How to Program Realistic MIDI Drums (TODAY!)

In this video, you will learn how to program
realistic MIDI drums using a selection of simple and quick drum programming tips. So keep watching if you want to make your
tracks sound more natural and more professional. But first, be sure to download the free drum
programming cheat sheet, there’s a link in the bio or on screen now. In this video, you are going to learn three
specific techniques for making MIDI drums sound more realistic. The first one is making the performance more
realistic by using electronic kit or playing with the MIDI notes, varying the velocity,
stuff like that. The second technique is making sure you choose
the right kit and the right samples. And then the third technique is making the
drum sound more realistic when it comes to mixing them. Now before I really go into how to choose
the right kit when you are using MIDI drums or program drums or EZdrummer, anything like
that, I want to make a couple of things clear. This video is about making MIDI drums and
program drums sound real and realistic like it was played by a real drummer on a real
drum kit. So if you are working with electronic music,
these tips won’t necessarily apply to you. And if you prefer a natural sound and you
like to avoid program drums entirely, then of course that’s totally fine but again this
video might not apply to you. However, if you are working in a home studio
and you want a more professional sound, using MIDI drums and program drums is one of the
easiest ways to level up the quality of your work. So keep watching if you want to use those
kind of drums and make them sound realistic so you get the best of both worlds. So let’s dive right in with technique number
one, which is making the performance sound more realistic. So, first of all, if you can’t play drums
and you want to get a really realistic sound without having to worry about miking up an
acoustic kit and all fuss that comes with that, then you can get an electronic drum
kit. Use software like EZdrummer or Superior Drummer,
there’s loads out there and you can just play the part in on your electronic drum kit, so
you are going to get the realistic performance, the human like timing – well, human like
is a human playing the drum kit – and all of those benefits, but you are going to get
the sonic quality of the samples and the software itself. So that’s a really quick and easy way to get
a more realistic sound if you are a good drummer and then you can spend some time quantizing
those notes, moving stuff around if you want to. You can actually achieve similar results just
by using a sample pad or even a keyboard to play in specific parts. So you could program in the kick and the cymbals
just using loops or programming it manually, and then you could actually get your keyboard,
find where the snare is, and just manually play in that one part. And you could do that with the kick too but
just manually doing the kick or the snare is going to give you that human element and
then you are not having to play a whole drum kit on the keyboard but you can get that timing
right and then you can quantize and play it afterwards. Now the next option is that you can program
in the drums on the beat so that it does sound a bit robotic. But then we can humanize them in a certain
way by adjusting the timing and the velocity, that sort of stuff. So we could actually just get a empty bit
here… [Music Being Played 00:02:57] Then we could find the kick… [Music Being Played 00:03:05] So I found the kick here on C1 and then we
just program in a simple beat. [Music Being Played 00:03:13] Then we can find the snare… [Music Being Played 00:03:18] And program that in too. [Music Being Played 00:03:23] And then we can find the hi-hat. [Music Being Played 00:03:30] And program that in on every beat. [Music Being Played 00:03:45] And there we go. We’ve got a basic drum beat that we manually
programmed in. But it sounds very rigid, it sounds very robotic. So we can make this now more human by first
of all varying the velocity. Now, the exact process for this is going to
depend on your DAW but in Logic I can turn on the tray here, go to velocity and now I
can vary these. So instead of just having [inaudible 00:04:06]
the same, I can select one and let’s say we want the hi-hat to be a bit softer, and we
also want it about there. And then on the second beat, on the off-beat
we will probably have it a bit softer, but then the kick we might still want to have
that harder. And same here. [Music Being Played 00:04:30] And you just need to follow the kind of usual
patterns that a drummer would use, so there’s going to be more emphasis on the beat. So with the hi-hats, it’s really important
to get this variation in the velocity. So every [inaudible 00:04:42] it will be hard,
soft, hard, soft, hard, soft, hard, soft. And already it’s starting to sound more realistic. So you can go into a lot of depth for this,
but varying the velocity is a really easy way to make it sound more human. And then the next thing we can do is actually
just mess with the timing a little bit, so that it’s very slightly off. So if we just zoom in and grab let’s say these
