This week we tackle a wonky downtempo beat inspired by the LA beat scene.
Beat Dissected is a regular series in which we deconstruct drum patterns, showing you how to program them in any DAW. Just copy our grid in your own software to recreate the loop.
Here’s the beat we’re building today:
Swing50% (manual swing on some parts)
SoundsVarious Layered Drums
The kick is a dual-layered combination made up of an Alesis DM5 sample with a Roland TR-707 sample tucked slightly underneath at a lower volume.
The DM5 delivers a characteristic thump, while the 707 offers a more pronounced transient to help emphasise the layered sound’s attack.
One of the programming secrets behind making good wonky beats is to move off the grid, so we’ve played the kick sequence in using a pad controller to introduce timing variations. Getting the balance right is tough: too wonky and the beat will become a mess, but too rigid and you’ll loose the desired looseness. To avoid creating a sloppy mess, a useful trick is to rigidly quantise the main kicks on the first and third beat of each bar, creating a rigid reference point for the other hits to work around.
If you’re programming without a controller, you can always just nudge certain notes off the grid manually, either left or right. Note that we’ve kept all the kick hits at full velocity; the timing creates the groove here, not velocity variations.
A clap sample, sourced from an Akai XE8, is routed to three channels, each with slightly different envelopes and tunings. The claps are triggered a few milliseconds apart on beats 2 and 4 to give a loose ‘flam’ feel. The further you push these samples away from each other, the looser the beat gets. We’ve kept things relatively tight to counterbalance the wonky kick line.
At the end of the second bar an added 16th-note clap cluster pushes the beat into the turnaround.
Next up, we’ve programmed a simple closed hi-hat line playing 16ths using a TR-808 sample. Any kind of hi-hat sample will work here, though any sound synonymous with hip hop will work a treat.
Unlike the off-kilter programming of the last two steps, we’ve stuck rigidly to the grid here to create an internal contrast and tension with the lazy kicks and claps – as with those kicks on the 1 and 3, the hi-hats create a reference point for the sloppier hits to work around.
Next, we add an open hi-hat. For this step we’ve chosen another 808 sample, although a percussive sound would also work.
The hat hits on each beat of the bar, giving definition and forward motion to the groove. To up that definition, you could also nudge the hats very slightly off the grid when they hit at the same moment as a clap.
To complete the beat, we’ve overlaid a mixed percussion loop. Any kind of percussion, noise, found sound or FX will do the job – you’re looking for something to add depth, texture and movement to the already strong groove. The two considerations when choosing the loop are tonality (does it fit with both the sounds in the beat and the wider track’s aesthetic) and rhythmic interplay (does it work with the programmed beat).
If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.