9 - kick with shifted snare

Get To Grips With Quantise And Swing

There are very few rules when it comes to quantisation and swing. In fact, how you approach them and what settings you use often vary from genre to genre, or from one producer to the next. We ran through the basics of quantisation in a recent walkthrough and our Passing Notes on DAW and drum machine swing is essential reading if you want to understand exactly what ‘swing’ means in drum programming.

Most four-to-the-floor dance tracks keep the kick drum very solid in terms of timing, so quantising the kick (and maybe fixing its velocity) is a good place to start. 1/16th note quantise is typically the most useful when it comes to straightening things out. Next, address the snare and clap elements. Again a ‘hard’ quantise is a good place to start. However, the feel of the beat can be changed even at this early stage by subtly moving the snare fractionally before or after the beat – even when you would expect it to hit at exactly the same time as the kick. If a snare and clap are both present, try moving them in opposite directions – this should give you a feel of how small timing changes can make a big difference.

Hi-hats and percussive elements may benefit from quantising with some extra swing. This is usually shown as a percentage. Mixing swing strengths on different parts can help keep things fluid and interesting. Sparser percussion parts can often take more extreme swing settings, or be left unquantised. You could also try using ‘iterative’ quantise, which carries out the quantise process in increments (a bit like nudging things closer to a fixed grid).

Purists might argue that nothing matches the precise timing of a real drummer, but as drum machine legend Roger Linn suggested in our interview with him last year, often a machine can do a better job than a human being.

Author Bruce Aisher
21st May, 2014

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