Drum tracks form the core of many modern songs. While there are thousands of off-theshelf drum loops and samples, you may still not find exactly what you're looking for. You may have found a loop with a great kick drum, but prefer the snare from another loop. Maybe you like the sounds in a loop, but the groove isn't quite right. And if you do chance upon the perfect loop, you still need more patterns for the intro, fills, verse and so on. In this feature we'll see how to create your own loops and modify existing ones to create the exact sounds and grooves you need. The principles we discuss can be applied to any type of music. If you know the exact drum patterns and drum sounds you want for your drum track, then you have a head start on the rest of us. Your task is to select suitable drum samples from the three million available on the net and samples CDs (or record your own) and assemble them into your perfect track. This is often easier said than done.
Let's look at the drum sounds first of all. You usually want the drum sounds to be cohesive within the drum track. In other words, the drums should sound like they fit together, are part of the same drum set and were recorded in the same environment. If you're going to pull together samples from several different sources, they may not be so coherent, although this depends on what you want from your drum loops, and on your musical sensibilities. The main problem with drum samples tends to be that have had effects such as reverb added. A dash of reverb can make a single snare shot sound wonderful, but if you try to use it in a pattern with other drums, it may not fit. For example, you may need to cut into the reverb with another drum hit or the ambience on the snare will not fit the ambience of the other drums. So when choosing individual drum samples, you will usually achieve more cohesion by using ones with no effects - they are, after all, easy enough to add later. You also generally want drum loops to sound like they came from the same 'stable'. This is somewhat subjective - you could probably mix and match actual drums from different makers' kits without too much problem, but the scope for mismatching is much greater with samples. It's easy to pick a collection of drums you really like, only to find that the snare is too low, perhaps, for the kick drum, or the cymbals ring too much for your dance track. In any event, whenever you find a sample you like, store it for future use.
To get a feel for the drums in context, put them together in a pattern and see how they sound. We'll do this in a moment, but first let's consider the cohesion problem of loops. Sample loops are self-contained drum patterns, generally made up from a cohesive set of drums, sometimes complete with effects. The problem here is that you find a great loop for the chorus, but what about the verse, the intro, the middle eight and the fills? Unless the loop comes from a sample CD containing all the 'extra' bits created from the same samples, then you may struggle to find other sample loops in the same vein to fit other sections of your song. We'll see how to do this shortly, too, but first let's see how to create your own patterns from individual samples.
There are two ways. The first is simply to drop individual samples onto tracks in a sequencer to create a drum pattern. This can be fiddly as you could well be working with snap values of 1/32nd of a beat - or even less - which also makes it tricky to experiment by changing the samples or, indeed, the pattern itself. Far easier is to use a sampler or a sample-based drum machine such as Battery, LM-4 or the DR-008. Load in the samples and play them from a MIDI keyboard. Playing live gives you a particularly good feel for the sounds, even if you can't quite master the pattern you eventually want to use. Alternatively, you can create MIDI drum patterns in a sequencer and use them to trigger the samples in the sampler or drum machine. If you do this, when you load new samples you will, of course, have to ensure that drums of the same type go into the same slots so the snare drum line isn't suddenly being played by a hi-hat.
Using a sampler in this way enables you to quickly and easily audition many samples, see how they work together, and save any collections of drum sets that you think are interesting and worth keeping. The drum tracks for many types of music sound better if you add a splash of reverb. This is easy to do if you're playing a virtual sampler or drum machine through a sequencer, for example - simply add the reverb at the output stage. Again, this helps you appreciate what the final sound might be like.