Back In Time
We’ve acknowledge the importance of swing already, but adjusting the timing can also utilise a broader approach. Pushing all of our kick drums forward (or pulling them back) in relation to everything else makes a lot of difference to overall feel. Here we start with a straight beat:
Then with an early kick:
And here with a late kick:
But the timing of one drum hit is only relevant when compared to other hits. The same effect is audible when we alter the timing of the snare drum, for example. Here’s how the beat sounds with an early snare:
And then with a late snare:
The same is true with the hi-hats. Here we’ve shifter all the hats forward:
And then the same beat with the hi-hats pushed back:
In fact, the same principle can be applied to any element in the track – not just drums. The relative timings of all parts affect the psychoacoustic impact of the arrangement.
This brings us to an interesting point, regarding the almost mythological status of the groove imparting abilities of some drum machines and hardware sequencers. One example of an early digital drum machines was the Oberheim DMX, released in 1981. It featured separate voice boards for each sound, where the tuning would alter sample playback rate. Over the years, many people attributed a particular kind of ‘groove’ to the DMX. After much investigation (and conversations with DMX specialists Electrongate) I discovered that this is just a by-product of the original factory bass drum sound containing a small amount of silence at the very start of the sample. This delay imparts a very ‘lazy’, dragging feel on any beat using the bass drum – and the lower the pitch the greater the drag. Interestingly, the DMX has less playback jitter than many later digital drum machines, as the individual voices are triggered in parallel.
There are many ways in which our complex auditory system makes what we hear more than just the sum of individual parts (or a literal interpretation of changes in external sound pressure level). A detailed understanding of the underlying science is not required to apply some of the ideas in a beneficial creative way, whatever your sonic taste.