5 simple tricks for creating beats with a feel

  1. Switch on that click-track!
  2. 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.

  3. Start with a simple rhythm
  4. 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).

  5. Don’t over-quantize
  6. 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.

  7. Create another track just for the hi-hats
  8. 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.

  9. A little sloppiness might be okay
  10. 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.


thanks… i tend to quantize out of habit, rather than necessity. my reasoning has always been that if my final track is going to stand out, then the rest of the parts had better be in the right place. i have yet to make any final tracks.
assuming you’re talking about Reason, how exactly do you go about changing the recorded rhythm?

Changing the tempo with Reason during playback? You can use Scale Tempo by selecting the parts you want to change. Scale Tempo uses relative values which is not so easy to use and the grid and timeline is not adjusted with the tempo-change.

But using a Rewire master like Ableton Live this is way more simple since Reason will respond to tempo-changes from the host (Live). Most of the time I need audio, although I have done many songs using nothing but Reason, so I Rewire with Live in general. Live and Reason are my main tools. Live for audio and quick sample tweaking and Reason for the synth and loop stuff.

Reason is in my opinion limiting the feel an expression of drums. For you can only use the matrix as trigger/pianoroll. When using pattern based software your tweaking options are countless. layering multiple drum loops fro the same kit, tinkering with cut off, and using various loop/grain options. Layering is more powerfull than quantezising in my opinion.

But you can also layer in Reason using several DrREX devices for example or several tracks of percussion. I agree that looking at a grid or putting everything on even beats doesn’t help beats to breath. A groove in my opinion is always something with tension and release, a play against the beats, pushing it a little or keeping behind the beat.

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