Everything you always wanted to know about MPC Swing in Reason

The favourite drumcomputer of Prince, the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, was also the first drumcomputer that had two new revolutionary features: quantisation and swing. Roger Linn, its creator, invented both methods to change the timing of notes using computer technology. With quantisation sloppiness can be fixed. And with swing any straight groove can be turned into swinging/shuffled patterns.

Roger also added these features to the revolutionary MPC series which became famous for their groovy timing and feel. It came from the same old Swing mode of the old LM-1 which was added to the MPC as well. Soon the MPC machines became classic devices because it effectively enabled you to swing/shuffle your own samples. It changed the sound of hiphop (thanks Dilla!) and popmusic forever. People started to tell stories about the magical timing of an MPC.

But is the MPC/LM-1 timing really that magical?

Timing can be analysed. So that is what I did. I found out how the MPC swing really works and how I can apply this in the Reason DAW to my own tracks.

That magical swing

Let’s make a long story short: the Roger Linn Swing mode uses a rather a simple technique to swing/shuffle the beat. In his own words:

Swing – applied to quantized 16th-note beats – is a big part of it. My implementation of swing has always been very simple: I merely delay the second 16th note within each 8th note. In other words, I delay all the even-numbered 16th notes within the beat (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.) In my products I describe the swing amount in terms of the ratio of time duration between the first and second 16th notes within each 8th note. For example, 50% is no swing, meaning that both 16th notes within each 8th note are given equal timing. And 66% means perfect triplet swing, meaning that the first 16th note of each pair gets 2/3 of the time, and the second 16th note gets 1/3, so the second 16th note falls on a perfect 8th note triplet. The fun comes in the in-between settings. For example, a 90 BPM swing groove will feel looser at 62% than at a perfect swing setting of 66%. And for straight 16th-note beats (no swing), a swing setting of 54% will loosen up the feel without it sounding like swing. Between 50% and around 70% are lots of wonderful little settings that, for a particular beat and tempo, can change a rigid beat into something that makes people move.
Roger Linn on swing – Attack Magazine

In other words, swing delays the timing of the even-numbered 16th notes (2, 4, 6, 8 and so on) with the same amount. Here’s how this looks in Reason:

The even 16th notes (2 in the above example) are falling in between the odd numbered 16th notes (1 & 3) at exactly 50%, halfway. Now when we start moving the second (2) note from 50% to higher percentages in the direction of the 3, that note will make the beat to groove. The more you delay those even numbered 16th notes the more of a triplet feeling you are applying to those even notes (around 65% you get a perfect triplet).

The highest MPC swing value is 75% because over 75% it will no longer sound like swing. Same as when we would push the 2nd 16th the other way around, push it forward, to something like 40%. This can create interesting grooves but it is not a MPC swing.

In Reason when you are in Edit Mode and click on a note you can find out about it’s Position. For example:

This informs us we are in Bar 1, at Beat 1, on the 2nd 16th and that 16th is on its perfect 0 ticks setting.

Position is based on 16th notes. Everything is related to this time-wise. Between two 16th notes are 240 steps/ticks which means we can change the timing in 120 steps to the left/backwards and 120 steps to the right/forward. Which means Reason uses a resolution of 960 ppq. This is a ten times higher resolution than the old LM-1 and SP-1200 which used a very rough 96 ppq resolution! This is the reason why the LM-1 and SP-1200 only offer a few shuffle settings to choose from:


Because of this much more precise resolution we can go from 50% to 75% swing in steps of 1%. In short we can make the beats swing more precisely in Reason than you can on the LM-1 and SP-1200.

So to make a long story short, you can get perfect MPC swing in Reason with very accurate control.

Can Redrum swing like a MPC?

The Redrum has a shuffle pushbutton. It uses the value which is set at the Global Shuffle in the ReGroove Mixer. By default the Global Shuffle is set at 62% which creates almost a triplet swing. For a lighter shuffle feel lower settings are better, something around 55% for example.

