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Produce a ‘Harlem Shake’ Style Track in Ableton Live

Glad to see the back of the wave of "Harlem Shake" videos that invaded YouTube? Humor us (and yourself) for a little while longer as Gary Hiebner creates a similar styled project in Ableton Live.

How to do the ‘Harlem Shake’? That is the big question. This song and its associated YouTube video antics have gone viral and everyone is talking about the ‘Harlem Shake’. While I’m not going to show you how to do the ‘Harlem Shake’, rather I’m going to show you how to sound like Baauer’s killer track with its low drone 808 kick and hip-hop-esque flavor. The Harlem Shake falls under the Trap Music genre, and is quickly becoming the next Dubstep. What's great is that you can mix the two together. They fall in the same tempo and the dubstep wobbles and squelches can be brought into your Trap productions. So let’s see what this ‘Trap’ is all about.

Step 1 – The 808 Kit

First things first, set the BPM to 140. This is your go-to standard Trap tempo. What typifies Trap is the low rumble of the classic 808 drum kit sound. I’m going to load up the 808 kit that comes with Ableton. Navigate to Drums > Kit-808.adg, or use the search tab and type Kit-808 and it will show up.

808 Kit

Let’s program the drum pattern for the main section, and then we can come back and build up the intro section. We’ll be programming in the Kick 808, Snare 808, Hihat 808 Closed and the Tom 808 High.

Place Kicks on the following areas:

1;  1.2.3;  1.4.3;  2.2.3;  3;  3.2.3;  3.4.3;  and 4.2.3 

Now the Snares on:

1.3;  2.1.3; 2.3;  3.3;  and 4.3

There will be sparse closed hats placed on:

1;  1.2.3;  1.4.3;  2.2.3;  3;  3.2.3;  3.4.3;  and 4.2.3 

Now for the toms. This sounds like a metronome over the beat:

1.2;  1.4;  2.2;  2.4;  3.2;  3.4;  4.2;  4.4

Drum pattern 1

That’s the first part of the pattern. Then in the next section instead of the sparse hats, let’s have a busier pattern. The next pattern will only have kick, snare and hats.

The kick pattern is pretty similar except for one different hit in the end of the 4-bar section. Here is the pattern:

1;  1.2.3;  1.4.3;  2.2.3;  3;  3.2.3;  3.4;  and 4.2.3 

For the snare:

1.3;  2.1.3; 2.3;  3.3;  4.1.3; and 4.3

And the hats will be placed on every 1/8 note and stop on 4.3.

Drum pattern 2

Step 2 – The Low Pitched 808 Kick

What really works well and gives it that Hip Hop tone is the pitched 808 Kick. First, insert a Simpler instrument on a MIDI track. Then navigate to Drums > Drum Hits > Kick-808.aif. Drag this sample into the Simpler Instrument. After the Simpler, add a Saturator and increase the Drive to 5.71 dB. Enable the Color and set the Base to 4.57, the Freq to 1.00 kHz and the Width to 30%. This will saturate the Kick and give it a bit more of a bass drone sound. Now this will be layered above the 808 Kit.

Start off on A2 and write in the following note pattern:

1;  1.2.3;  1.4.3; 2.2.3;  3;  3.2.3;  3.4.3;  4.2.3;  5;  5.2.3;  5.4.3;  6.2.3; 

And then drop to F2 and draw in the following notes on:

7;  7.2.3;  7.4;  and 8.2.3

Take a listen to this over the 808 patterns and adjust the pitched 808 kick accordingly. Be sure to turn down the volume of both tracks so you don’t overload the Master Output. 

Kick Simpler

Kick Pattern

Step 3 – The Rolling Snares

Another significant sound of Trap is the rolling snares. Change the resolution of your grid to 1/32 notes (Control-click or right-click in the MIDI note Editor and choose 1/32 under Fixed Grid). The snare rolls occur on the first part of the main drum pattern. Zoom in so you can see the grid clearly and place snare hits on the following notes. Start on 4.1.3, draw in 5 consecutive snare notes and change the velocity of the last note.

Rolling snares

The next snare roll occurs on the 1/32 note just after 4.4.2. Write in another 5 consecutive notes. You can go in and edit the velocities of each snare hit so it adds some variance to the roll and build up. But I quite like the robotic sound of the snares all at the same velocity. I’ll leave this up to you.

Rolling snares 2

Step 4 – The Intro Claps and Hats

So now that the main drum section are done, let’s move back to the Intro and build this up. Go to Create > Insert Silence... (Command-I) and insert eight bars of silence before the main section so we can work on the intro.

