- Switch on that click-track!
- Start with a simple rhythm
- Don’t over-quantize
- Create another track just for the hi-hats
- A little sloppiness might be okay
It’s hard to keep the time without a click-track, so always make sure your beats are in sync with the song’s tempo.
Playing drumbeats with a keyboard or a controller is not that easy, so keep it as simple as possible. Try to find something that works with your song. A basic groove works well for most music. It doesn’t have to be perfect (yet).
If all notes are perfectly quantized you don’t have something that grooves, but you have something that sounds stiff. Even if you’re using quantisation you can for example select all snare-drum-notes and move them a little before or after the beat. This way you get a little more tension between bass-drum and snare. You’re creating a rhythm, a groove when there’s a certain tension between the notes. Play with that.
Most of the time when I am working on grooves, I will create two tracks: one for the bass/snare and one for the hi-hats. I play the main parts of my hi-hats using a keyboard. And instead of using 2 notes on my keyboard, one for the closed hi-hat and one for the open version, I will use more samples spread over many keys. So because of that, I will record a part with just those hi-hats and fine-tune them later on.
When the timing is just a little off now and then that might not be a real problem. If the whole track is sloppy, sure you’ve got a problem. It’s also useful to speed up the rhythm a little now and then, just to create more tension and human feel.
That’s it. Good luck! Here’s my example, done in Reason 3 with Reason Drum Kits 2:
Update: The mp3-file, a full-quality FLAC-version and the Reason RNS-file is also available at ccMixter.