Sunday, January 24, 2010

offbeat eighths and all that jazz

Ever since El-B inspired me to learn to produce, I’ve been obsessed with garage drum programming. I soon found though that 2step and 4x4 garage drums are deceptively complex to produce. In essence 2step drums aren't really about the snares on the 2 and 4, they're about the hats on the offbeat 8th notes (2,4,6,8 and their interaction with the kicks on the 1, 5 and where ever else you put them).

With all the talk of Future Garage late last year, I wanted to pool and then share all the knowledge out there on garage hi hat programming, so posted a thread on the Future Garage forum. Here is a summary of the best tricks of this amazing dark art, posted by different producers. If you know of any more, leave a comment and share the knowledge!


This is the core trick of garage hi hat programming, one that separates garage from much of house, trance, electro and many genres that share its tempo. In essence shuffle or swing, is the placing of key hi hats so that some of them are off the grid positions so that they interact with those on the grid. This is done with a “shuffle” function in your sequencer, which moves them, or with specific groove templates you can apply.

An extreme amount of shuffle- or rather simulating an extreme amount of shuffle - manually - with where you place the beats can sound best. shuffle/swing is best when it's just a bit too much, or too little - just right sounds too correct.

You can swing by hand, you can do your drums as audio rather than midi. Turn the snap to grid off and zoom out so have less precision with where you drag and drop hats. You can also use old breaks, they have good natural swing.

If you use Ableton 7 the global swing amount can be automated on the master channel, affecting anything you have running as midi (ie sampler/simpler, synths etc). Using this you can set the swing amount to change subtly or drastically in a bar then copy and paste it across the length of your tune for a heavy non-standard swing. Also you can use the global swing amount to make the start and end of your tune a bit easier to mix if you get carried away with this trick.

MPC grooves for Logic are easy to find on the net. “I use them for everything,” says Grievous Angel.

Use an arpeggiator on hats to generate ideas quickly. Put four percussion sounds that are unique – i.e. open hat, closed hat, maraca and a rim shot, hold the notes down and set the arp to swing 16 or whatever you prefer. If you have a straight kick and snare going to you can hear the contrast easily. This might be Live specific, but if you swap the order of the sounds you'll get different effects. Also, leave a spot blank to skip a beat etc.

Another trick would be using the Track Delay to offset sounds by a few milliseconds, nice for giving a vocal or synth a charge ahead of the rest of the track etc. Make my kicks drops -3ms to avoid the bass a little more.

Complex swings

Try triplet hat shuffles. Or a good way to get a smooth groove is to create your own swing, by putting second and fourth 1/16 note hit late (or ahead of time) differently to each other. Meaning:

Normal swing: x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late) x x(late)

Complex swing: x x(late1) x x(late2) x x(late1) x x(late2) x x(late1) x x(late2) x x(late1) x x(late2)

You could put the idea even further by making different delays to every twin hit.

"I only swing the percussion BETWEEN the kick, snare & main hats. It’s your choice how to swing them, via groove quantize, 16T or just by hand. I personally do it by hand to keep a natural/live feel to the drums."

-- El-B


Pitch your hats so that they have a flex to them. Where “swing” is generally referred to when talking about garage drums, technically swing means moving your hats forward or back in time, off the set grid times. But garage hats also use pitch, to make the sounds flick against each other.

An important part of the 'bump' in garage is the fact that the beats are higher pitched and the release on snares, Ghost snares and claps are punchier and tighter than other genres with increased compression.

“If I make house my kick will probably sit around 100hz for the thump but if I make garage it will probably be at around 200hz. I dunno if this was purposeful with the original garage boys or a result of the 16+ cut dubplates of US garage”

-- Sentinels, Future Garage Forum


Gates are take the sound event in one sound module and use it as an event to apply an effect to another sound. Sending all the drums through a bus with a gate on gives that clipped sound. A little automation on the threshold can provide some interesting results too.

Here's how to make that hi hat mess ala Tuff Jam / Todd Edwards: Take a 909 Open Hat, duplicate it like 4 times, pitch it to several different varieties, shorten the longer ones so they are all the same length, preferably resample the pitched ones into an Akai sampler at low volume and gain up (for that CCRRHH bit crushed effect).
Sample envelopes can play a large part in swing, messing around with sampler settings Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release [ADSR] times yields interesting results.

