Posts Tagged ‘ Kick ’

Do something different with rhythm

Break out of your usual rhythms.

Think about all the usual assumptions you make when you’re programming drums and rhythms for other parts. People often speak of breaking the rules… what happens when you break your own rules?

Take the kick drum for example… do you only ever place the kick drum on quarter-notes? See what happens when you place some kicks on eighth-notes between the quarter-notes. Syncopate them.

Too easy? What about placing the kick drum on the first beat of each bar? Find out what happens when you start each bar without the kick drum. Don’t just do it once or twice – do it for a whole section. Maybe a few sections. Maybe make it a feature of your next song or track.

Same goes for the snare. How often do you place a snare (or snare-like sound, such as a clap) on the second and fourth beats? Do you ever think about why you’re doing it? What happens when you shake it up a bit? Put that snare somewhere else. Listen to how the other instruments respond.

Some of these explorations might sound ‘wrong’ when you listen back. Some might make you feel uncomfortable. Some might be weird, or even interesting. Rhythm plays a critical role in establishing the way the music feels. Is it quick and nimble? Slow and lumbering? Solid as a clock? Wobbly and unpredictable? It’s right there in the rhythm.

Even if you try out a bunch of ideas and eventually return to your comfort zone, you’ll have a better understanding of why your comfort zone appeals to you. You’ll be in a much better position to deviate – even if only slightly – in a way that makes musical sense, rather than simply making random variations.

Drums are usually the main contributors to a song’s sense of rhythm. But don’t limit yourself. Break out of the usual rhythms you use for basslines, accompaniment parts, even melodies.

Still too easy? Try some less-common time signatures. Try 6/8. 5/4. Alternate between 6/4 and 4/4. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for 7/8 or 7/4. This kinds of time signatures will force you to shake up your usual rhythms. And you’ll invent something fresh.



Examples of using group busses

Group busses are a versatile and useful mixing technique. They’re often used in a variety of different situations:

  • Distorted guitar stacks. It’s quite common to layer or doubletrack (or tripletrack or quadrupletrack) distorted guitar parts in order to make them sound bigger. Sometimes the layers are all recorded with the same setup (same guitar, same amp, same mic position, etc), but it’s just as common that the layers are recorded with different setups. The layers blend to form a composite guitar sound that the listener hears as a single diffuse part. Because all these layers function as a single part, it often makes sense to treat them as a single channel when mixing the bigger picture. By using a group bus, the layers can all be treated as one. This means that when you’re fitting the guitars in the context of the rest of the mix, you can set the level and tone of the guitars as if they’re a single part.
  • Backing vocals. Much the same as distorted guitars, it’s common to treat layered backing vocals as if they’re a single sound source. This is especially useful when there are several layers that are singing the same words with the same rhythm. Unlike layered distorted guitars, it’s also common the different layers of backing vocals to be singing different harmony parts. Another difference is that backing vocals often benefit from some compression (distorted guitars often already have flat dynamics due to the distortion). When dealing with backing vocals, it’s often useful to compress each individual channels as well as the group bus. That way, each compressor can work gently while still resulting in a smooth and consistent sound.
  • Pads. While not as commonly spoken about, grouping pads can be very useful for the same reasons as distorted guitars and backing vocals. Some particularly interesting effects can be created by combining several layers of different pulsing pads and then compressing the group. Done well, this will produce a texture that is more consistent in level but is constantly changing in tonality.
  • Drum kit. This is a huge topic! The way drums and compressors interact can be quite complex. The sound is influenced by a variety of factors, ranging from the way the kit is played to the selection of kit components to the choice of miss and recording medium to the design and settings of the compressors. Like backing vocals, it’s common to compress individual drums in addition to compressing the drum group bus. Used lightly, drum group compression can give the whole kit a sense of glue and life and density. Just remember not to overdo it – too much compression will flatten your drums and make them difficult to work into the mix!
  • Kick and bass. This is a technique that has been used subtly for some time, but has recently become more fashionable with modern dance music. By grouping the kick and bass and applying strong compression to that group, the bass will duck slightly when the kick is sounding. This will make the low end of the mix more compact and solid. This is now commonly taken to extremes with the use of side chain compression – instead of using a group bus, the bass is processed with a compressor that is keyed (‘side-chained’) from the kick.