hi-hats, and just pull them a tiny bit before, and if it helps, you can turn off snap so
that we can just pull these a tiny bit before or ahead of the beat. And if anything, we want to use the off-beats. Leave the on beats a bit more steady. And then we could do the same with the kick
and the snare. You can just play around the velocity and
the timing to make it sound more realistic. Now that’s quite an in-depth process there. That really takes some time, but if you want
to program in the drums manually this way, because you are working [inaudible 00:05:46]
something, then that’s honestly the best way to make it sound more human. There’s more stuff you can do like adding
in realistic flams, check that there’s nothing impossible going on in the drums, so they
are not hitting three things at the same time and you can also vary between open and close
hi-hats. You are just trying to make it more human. Just listen to a drummer and listen to how
they play and try and replicate that. Now the third way to make the performance
more realistic in my preferred method is to just use the loops that come with EZdrummer,
whatever you are using, because often they’ve been programmed to sound really realistic
or ready. There’s lots of variation in the velocity,
in the timing, that kind of stuff. And if you feel that loops don’t really fit
in with what you’ve already written and you struggle with that, then the solution that
I found was to make it part of the writing process. Quite early on, when I am sketching out ideas
for a song, I will start pulling in drum beats from EZdrummer and often that can take the
song or the bass part in a slightly different direction. So let’s get rid of this and go back to the
song sketch that I’ve got going on, and we are just going to loop the section here and
try and find a loop in EZdrummer that sounds good with this. So first, let’s have a listen to what we are
working with. So I am just sketching out ideas at the moment. You got a scratch vocal in here. I am trying out different stuff and this is
the point that I start experimenting with different loops to see where it takes the
song. [Music Being Played 00:07:14] So now we can just pull up EZdrummer and we
can even browse just trying out different things and seeing how they sound. [Music Being Played 00:07:32] Or we can actually search and again depending
on what software is used, the process here is going to vary, but you can search by tempo
and fill. [Music Being Played 00:07:47] So you want to start experimenting with different
drum loops and I’ve already gone through this process and found something that I like. So, let’s go grab that. [Music Being Played 00:07:56] So this is the one that I found earlier. [Music Being Played 00:08:06] So then we can drag this in and we can start
playing around with it, and in EZdrummer I can start, maybe add a tambourine part, increase
the velocity on the snare to make it a bit more aggressive, if it’s a chorus, that kind
of stuff. [Music Being Played 00:08:34] So I find this is the best way to get a natural
realistic sound by using those built-in loops and making it part of the writing process. So we’ve already spent a lot of time on that
first technique of getting the performance right, because this is really important. But now we are going to move onto the next
thing which is choosing the right kit. But first, make sure you grab that cheat sheet,
because we’ve already covered a lot here and I’ve put together all of this information
into a cheat sheet that you can use when your next writing or mixing to make sure you get
really realistic drum sounds. Okay, so how do you choose a realistic sounding
kit? Well once you’ve got a loop that you are happy
to move forward with, and you can always change that later, but you found something that was
good enough for now, well, then you can start to play around with the different kit sounds. Now, depending on whether you are using samples
or drum program and software like EZdrummer, you just need to start listening to different
stuff in the context of the track to see which sounds most realistic. Now, I find myself using this kick quite often
in EZdrummer and what you will find is with a lot of this software, the main kit that
comes included, doesn’t always sound the most realistic. Have a quick listen to this. [Music Being Played 00:09:42] So that sounds pretty good in this context. But you just want to start cycling through
these and see how they sound. [Music Being Played 00:10:10] And what we are looking for here is just a
drum kit that sounds right in the context of the track. It’s not finding any of the other elements
for too much space. You want to avoid that stereotypical program
drum sound if you are trying to get a realistic sound. And quite often, the basic kit that comes
with a lot of this drum programming software has that stereotypical sound to it. So I like to experiment with the other kits. So once you’ve done that, it’s time to move
onto technique number three, which is mixing the drum kit to sound more realistic. Now, the first tip I have for you here is