Source of hats

You can sample hats: 70's dub reggae's hats are the king of grit. Funk/soul are of course classic sample sources too. Then it's good to complement sampled hats with classic drum machine-hats, 808's for example, to get a bit sharpness/strongness into them. But then it's good to compress/distort them to not sound too separated.
And to get that classic garage feel, it's good to gate them in little snippets, and flatten them with compressor/distortion. Cutting hi ends to some extend are a good idea, to make them sound not too harsh, and then mix them loud!

“So many things which can influence a groove. To start with inaccurate sample chopping - i.e. not getting the start point quite right on hi hats can introduce a swing all of its own, so it's not necessarily all about the groove and the grid."

"Having said that I have used many different grooves - 16T on Cubase is where the Garage started for me. Now, being a Logic User, I go for the swing %age - 66% being triplets (16t's)."

"I also use the MPC groove templates now - I'd recommend them highly. I always play in my drum patterns at about 80bpm and then quantize them. Velocities make a big difference. I quite often use a lo-fi plugin or bitcrusher to nasty things up a bit. Having said all that it's all still about listening and tweaking. Happy swinging...”

-- MJ Cole


Another other factor is tempo. The faster you go the less room there is for hats to be swung i.e. moved between set grid positions. 140 bpm is quite hard to get swing at 134bpm is much easier. part of why Kowton's Stasis g mix sounds SO swung is because it's 127ish. i.e. there's crazy space between respective 16th notes.


Velocity is a variable that determines how hard otherwise similar drums hit. Varying the weight of snare from the 2nd to the 4th often helps. Applying a similar method to the kick can work, too, with the heavier kick on the 1st beat of the bar (or on whatever part of the bar needs emphasis), and the lighter kick used in 'skippier' places (offbeats etc.).

“One thing I’ve noticed it that beats with a lot of bump have an inverse gravity where the bigger elements have more space around them than the lighter ones. Space is important as that is what creates the anticipation.”

-- Sully

Include straight elements

You have to have a couple of elements played straight otherwise your drum pattern won't make any sense and won't be funky. Rhythms can only be swung if you have something that isn't swung to compare it to.


Anonymous said...

Ta for this. I really must start producing again, I always tried to create 2-step on fruity but i couldn't get the hang of swing. Hoping to get logic soon/when i have ANY money.

tonyharrow said...

i think this was altogether a little unnecessary. i wonder, did you feel a sort of pressure to do this? to dispel some myths?

if anyone cares to learn how to program these beats then they can take the time to listen and learn.

Blackdown said...

@ simplesciman, it's definitely possible in Fruity, just edge some of the hats off the grid a bit. go for it!

@ tony harrow

your cynicism depresses me. if you're not interested in knowledge sharing, why do you read or write blogs?

anton said...

thanks a lot for this. i often play around with 2stepish beats and this has given me some new ideas to try out. much props for the consistently interesting articles.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you can actually eat poo tony.
Big up Blackdown, never know what the next post is going to be about.

bathos said...

Thanks for persistently spreading the love and sharing the knowledge.

prince chiize said...

yeah this is the stuff. thanks and respect to Blackdown.

it's not about dispelling myths FFS. it's just good and refreshing to have a few new techniques to mess around with and to take peeps deeper into their doodles. i've already had some fun with the pitched high hats thing :)

@ tonyharrow.
"altogether a little unnecessary"?
kmt. get the hell out of my internet.

Blackdown said...

Big up Blackdown, never know what the next post is going to be about.

nor do I fella!

Anonymous said...

I think this is important for two reasons. because ideas lead to exploration which can lead to new ideas. and I'm sure there are new producers for whom this information could be the missing piece toward taking good ideas to a next lev. Percussion is one of the hardest things to get right, and good music can't be done by the numbers. as far as releasing some secret or whatever, pish posh. this is 2010 not mid 90's DnB. do your thing Blackdown.

rob said...

i think you just got me out of my production rut.

Anonymous said...

I know that the focus of this blog isn't primarily production but I for one would certainly find more articles in this vein interesting!

Okota said...

this article couldn't of come at a better time for me!... was planning a production lockdown on the FG side of dubstep in the next few days. cheers for yet another brilliant post!

Micapam said...

Great precis of the futuregarage thread .. thanks for sharing. Ignore the troll.