Group busses are most useful when you have several tracks that all perform a similar function in the mix and you want to either glue them together or otherwise treat them as a single unit. Of course, you can group anything you like. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that sometimes it doesn’t make sense to use group busses. Often it doesn’t make sense to group tracks that aren’t related to each other or need to remain separate.

On the other hand, you might find some interesting sounds by using group busses in unusual ways…



Tuning the kick drum to the key of the song

It’s sometimes said that it’s important to tune the kick drum to the key of the song.

While it’s commonly said in relation to electronic music, it’s certainly not restricted to that genre. Drummers tune their acoustic drum kits, no matter what genre they play. Often the individual kit pieces are tuned together so they sound consonant as a whole, similar to the way each string on a guitar is tuned in relation to all the others. Many other (membrane-impact) percussion instruments can be tuned as well.

When a drum kit is tuned, however, it is often tuned for tone, rather than any particular ‘note’ or ‘key’. A drummer in a rock band doesn’t retune the entire drum kit in between songs if there are two songs in different keys. Similarly, the drum kit doesn’t change its tuning if there is a key change in the middle of a song, or if there are several different chords in the song.

Of course, there are different possibilities with electronic music. You could, if you wanted, change the tuning if the key of the song changes midway. You could even change the tuning of the kick drum every time there is a chord change.

But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should

As with an acoustic drum kit, the tuning of an electronic kick drum is more about tone than note. Certainly there is a consonance that occurs when the kick and bass are tuned similarly, but the tuning of the kick drum has a much bigger effect on its tone – its character and how it fits in the mix.

So, by all means consider the key of the song and the notes played in the bass when choosing and tuning your kick drum… but keep in mind that your choices shouldn’t be solely based on this! In other words, don’t let the kick or the mix suffer for the sake of tuning!

The other important thing to remember is not to hold yourself back from using a variety of chords or keys in your song. Being too tied to the tuning of the kick might cause you to avoid this – to the detriment of the song. It’s more important to express yourself musically using all the compositional techniques at your disposal than it is to keep the kick in key with the bass all the time.

So next time you’re thinking of tuning your kick drum, think about why you’re doing it and make sure you don’t get carried away!


Five secrets to making your mix louder

Don’t dismiss this post yet! Even if you’re in the ‘more dynamics’ brigade, these tips will give you clearer mixes that suffer less in mastering. That means better-preserved dynamics and higher fidelity!

For those of you who really do want your mixs SUPER LOUD, this tips will let you push more volume without your sound turning to mush.

  1. Go easy on the bass. That includes sub bass, kick and melodic bass. It always tempting to turn them up, but the low frequencies really use up a lot of headroom (high peak level for the same perceived volume). The more headroom your audio needs, the less you can push it in mastering and the worse it will sound when it’s pushed hard. First try to compare your bass levels with commercial reference songs. Listen carefully to the level of the low frequencies in comparison to the rest of the spectrum – you might find there’s less than you initially thought! Also consider saturating the kick or the bass.
  2. Saturate those peaks. Take a look at your mix bus peak meter to see if any tracks are ‘poking out’ of the mix – often it will be the kick or the bass. Used carefully, you can use saturation to reduce the peak level of your kick or snare tracks without reducing the perceived volume. Often peak level reductions of 6-9dB are easily attainable without adversely affecting the audio quality. Limiters are usually not so useful here because they’ll tend to change the sound too much.
  3. Embrace the background. Push some instruments further to the background. If you try to put too many sounds in the foreground you’ll end up with an indistinct mush. This indistinct mush will quickly become even worse when you apply heavy limiting in mastering. Instead, try to identify the three or four most important elements of the mix (typically the snare, kick, bass and lead synth/vocal). Be bold and push everything else to the background! You’ll get a mix that’s more focussed and more powerful.
  4. Leave your stereo widener at home. Stereo widening tricks might be fun to play with, but they’ll rob your mix of punch and power. If you want those foreground sounds (snare, kick, bass, lead) to hit as hard as possible, stay clear of any stereo width manipulation. Some subtle widening is sometimes useful for special background effects, but remember – if you do it, do it in moderation.
  5. Be careful of the lower mids. The region between 100Hz and 1000Hz is the cause of many troubles. It’s very easy to put a mix together that has a lot of mud build-up in that area. To get the ultimate clear mix, get brutal with an EQ! Make some big dips in the lower mids for all background instruments, and make sure you don’t have any excess lower mids in your foreground instruments. You need to keep some lower mids, because that’s where your body and thickness comes from. Here’s a secret though – a mix with body and thickness only needs a few foreground instruments to have that body and thickness. To put it another way, a few fat foreground instruments makes for a fat mix. A lot of fat instruments makes for a flabby mix.

