It’s all about the retro 909 grooves in our latest step-by-step drum programming walkthrough, which focuses on classic 90s New York and New Jersey house vibes.
Beat Dissected is a regular series which deconstructs drum patterns, showing you how to program them in any DAW. Just copy the grids in your own software to recreate the loop.
Here’s the complete beat we’ll be making this week:
Mainly TR-909 samples
Start with a stock 909 kick playing a basic four-to-the-flour pattern. Add an additional off-beat kick in the second bar to propel the rhythm forward.
Sound-wise, keep it simple. Although it’s worth using a high quality 909 sample (or, of course, the real thing), there’s no need to layer the sound or give it anything but the most subtle compression and EQ.
Tune the kick to fit your track. In this example we’ve dialed it down by a couple of semitones and also added some gentle compression using an 1176 emulation plugin to subtly bring out its attack transient.
The clap is really important to this beat – it’s a mid-heavy, papery sound which we’ve treated to a little lo-fi reverb (don’t choose anything too clean and modern) to lengthen the tail and give it a lift in the mix.
The main clap hits on the second and fourth beat of the bar, as in so many other house grooves. You can see from the grid that in this case we’ve also nudged the clap to trigger before the kick by a few milliseconds in order to bring out the sound’s definition and impact. On the fourth beat of the second bar, the clap is pulled forward even more – delivering the characteristic ‘jack’. Play around with this hit’s precise placement – moving it by very small amounts can significantly alter the momentum of the groove.
Additional movement is bestowed by a sneaky snare hit after the first kick of each bar. In this case, it’s a white noise sample that’s had its high end rolled away liberally so as not to interfere with the clap.
An easy step: simply add open 909 hi-hats to the offbeat. As in Step 1, a good standard 909 sample should require only minimal tweaking. The key thing is to ensure that the length of the sound is just right to ease into the clap without obscuring it. Adjust the sample’s envelope to strike the right balance or set up a mute group if you prefer. For a looser feel, you could also try taming the sample’s attack.
You may also want to roll away some of the higher frequencies at this point. Despite the emphasis on swinging hi-hats, many 90s garage beats have quite a muddy sound. We don’t want anything too crisp, clear and hi-fi here.
Additional detail comes courtesy of a few carefully placed closed 909 hats. Note the different velocities used – with darker red indicating higher velocities. These kind of subtle variations are absolutely crucial to get the swing and groove of the beat just right.
The final element is a second low-level clap sample added to the second bar. This is an optional variation – it can add a level of depth during certain sections of a track.
If you’re looking for a turnaround variation at the end of a 16/32-bar section, don’t try to be too subtle – a liberal sprinkling of crash cymbals should do the job nicely.
For a final finishing touch, bus the whole beat to a subtle tape emulation plugin, a Vintage Warmer-style saturation effect and/or an SSL-modelled compressor plugin, shaving off just a couple of decibels to help all the elements gel together nicely.