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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Aug 17 > MAKE BRILLIANT BEATS

MAKE BRILLIANT BEATS

You now have more options available to you for beat making than ever before. Here, we bring you the ultimate guide to making beats in 2017, with guides to programming 10 different genres, hands-on hardware, beat-making tutorials, sequencing tips, buyers guides and even ways to (kind of) cheat…

Better Beats 2017

There’s now an almost stupid amount of technology designed to help you make beats. Many DAWs offer pretty much everything you need, while dedicated hardware units from the likes of Akai, Teenage Engineering, Novation and Pioneer enable you to program rhythms without a computer in sight. For you computer users, there are Kontakt instruments, freeware plug-ins, virtual drum machines, and huge sound libraries with every drum beat ever made! There’s a whole world of Eurorack/ modular beats and even drum hardware that emulates drum software (we kid you not). So, there are hundreds of solutions in hardware and software, all designed to answer your beat-creation questions, and there’s an explosion of genres out there, too, for you to create beats for – with dance music fragmenting into a billion scenes that might be in vogue one day, out of the window the next.

If you’re new to it all, or even a seasoned musician, this list of options can be mind boggling, so we’ve stripped it back to basics by offering this guide to all the routes there are for better beat creation. We have step-by-step guides to programming patterns for the main genres, workshops for hardware beat makers, buying guides to some of the best software and hardware currently out there, and plenty of advice to easier beat creation by sampling. So, without further ado, read on for all of your hardware and software programming needs, genre guides and better beat processing. In 10 pages’ time, we guarantee you’ll be a better beat creator…

Programming

Whether you go hardware or software for your beat making, or a combination of the two, programming your beats can be a similar and logical process.

Hardware machines like those in our Magnificent 7 Hardware Beat Makers Buyer’s Guide will often still use the XoX method favoured by the original Roland TR drum machines, where you program the beats over, say four bars, each with four beats, by simply filling in the gaps as the sequence cycles around or playing the notes in live. Choose your drum sound, a kick for example, and either play it or program in the beats step-by-step. Then there’s the grid-based programming method, where you get a square set of maybe 4x4 pads to program with – Akai MPC users love the extra live feel of programming this way. Ableton Push and NI Maschine utilise this grid method using both hardware and software and very often, it’s a combination that allows you a lot more flexibility over the sounds, so much so that whole tunes are very often just a few button presses away.

For the purposes of our programming tutorials, we’re going to show how to program different genres in software (Ableton Live) but using similar principles to the methods above. The beats are shown on a grid, and cycle around two to four bars, with the different beats shown along the side. You can use these tutorials to program similar beats in either hardware or software, just by filling in the beats as shown, so they should work whatever your machine, hard or soft.

We’ve detailed how to program basic beats across 10 popular dance and urban genres, with house music getting four tutorials to itself, as it splinters almost daily into something new. We’re supplying the very basic beats for you here and have used the most popular 808 and 909 kits in Live, as they’re everywhere. It is, of course, up to you to take these further – but hopefully, they’ll give you a great starting point in whatever genre you make music in.

Swing, groove, velocity

We can’t repeat it too much – but programming beats is not just about getting beats into the right slots. In fact, very often, it’s about getting them into the (slightly) wrong slots. All drum machines, both hard and soft, tend to quantise beats unless you tell them not to, so this can result in the most rigid of beats – great if you’re into stripped-back techno – but most genres benefit from at least a little live feel. On a very simple level, this might mean turning the quantise off or lessening its impact, but introducing velocity changes into your programming will help your rhythms no end. By default, your grid programming may give you the same velocity for each note input. With maximum quantise on and the same velocity on each beat, you are talking ultra-rigid beats. Even making the first kick of a loop slightly harder will help here, but introduce subtle changes to your snares and a flowing change of velocity to your hats and you will automatically make your groove feel more, well, groovy.

Most genres benefit from a little live feel – so introducing velocity changes into your programming will help your rhythms no end

Talking of which, some DAWs come with special features that let you add swing to your beats (that is, a gentle lilting of the groove to make it instantly more like a human has played it). It might be done by selecting a simple groove-quantise value and applying it to your rigid beats. In Live’s case (and some hardware like the MPC) you can impose grooves from a groove pool or library onto clips, while in other software such as Logic, you can make a groove template from your favourite sampled groove and apply it to your programmed beats. Whatever you use, software or hardware, experiment with groove, swing and velocity for a human feel. Unless you are a robot. Or Kraftwerk.

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