With these mixing tips you should be able to get a few more decibels of clarity in mastering!


Composing for Kick Drums 3


Like for any other part, adding variation to the kick drum pattern adds interest and scope. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of variation – changing the timing of notes (keeping the same density) and adding/removing notes (changing the density). These variations are most effective when a regular pattern has been established (repeating for several bars) before presenting the variation bar. This frames the variation pattern in the context of the regular pattern. This effect does not last long though – if the variation bar is repeated several times, it becomes the new regular pattern. The effect of any change (such as excitement or anticipation) fades.

Pulling Notes Forward

This is changing the timing of a kick drum note so it plays earlier than expected. For example, if the regular kick drum pattern is “First and Third” (kick drum plays on the first and third beats of the bar), a variation might be to pull the second kick forward from the third beat to halfway between the second and thid beats. This will add a sense of excitement for the listener, as they hear the kick drum play earlier than expected.

Pushing Notes Back

The opposite of pulling notes forward is to push them back. This is where kick drum notes are played later than expected. Using the same example (“First and Third”), a variation might be to push the second kick back from the third beat to halfway between the third and fourth beats. This will add a sense of heightened expectation and anticipation for the listener because the kick drum doesn’t sound when expected, but the effect is tempered by eventually providing the kick a little later.

Adding Notes

Adding notes as a variation is a more effective case of pulling notes forward. The added kicks are heard as occurring earlier than expected, but the “original” kick is also heard. The added kick also increases the density of the pattern, which also adds excitement.

Missing Notes

Missing notes is an extreme case of pushing notes back. Instead of simply changing the timing of a kick so it is heard later than expected, the kick is removed altogether. This results in a sense of anticipation that isn’t fully resolved – it is only partially resolved when the next kick hits.


Composing for Kick Drums 2

Sparser Kick Drums

In general, sparser kick drum patterns will be less energetic. As with the First and Third pattern, a sparse approach is generally useful for leaving space for other instruments. Taking this approach, the kick typically only emphasises the first beat of the bar, and sometimes a secondary beat (secondary in importance – not necessarily the third beat). It can also be a very effective way of giving a section or whole song a slower pace without slowing the tempo. With a busier snare or other percussion, a very sparse kick can be very ear-catching because there may be implied beats or expected beats that aren’t there.

Denser Kick Drums

In general, denser kick drum patterns will be more energetic. In the context of the whole drum kit and other percussion, a lot more emphasis will be placed on the kick. This can be a problem if the snare or other percussion is also big and/or busy. For a balanced approach, it might be better to combine a dense kick drum pattern with sparser, smaller snare and other percussion. If If the kick drum is particularly prominent (such as in many dance genres), the other instruments may need to be thinner than usual to accommodate as well. On the other hand, a dense kick drum pattern is a good way to emphasise a heavy sound with a strong rhythmic focus. The best example of this is heavy metal, where there are extended passages with double-kicks (constant kick drums on 8th notes or even 16th notes!).


Most kick drums notes fall on the beat – meaning they are played on quarter notes (also called crotchets). The two patterns discussed last time (Four-on-the-floor, and First and Third) have kick drums played only on the quarter notes. Sometimes, however, it sounds good to play the kick drum on an “off-beat” – in between the quarter notes. Notes played on off-beats are less stable and (mostly) less predictable than notes played on the beat. If you have a lot of notes played off-beat, and not as many notes played on the beat, the whole patteren will feel more unstable, more unbalanced, and more unpredictable.