to mute the included reverb that comes within the drum software and use your own instead. So what you will see here if we go to the
mixer is that we have this reverb channel. [Music Being Played 00:10:53] And we also have these ambience channels too. [Music Being Played 00:11:00] So what I like to do is completely mute the
reverb. [Music Being Played 00:11:05] And then I like to just blend in the ambience
and see if it’s adding anything to the mix. [Music Being Played 00:11:24] So at this point of time, it sounds pretty
dry now that we’ve muted that reverb. But the reason I’ve done that is because when
I am mixing, I am probably going to use a general room reverb and I am going to use
that reverb on the guitars, the backend vocals, definitely the drum kit, the snare, any other
parts that I want to be a bit [inaudible 00:11:42] in the background, and sometimes even the
lead vocal too. And by using a separate reverb, you are going
to have much more control and a more cohesive sound where the drum kit is going to sound
like it’s in the same space as everything else. So now we could take this kit and just set
up a bus as a send and we can start playing around with our own reverb that we want to
use, instead the included one. So I can just pull up something like ChromaVerb
and start playing around with this. [Music Being Played 00:12:18] And now we have way more control, we can shape
this reverb and this is the same reverb bus, I’ll call this reverb that I could use on
the guitars and everything else in the mix. Now, while we are on this topic, feel free
to mute any other channels that you don’t feel are really adding anything, like I did
there with the ambient track, blended them in, but sometimes there are other tracks in
here that you might not necessarily want like maybe we don’t need the kick in and the kick
out, maybe we don’t need a snare bottom for example. So feel free to mute or play around with these
while you are mixing. And of course, I’d also recommend that you
figure out how to get these onto channels in your DAW so that you can mix the kick and
the snare like you would a real kick drum or a real snare drum. You don’t need to process any differently. They are already a bit mixed, they already
sound good, but you still want to shape them so they sit right in the mix. And the exact process for that will vary from
software to software but just figure out how you can get all of these channels into your
DAW so you can mix them like a normal drum channel. Then my next tip when it comes to mixing is
to use a reference with a real drum kit and try and get a similar sound if you can. Focus on how much reverb is on the snare,
how loud the cymbals are, what the tone of the kick drum is. You want to use a reference with a real drum
kit if possible that’s going to steer you in that direction because you are constantly
comparing your fake drums to a real drum kit, and that’s just going to lead you in the right
way if you want that realistic sound. And then I’ve got two more quick tips when
it comes to mixing. The first one is to try using saturation on
the whole kit. So by now you should have exported this out
to individual channels and you can create a drum bus. But I am just going to do it here quickly. And we can use saturation to add some character
and a bit more excitement on the top end. And that’s going to get rid of that stereo
slightly fake sound that sometimes this drum software can have. So what I am going to do here is just dial
in some saturation on the top end. [Music Being Played 00:14:13] That just gives it a bit more excitement and
then finally you could also use some parallel compression, and the easiest way to do this
is to just use a compressor that has a mix knob on it, so that we can blend in the original
with the compressed version. And we just want to apply heavy compression
and then blend in underneath. So first, we dial in the compression… [Music Being Played 00:14:44] And then we can use this mix knob to just
tuck it in underneath and give the whole drum kit more energy. [Music Being Played 00:15:00] So you
can use all of these techniques that you’d normally use on a real kit to give it more
excitement and more energy. And by doing that, you are going to make these
drums sound more realistic. You just approach mixing them in exactly the
same way you’d approach mixing an acoustic drum kit. So there you go. Three ways to program MIDI drums to sound
more realistic. Now, we covered a lot here, so I put together
a free cheat sheet that takes you through those three techniques and all of the tips
that we’ve covered here so that next time you are writing a track with MIDI drums or
mixing a MIDI drum kit, you can go through and remind yourself with these and apply them,
give each of them a try, because the key here really is in the application. You need to go and practice this to see the
results, that’s how you improve. So there’s a link in the bio below or on screen
now if you want to grab that, and it’s completely free. And if you are new here, don’t forget to subscribe
and click the notification bell. So that’s all for me, I will see you same
time next week, and remember, Create Regardless.