Tony Dubshot said...

"the global swing amount can be automated on the master channel"

Good god!! :)

Here's some more scientific research related to downbeats and offbeats (but not strictly garage) scroll down to bottom to skip the talk about abstract art if ur not into that..

Dr.DeFt said...

nice !
Did someone try to use the new groove engine in ableton ? Can be more interesting than midi files ..

vimothy said...

Stressing about hi-hat patterns keeps me up at night. Nice one for this. Ignore the haters.

tonyharrow said...

in my defense, i'd like to say that i think 2step drum programming is a serious art and i just felt like this post was taking the fun out of learning how to make the beats...

that's all i meant by 'unecessary' - as in, anyone who really want's to discover the intricacies of the programming, in my opinion, ought to sit down and spend the time to work it out. there is something to be said about the process and finding your own way.

i can see how my comment suggested that i'm unappreciative or slating blackdowns writting, but the opposite is true. i'm a regular reader/supporter and would go as far to even say i look up to blackdown in certain respects.

being called a "troll" for expressing my opinion isn't going to chase me off...but perhaps i'll keep my comments to myself from now on.

mook said...

Oi tony get yr coat!!! I don't think what you were saying was cynical, but in anything you will get kids picking up ideas others have worked at for years and run with them, just part of evolution and what keeps it all moving. The more knowledge the better, can only improve things and keep it exciting. Say what you want tho tonyharrow, think more people should...rant over........The mpc groove midi templates are interesting but I don't know how true they are to the real thing...but I might have jus got some reallly crap ones maybe.

Jake said...

I remember back in the days of cubase on atari accidentally hitting 16t on quantize and doing the whole track - my breaks piece transformed in to a garage track in one click!

Anonymous said...

You're wrong about the swing/shuffle in regards to house & techno (maybe trance its right) why do you think people used 909 drum machines instead of just samples for a long time? because of the swing function. Also check out rob hoods hi-hats programming is amazing, he was a jazz drummer than did hip hop before he did techno

Valta said...

thnx a lot, Mr. Blackdown.
useful one

Kulture said...

excellent post

Deadstock Mind said...

This is a great post. I'm 17 and when I first got into dubstep both listening and production-wise about 3 or 4 years ago, I knew I had to add a Garage and/or dub influence to my tracks, and in the process I had to figure most of this stuff out to achieve that goal.

It was very hard at first seeing that Garage in the present day isn't very dominant and I had I didn't even know Dub or even Garage for that matter was a genre. So I had to feed off those reminiscent elements through the current dubstep sound and some classics that would be slipped in a mix or two I'd hear.

Wascal said...

Nice to see that Ableton trick I posted FG end up on here ;) Good post.

Regend said...

i do both. i listen and learn but i also want to know what other people are doing as well. a lot of style is from what you put into it and what ingenuity you create. when i started listening to 2step, bassline house, garage, and dub step, it was all about the sounds and not the beats. later i got into beats but a lot of times i learn from others but don't use their methods because i'm so set in my ways from producing hip-hop (layering kicks, layering snares, one loud pitched enveloped hi hat). instead my own variations come out. as simple as it is i enjoy doing this and it makes life better for all. big up blackdown. my advice? turn the grid off and just draw...create your own grooves...your own signature templates.

woo said...

nice article. really helpful and insightful, i'll go and try it now

Milosz said...

Pffff, I think Mr. Harrow needs to get off his music production high horse. Of course some of people can figure all this out through intuition. Still no harm in seeing it written out, to crystallize the knowledge. Great article!

Subtek said...

absolutely sick mate nice one

Subtek said...

nice one mate
absolutely clinical

Anonymous said... for the thread all this information came from (not even well rewritten), even wikipedia cites its sources and gives credit where it's due.

Blackdown said...

Dear Sarky Anonymous poster

1. I started that thread

2. Get your eyes tested before you mount your high horse, the thread is linked to from the second paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Yeah looks like i gotta make a massive apology here, i commented without grasping what was going on and obviously fucked up. If it goes towards to apology I am now eating my own words and kicking myself in the face at the same time.

5kinAndBone5 said...

Yo...we have been studying the art of the elusive UKG "swing" and it has been a rewarding journey. it's awesome to see others obsessing on the same mysteries of this style of music.