Through all styles of urban based music, the break beat is renowned as one of the key components that gets everyone grooving and moving.
Break beats, aka ‘the break’ refers to the drum solo section in many funk, northern soul and even disco. Classic loops have been sampled, re-sampled and re-edited into a vast array of alternative takes on the original. ‘Crate-digging’ is the term that many use who search through records from the 50’s and onwards, seeking out defining drum breaks which can be used in your own productions.
Sampling however carries terms and conditions, known as copyrights. For more on this check out this Wikipedia post.
But let’s look at another way to not step on other artists’ and labels’ toes, and make our own drum loops ourselves.In today’s music production software there’s plenty of options and sources we can use to make our own versions of ‘classic’ breaks.
Addictive Drums 2 by XLN Audio
Addictive Drums gives you not only a great library of hyper-sampled drum kits but also allows you to dive further in to drum editing and volume shaping, inserts & send effects, with vast MIDI library that you can tweak using the onboard timing, velocity and randomness controls.
Highly recommended by us at Lab One
BFD by fxpansion
BFD3 is the third generation of FXpansion’s flagship software acoustic drum studio: new levels of realism and ground-breaking features in an intuitive redesigned engine.
With stunning new kits, mix-ready presets and modelling technology for tom resonance and cymbal swells, BFD3 delivers uncompromising detail. The revamped interface has a new mixer and sound browser for the easiest BFD experience yet.
Superior Drummer by Toontrack
In addition to a massive library of raw sound material, Superior Drummer 3 introduces a unique design*, a streamlined workflow and countless features for powerful drum production in your computer. With Superior Drummer 3, you have control and creative power beyond the imaginable.
You can also use your onboard instruments and virtual samplers within your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), which can be a great resource for alternative drum kits. Check our Reason Drums 2 refill as another source option, plus other various samplepacks with sampler presets designed for you to get down to the beat making.
On to the beats…
Simple break patterns can be fairly easy to make. Common 2-step kick and snare patterns can be found in Drum & Bass, as well as UK Garage and other break-styled music. We’ll cover a couple more classic breaks shortly so you can make your own versions, copyright free!
Create a simple 2 bar loop, and set the Kick drum on steps 1, 6, 9 and 14. Add in Snare drums on 3, 7, 11 and 15.
This is the key fundamental building block to get you started. For breakbeat styles go for around 125bpm to 150bpm at most. UK Garage sits around 128bpm to 135bpm and even up as far as 140bpm (check out Zinc’s “138 Trek” as a great example). For Drum&Bass, aim for 165bpm (for a future jungle sound) up to 176bpm for a more techno-backed track. 172bpm is a great all-rounder (plenty of freedom when playing out on big dj rigs).
This can be your ‘backbone’ main kick and snare pattern for continuity, but now what about the breaks?
Let’s look at building our own versions of break beats to layer on top, and give our ‘strict-to-the-grid’ pattern some funk and groove.
Snare Drum accented,
meaning slightly harder than normal
regular medium hit
High Hat, closed
These notes indicate the drum to be played, as well as the way the drums are to be played. There are a couple of variants used for the Amen Break, notably the accented snare (hit with slightly more solidity than normal), and the ghost noted high hat (played as a more ‘silent but present’ hit, giving a ‘ghost’ like effect)
Using these helps us start to understand what drums are being played when
High Hat, ghost note
The Amen Break (a shorter variant shown above) is a fairly standard 4/4 pattern across the two bars, and we’re going to break this down into 4 easy to manage sections. you can use this technique to read and relay other drum notations too.
Each bar as 4 ‘grouped’ notes, which will help us break down the notes so we can map them to our sequencer.
Here you can see the laid out drum notation against our drum sequencer lane. Steps 2 and 6 are ’empty’, due to the way to notation indicates the drum timings.
Step 1 (Kick + Hat) works out as 1/8th of a bar before the next hit, step 2 is ’empty’, step 3 (kick + hat) and 4 (kick only) are both 1/16th of a bar in length and these 3 make up the first bar of our 4 bar loop.
Bar 2 is similar to Bar 1 in regards to the drum timings, only the drum hits have changed. Step 5 (solid snare + hat) is again 1/8th of a bar, step 6 is ’empty’, step 7 is a 1/16th hat only and step 8 is a slightly softer snare hit. These slight variances give our loop more character and groove, so not to appear ‘robotic’.
Bars 3 and 4 both have 4 x 1/16th note hits, it’s just the drum sequence which changes again to add our funky groove of the Amen.
Step 9 is a single 1/16th hat, Step 10 is again a softer snare, Step 11 is a kick and hat together, while Step 12 is a solo Kick.
Step 13 is a solid snare with hat, Step 14 is a solo kick, Step 15 is a solo hat and Step 16 is another solo Kick.
Now this is ‘fixed’ to the grid, you might think it still has a bit of a ‘programmed’ feel, so for added variation you can ‘slide’ some notes around to make the loop more ‘groovy’ and realistic. Remember a drum naturally wont hit every single note bang on the grid, but will be pretty tight if they are a precise drummer, or if they are more laid back the loop will feel more ‘relaxed’
Now that we’re gone through the basics of the 2 bar, let’s create a full 4 bar loop of the aforementioned Amen Break into out sequencer.
Each of the 4 bars in the drum notation has been highlighted in the sequencer below, to make things easier to see.
The high hats are predominantly on every other step (1, 3, 5, 7….) through all 4 bars. Note the new cymbal note in the last bar.
Now we have both versions in our sequencer (our 2 bar variant from earlier and now a complete 4 bar loop), ensure that grid snap is off and set the grid size to ‘Bar’. This allows us to see the bars much alike the drum notation, and not working to a /16th or 8th grid frees us up to experiment with moving the drum hits left to right to create a more ‘human played’ drum loop. Moving hits to the right can make a more laid back feel, while moving hits to the left and sound more accelerated, giving a more sense of ‘urgency’ or ‘speed’
Looking at the image above, we’ve tweaked our hit hat velocities to follow a soft of ebbing flow, repeating but having more variation on the hits, so keeping to a pattern but allowing the hit hats to ‘ease in and out’ over the top of the kick and snare. Some kicks and snares have been moved too, to give a little bit of looseness in the middle but tighten up again to the end of each bar. This can add some excitement and keep the listener interested.
Once you have a few loops, save your project, and bounce down to audio to keep these custom versions of the Amen as your own. What’s more, you can now easily replace the drum hits to your choosing, and still keep the MIDI trigger clips as your ‘master’ drum template, making it far more intuitive to create multiple alternative versions for layering components. If you use Addictive Drums, you can get it to ‘record’ your loop and save it as a self contained preset within Addictive Drums so you can vary your edits even more, to help create offshoot loops from your own edited version. Other drum editor instruments may allow you to do this also.
What’s more, the loop you’ve created is yours, using your own sounds and your own editing. You’ve followed the recipe (the loop patten), added your own ingredients at your own measures (velocity, timings) to create your own custom break beat.
You can look at doing this with other drum patterns too, which you can then dive further into other processes to enhance and effect your sounds to help you build up your own unique styles and flavours.
What’s more, you can use these techniques if you use drum programmers (such as 808 / 909 drum machines etc), to get a mix of synthetic as well as humanistic styles of drum loops and patterns.
And as they say, it all starts with a beat….