27 thoughts on “How to Program Realistic MIDI Drums (TODAY!)

  1. I'm programming a lot of drums and I already knew those tips. What I can add: stick to symbols and try to avoid "solo" drum parts.
    Two ones I'd like to present:
    They resemble real performances, but still sound artificial, despite having really lots of velocity layers and sounds (8 hi-hat playing techniques!).
    Each drum sample is just a SYMBOL, fitting a steady groove in a particular style and most commonly the velocities of all parts need to be REALLY carefully adjusted, so the drumset sounds natural, but only when in background. The more drums are pulled to front by playing fills or solo parts, the more unnatural they sound and the more we can hear it.
    A half-opened hi-hat sample, for example. It barks violently, when too loud, or keeps the timbre of loud hit when turned down, thence we need to reduce its dynamics, but reduced dynamics don't allow fills to sound expressive.
    Low-velocity snare hits a) keep the loud timbre, preventing us from doing ghost-notes (as they sound like a bang just turned down) b) usually have bad volume and timbre change ratio when compared to other samples.
    So my hints are:
    1. Keep the programmed drums as far in background as possible. Apply the more dynamics and fills the more instruments play and distract us from listening to drums. When there is nothing to distract, minimise the velocity changes. Play with it, when the drums compliment the whole ensemble.
    2. Differ repeated hi-hat sounds. Either alter the thechniques or balance between velocity layers, so we don't hear the exactly same sound twice. Also use half-opened sound if possible instead of full-opened – use full opened only if it blends with other samples. I also noticed full-open usually sounds good when playing like 16th notes mixed with half-open and closed.
    3. Stick to fills and grooves you know will work on a particular VSTi. Check this was just a preview track. I kept copying just the same flam-ish fills all around and it still sounds dope. (Drums enter at 0:17)

  2. The best midi way is for sure an eletric kit, I don't have it, so I find it quicker and easier to just play it on the keyboard, Having different strokes in different keys and also having the velocity helps you get a huge amount of dynamic on the spot. I'm a drummer so maybe that's why I find it easier to play rather than program. But I would rather not have drums on a song, or just simplify it than programming it lol, i'll stay away from programming it as long as i can.

  3. I often find it simplest to start building my midi drum track (assuming that the guitars, vocals and what-have-you are already in place and aligned more or less in time) by importing 2-3 similar, yet slightly varied beats from the plugin's library (at least AD automatically matches them to your project's tempo), and copy-pasting them across the song. Then I would import various drum fills into pertinent sections of the song. Then I'd start the time-consuming, yet strangely satisfying, process of editing the individual drum hits/passages to taste…maybe placing the first/third hit squarely on the beat/grid, matching the velocities according to my understanding of a drummer's psychology…when will he be likely to hit the kick and snare the loudest, and when not? I'll also include some deliberate mistakes in timing or in the "purity" of an executed hit to further humanise the performance…I'm trying to emulate instances when a human drummer would get (over)excited in a song 🙂

    Choice of kit? Sometimes it can pay off to play with the listener's expectations, e.g. using a jazz kit in a metal song, or vice versa…with suitable tweaks according to the genre, so as not to wholly alienate the audience. At any rate dynamics should be IMO maintained regardless of genre. None of this "always have the kick and snare hitting at max velocity in e.g. metal" nonsense.

    I'd treat at least the snare track(s) differently than the other drum channels…maybe apply more reverb, tape simulation, "general" saturation, compression or whatnot. Obviously best to experiment and try different options out…analogue console and/or tape emulation applied to the whole kit or just parts of it? You decide…

  4. Great tips! I like to use a midi keyboard to get a groove going, it does not have a response as good as playing real drums, so some parts I have to drag around, maybe some bad single hits. I also find that being able to record your own multi layer drum samples helps with realism, as most drum plugins different velocity layers are too perfect (all hits in the exact location on the drums) or not enough variation in the hi hats. But with the techniques you showcased, you can get a pretty decent drum sound on most plugins, even the inexpensive/free ones.

  5. Hi Rob. I always wonder can I mix the drum by not using something like overhead channel when it comes to midi drums. Can I export the kick, snare, hi-hats, crash, ride, etc all to the seperate channels and make sure there will be only one sound in one channel. Isn't it gonna be easier to do the balance and add plugins?

  6. Great video brother and one of the first times I thoroughly enjoyed the music being demoed in the tutorial of one these types of vids !!

  7. Abelton has an 'extract groove' function (from a beat) that retains drum timing AND velocity. Very quick and easy to drag a loop to the groove pool and then drag the groove to your programmed midi clip. Instant Questlove.

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