With a careful balance of on-beats and off-beats, funkier patterns are possible. These balance stability with instability on a moment-by-moment basis. Typically there will be a kick on the first beat (the downbeat) of every bar (or only every second bar!) to ground the listener and begin from a point of stability. In the middle of the bar, however, the kick may be played at various points on or off the beat. This creates a constant push/pull between stability and instability, and can make a pattern much more exciting and interesting to listen to. The effect is heightened when the kick only plays on the downbeat every second bar – so the other bars don’t even start with a kick.


Some very interesting things can happen when introducing swing to kick drum patterns[1]. To hear the swing on a kick drum, it already has to be playing off-beat (that’s how swing works – by delaying the off-beats). When a kick drum is swung, two things happen:

  1. The kick plays later than expected – meaning the listener is kept waiting in expectation for a (very) brief moment. This contributes to the push/pull of stability and instability, which is also related to expectation.
  2. The kick aligns closer to the coming beat – meaning it emphasises the anticipation felt by the listener.

This further emphasises the subtle push/pull of the kick drum pattern.

More coming…


[1] Sometimes I rhyme, but not all the time.

Composing for Kick Drums 1

Kick drums. Where would we be without them? They are the foundation of the rhythm section. In most dance music, the kick drives the rhythm and groove of the entire song. Even in other genres, the kick drum provides a grounding. It marks the most important beats in the rhythm pattern, it helps us understand the rhythms of the rest of the drum kit, other percussion, and even other instruments.

With such an important role, have you ever stopped to think about how you use kick drums? Do you place them on every beat, four-on-the-floor style? Do you arrange them off-beat, with a more funky style? Do you lay them thick with five or six every bar, or is one or two enough for you?
Even more importantly, how do these different approaches differ? What effect do they have on your music?
Four on the floor 4×4
First and Third
Missing on-beats
Added beats

Kick drums. Where would we be without them? They are the foundation of the rhythm section. In most dance music, the kick drives the rhythm and groove of the entire song. Even in other genres, the kick drum provides a grounding. It marks the most important beats in the rhythm pattern, it helps us understand the rhythms of the rest of the drum kit, other percussion, and even other instruments.

With such an important role, have you ever stopped to think about how you use kick drums? Do you place them on every beat, four-on-the-floor style? Do you arrange them off-beat, with a more funky style? Do you lay them thick with five or six every bar, or is one or two enough for you?

Even more importantly, how do these different approaches differ? What effect do they have on your music?

Four On The Floor

This is the simplest kick drum rhythm, with one kick on each beat. It’s also one of the most popular. This is particularly useful in dance music or driving rock because it’s regular (meaning it’s predictable, comfortable, and easy to dance to). It’s also quite energetic because it emphasises every beat. Even though a bar may consist of four beats, it almost feels like each bar is one beat long. The shorter cycle length (the pattern repeats every bar) make the pace feel quick.

This approach is most useful where the creative direction for a piece (or section) is “stable, yet exciting”. A prime example of this would be a climax final chorus of a song, or a section of maximum impact in a dance track. The drawback, of course, is that it’s plain and not very interesting on its own. The four-on-the-floor should not be the source of the excitement – merely underpinning it and reinforcing it.

First and Third

Using the kick drum on the first and third beats is a sparser variation of the four-on-the-floor approach. By playing the kick only on the first and third beat, a lot of room is left for the snare – either for a big second and fourth, or for a busier, funker snare pattern. This is useful if you are aiming for a more top-heavy drum kit rhythm, or if you want a sparser drum rhythm to leave room for additional percussion or other instruments like vocals or bass.

The drawback is that this sparser approach does not reinforce excitement as much as a busier four-on-the-floor kick drum pattern. It can still be effective, however, because it is just as stable and predictable. It can be a good alternative to four-on-the-floor if the song needs space to breathe or otherwise doesn’t need the relentless kick of more upbeat music.

More coming…