The Redrum shuffle creates a perfect MPC swing, it applies to all the even-numbered 16th notes the same amount of ticks. Roger Linn approved!

The shuffle of the Matrix Pattern Sequencer works in exactly the same way, using the Global Shuffle setting which creates that perfect Roger Linn shuffle.

Perfect MPC using the ReGroove Mixer

The ReGroove Mixer also has a shuffle parameter:

It has a range from 50%-75% just like a MPC and works in the same way as the shuffle on the Redrum. You can apply it even without using a Groove Patch. And the super cool thing is: you can also turn it to the left and set it to settings lower than 50% which will move the 16th-notes forward instead of delaying them. Try that out, real cool! Roger Linn 2.0 🙂

The MPC-60 Groove Patches with Reason

The MPC-60 folder inside the Factory Sounds ReFill contains many classic MPC swing Groove Patches ranging from 51% to 75% just like the shuffle modes in Reason. But these ones are obviously created using a MPC-60 using either it’s audio out or MIDI to capture it’s specific timing. I analysed those Groove Patches and noticed that they show some signs of jitter. “What is jitter?”, you might ask. I agree to this definition:

It’s the undesired deviation of a periodic signal from the ideal timing…
Apogee website

The Groove Patches in the MPC-60 folder don’t add the same amount of ticks to all even-numbered 16th notes. The difference might be something like 3 ticks, very small. And because of the jitter also the odd-numbered 16th notes are not at their absolute .0 ticks value. This is not good! As Roger Linn states: only the EVEN 16th notes should be delayed. Because of the jitter randomness it can cause a super annoying issue when for example the odd-numbered 16th-notes are set at a position BEFORE the first beat (1). When you slice/cut that clip the first note will not be played back because it comes BEFORE the beat! This how it looks:

Maybe jitter adds extra mojo to a groove?

The standard shuffle modes in Reason are perfect. They are following the exact same rules for swing as Roger Linn added to the LM-1 and MPC range. But maybe those hardware devices add something extra: randomness because of the jitter?

Roger doesn’t agree:

I’ve heard lots of theories over the years about other timing tricks, like introducing random timing variations into the notes of the beat, or delaying the snare on 2 and 4, but I’ve never found these to do much good. In fact, I’d suggest that if the note dynamics and swing are right, then the groove works best when the notes are played at exactly the perfect time slots.
Roger Linn on swing – Attack Magazine

The amounts of randomness in the MPC-60 Groove Patches of Reason is so small I don’t think anyone will notice (hear or feel) them.

For those who love to mimic the jitter randomness (again: I don’t think anyone can will be able to hear or feel such small artefacts) you can apply Random Timing in the Tool Window with a few ticks (I would advice you to use 5 ticks maximum!).

If you apply this to a clip you are creating the same artefacts as jitter causes. Try it out yourself and see if that suddenly turned Reason in a real MPC3000 … 😀 I guess not! Follow what Roger and me are saying: “the groove works best when the notes are played at exactly the perfect time slots.”

Reason user Dioxide pointed me to this website which reports the jitter amount on both audio and MIDI for many of the populair devices, including the MPC series.


Additional groove ideas

You might have noticed that I only mentioned 16th notes. Well, only those get shuffled. On the Redrum when you switch from 1/16 to 1/8 the shuffle mode will have no effect on the 8th notes. Do you understand why that is?

The reason is simple. As you should know by now only the even 16th notes get delayed in swing/shuffle. The 3rd 16th note of a beat is also the second 8th note of a beat. That 3rd 16th note, an odd-note never gets delayed because only even 16th notes get delayed,.

The same happens when you want to swing quarter notes which fall on the first 16th note of a beat. This is also an odd-note which doesn’t get delayed when using a MPC groove pattern.

We can make patterns for 8th notes and 4th notes which swing just like a MPC groove template that is based on 16th notes. It’s simple, you probably know how to create those by now, right?

Also published on Medium.

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