Let’s start with the hats. Write in a hat on every 1/8 note from 1.1.3 through to 8.2.3. Vary the velocities of the notes.

Add some sporadic snare hits. One at 5.4.3 and a few more at  6.4;  6.4.3;  6.4.4; and 7. Drop their velocities right down so they are very soft and minimal in the mix.

Intro hats and snares

Create a new MIDI track and drag a Simpler onto it. Now navigate to Drums > Drum Hits > Claps and drag the Clap-808 onto the Simpler. Add claps on every beat on the note C3. 


Step 5 – Intro Riser and Auto-Panning

What will also sound nice is a noise riser effect during this intro. I am going to use the TAL Audio Bassline. This is a great free Substractive Synth by Togu Audio. I will be using this as well to build up the main lead line. Load the Noisy Osc preset. Add in an Auto Pan after this instrument. Set the amount to 64.3%, the Rate to ½. Change it to Beats not Hz and set the Offset to 109. This will add some stereo panning to the noise sound. Draw in a note on E2 that extends through the length of the intro section. And lastly add an EQ Eight after the Auto Pan. Set a high cut of 1.73 Hz and I want to automate the Freq and Resonance of the high cut. 

Noise riser

Draw in an increase over the course of the introduction for the Freq and Resonance and the Mixer Volume for this noise riser. 

Noise riser

Take a listen and hear how this adds suspense to the part before it kicks into the main section. Drop out the noise riser synth a half a bar before the main section.

Step 5 – The Main Synth

We’re almost done. Now for the last thing, the lead synths. I am going to be using the TAL Bassline again. Add a new MIDI track and insert the TAL Bassline on it. Let’s tweak the default setting. Set the portamento to about 75%. This will allow an interesting portamento glide between notes when played. Under the Source Mixer set the Pulse to about halfway and the Saw all the way up. Add in some Sub Osc. Also add in some Noise. 

Under the VCF, set the Freq to about 75% and the Res to 50%, and drop the volume down to about 40%.

Now let’s add some effect processing. Insert an EQ Eight after the synth. Set a low cut to 354 Hz and a slight boost at 8000 Hz. Next add an Auto Pan. These are really great to get the sound to bounce around the stereo field. Set the waveshape to Random, the Amount to 73%, the Rate to 0.77 Hz, and the width to 79%. Next add a Ping Pong Delay. Set the Sync setting to 1, the Feedback to 43 and the Dry/Wet to 21%.

Next up is a Simple Delay. Set the Delay Time to 2 and 3 respectively for the left and right, then the Feedback at 13% and the Dry/Wet at 32%. Lastly, add a Redux with a soft Downsample at 3.87. This should really bounce the sound around when you play. 


Now play in quite a simple pattern, but get some of the notes to glide into each other through the portamento. To do this, make sure some of the notes overlap each other. I have basically only played between three notes (D3, D#3 and E3)

Synth 1

Step 6 – Double Up the Synth

What will really add to this synth is to duplicate the instrument, change some of the settings, and play in another line over the main part. I made some slight changes to the source mixer on this new instrument. I changed some of the Auto Pan, and Delays settings but only slightly. These minor changes will have a huge impact on the two sounds together.

I wrote in an even simpler synth line. Basically a few notes over E3 and D3 to add some variance to the main synth. 

Synth 2

Feel free to use any synth sounds. You can even create some screaming dubstep-style synths. They’ll work great with this Trap beat as well.

Step 7 – The Growl

Now for the infamous growl! I have recorded in a really bad growl. I’m not a lion, but after a bit of processing, it will sound much closer to a huge lion growl. 

In the Sample window transpose it down by -12 st, and press the :2 under the Seg. BPM to slow the speed down of the sample in half.

Now for a bit of processing to beef up this growl. First, add in an Overdrive. Set the Drive to 60% and the Tone to 50%. Now pull in a Reverb. Set the Size to 11.91, the Decay Time to 1.20s and the Dry/Wet to 55%. Leave the rest of the settings as they are. 

Drop the volume down so that it’s not too loud compared to the rest of the tracks. It should blend in with the other elements. This growl will be placed after the main section. There is a gap of silence where the growl comes in and then it kicks back into the main section again.

The "Harlem Shaked" elements all together:


Now you can write your own music for your ‘Harlem Shake’ viral video. It’s a good example of the Trap genre that is really taking off. Who knows what style and genre will be next, but for now it’s Trap Music. So go and set up some traps in your next productions.

For further Ableton Live 9 productions techniques check our complete range the following tutorials:

Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the last 10 years, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary has been a devoted Logic and Ableton us... Read More


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