Will Kinsella
August 11, 2020
It is always worth exploring programming drums and percussion in more depth. While kick drums and hi hats can add the drive to your composition, percussion adds the groove and can keep a track interesting throughout. Producers can focus on rhythm programming using polyrhythms and additive rhythms to create an interesting and evolving rhythm section. This is one of many aspects of music production covered comprehensively in our ARTIST DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM.

Read on to find out more about polyrhythm and additive rhythm programming in addition to production techniques for creating a clean and balanced rhythm section.

What is rhythm programming?

Rhythm is one of the fundamental aspects of music. The theory can get complicated very quickly, but if you learn a few simple concepts it will motivate you to integrate different rhythms programs into your track.

Rhythm is the way that music is systematically divided into beats. A beat is repeated a specific number of times within a bar. The most popular measure (or, time signature) of beats and time is 4/4. Music is built on 4/4 rhythm for a reason. It’s familiar and easy to dance to.

Drum patterns 101

The kick drum is usually written using a 4/4 time signature. Just think back to a track you like and clap out the kick drum. You’ll notice that you can easily count to 4 and loop it. Add your kick drum to your drum track in clip view and set up a loop of 4 bars (notice the markers in the top row: 1.0, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4). Add a kick to 1.0, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4. Press play and you’ll hear a standard kick drum beat.

There are loads of other drums and beats you can add to your track. The hi hat is usually on the upbeat - marker 1.13, 1.23, 1.33, and 1.43. Another common technique is to put a snare or a clap on every second kick.

You can get a little creative with your rhythm and fill in the gaps with another drum sample. Place a tom in areas that don’t have a beat and press play. Move the beats around until you find a position that you think sounds good.

Creative programming with polyrhythms

A useful way to break the 4/4 rhythmic frame is with polyrhythms. A lot of producers add different time signatures to their drum programming, especially when making underground house music. One of the best ways to do this is to select a complete drum kit and create a channel for each drum sound.

Start by making a channel for the kick drum and program beats in the usual 4/4 time signature. Open a new channel for a tom using the same drum kit. Right click and change the grid to 1/16. Set your loop to cover three beats, place the tom on the second beat and hit play. Make sure your kick drum is playing too so that you really hear the effect. You can also play around with the velocity changes to keep the tom interesting. When it isn’t the same velocity at each bar, it creates movement.

Different time signatures in drum programming

Go to your next channel with the same drum kit. The default time signature is 4/4. Right click and change the grid to ⅛. Add a closed hi hat on every beat to create a straightforward rhythm.

To create a polyrhythm, drag the loop length back down to 6 bars. Hit play and listen to your new rhythm. If you want to explore this time signature a bit more, remove the closed hi hats. Add one or two toms within the six bars of your loop.

For the last polyrhythm example, open a new channel with your drum kit and change the grid to ¼. Reduce the loop size to three beats and add a snare. When you are ready, hit play and listen to all your samples and different time signatures unanimously.

There are so many time signatures that you can try out with many different samples. You could literally spend hours on this alone. Polyrhythms will make your tracks more interesting. By combining different recurring rhythms (or loop lengths) together, polyrhythms create subtly shifting patterns. They are the generating principle behind many African music genres and they have become a fundamental technique in electronic music - especially Techno.

To get the most out of polyrhythm programming, and to learn more on time signatures, check out our ARTIST DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM and our 5 REASONS TO TAKE THE ARTIST DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM.