Choke Group, I've deleted the Closed Hats where I want the Open Hats to play through (Pic 8).
I've placed many of these new notes on sixteenth-note intervals that fall between the eighth-notes; this technique is known as syncopation, and it gives many rhythms their groove.
Now that I probably have enough sounds to build a drum track with, it's time to make our pattern more dynamic. With the full clip selected, I'll hit Command-D to double the length and note data to four bars in total. I've added some entirely new hits throughout these four bars on the Strikes pad, and then in the last two bars of the pattern, I've added in another Open Hat, another Stab, changed the length of some Rides, added a second Clap on the final quarter note, and drawn in a short little sixteenth-note roll on the Snares 2 pad (Pic 9).
PRO-TIP: To create a smooth velocity slope as I have with the Snares 2 here, select a span of notes with the edit tool, then hold down the Command key as you click and hold in the velocity channel at your desired starting velocity; now as you drag the mouse within the velocity channel, still holding down Command, you should see a dotted line that represents the velocity slope that will be applied – release the mouse and it will take effect.
Four bars is cool, but you know what's cooler? Eight bars. So I'll double the clip length again as we've done twice already above, and make some further changes towards the end of the resulting eighth bar of the pattern: namely, adding some extra Open Hats and Snares (Pic 10).
You know what's even cooler than eight bars? That's right: sixteen bars. So I'll double our clip one last time using Command-D or Dupl. Loop and use two of the new MIDI editing options to make some changes at the end of our sixteen bar phrase. Selecting almost arbitrary notes within a relatively small region – less than a quarter note – I'll click the Rev notes button in the Clip Notes area to the left of the note grid, just above the Dupl. Loop button, which will reverse the sequence those selected notes are played in. Then, selecting a similarly small set of different notes, I'll click the Inv button located just to the right of the Rev button to invert – or vertically flip – which drum pads are triggered. Results may vary, but I've succeeded in getting some interesting rhythmic changes I probably wouldn't have created on my own. I've also added a Stab by holding down the Option key while clicking and dragging to copy it to a new location, and changed some Ride note lengths in the final bar as well (Pic 11).
We now have our “master” drum clip: it contains all the patterns we're likely to use in the course of this track. Now I want to identify which parts I'll want to start the track with and deactivate all the other notes. I can select all the notes within a pattern that are contained on one key or drum pad by clicking the key button at the far left of the MIDI editor note grid; if I hold down the Shift button and click other keys, I can select all the notes on multiple keys, one key at a time.
Using this method, I've selected everything except for the Congas, Bongos, Claps, Snares 1, and Kicks, and then struck the “0” key to deactivate them; as of Live 9, the number zero key toggles activation of any selected notes or clips on or off. By deactivating these notes, they remain in place within the clip but won't actually trigger any instruments unless we reactivate them (Pic 12).
Next, I'll rename the clip “Intro Beats”, (Pic 13) and duplicate the clip to the next available clip slot in the Session View. Now looking at the MIDI editor for the second clip, I'll activate the percs and rename it “Add Percs” (Pic 14).
I'll repeat this process, duplicating that clip, activating the Shakers, Sticks and Snares 2 within the newest one, renaming it “Add Shakers” (Pic 15).
This clip will be duplicated, with Stabs, Strikes and Bass Hits activated, renamed “Add Bass” (Pic 16), and that clip will be duplicated, both Closed and Open Hats activated and renamed “Add Hats” (Pic 17); finally, that one gets duplicated once more, Rides activated, and renamed “Full” (Pic 18).
You might think we're done, but wait – there's more! I'll duplicate the Full clip to a new slot, deactivate the Kicks, Shakers, Rides and both Hats and rename it “Breakdown” (Pic 19); I'll then duplicate that one last time, reactivate the Kicks and the Rides and call it “Groove” (Pic 20).
Drum Machine Alpha
We now have more or less a full song's worth of drum patterns ready to go. By using these MIDI editing techniques to build patterns, and then duplicating the master pattern to new clips with various combinations of notes activated, you can assemble your own array of percussive patterns with style and ease. Apply some Grooves from the Groove Pool and it'll get even funkier. Just remember: syncopate, duplicate, activate!