Monthly archives: July, 2013

PoD’s guide to Drum programming, the PoD way, on iOS… part 1.

“Bloody Hell Jon, what makes you think you have anything to say on the subject of drum programming? You program BI systems at telcos and banks, not quite the same thing, is it? You arrogant twat!”  You could be forgiven for asking right about now. Please don’t though, I might forgive you, but my brittle ego would never recover.

To be honest I admit I have no qualification for this at all, save that I have been programming drum patterns since 1987 and people compliment me on my drums/percussion regularly. Also I have been asked for my insights into drumming on a number of occasions and who am I to refuse?

A lot of what I have written here probably isn’t very original, I went and read a few articles on the web to see what other people had to say and a lot of it was the same, er… So you should probably read those…


OK, That intro was written 6 months ago and I have been stalled ever since.

More knowledgeable and drum/tech savvy people than me have written about this, at length. A very fine 4 part article is on the SOS website here which goes into a load of depth. There are lot of other articles too and many of them are very good.  So what can I possibly add to this body of knowledge – well,  I have gone back to the original question I was asked, which is how I do MY drums, not how drums should be done.
This I can answer I guess, safe in the knowledge that I may be doing things badly, or wrong, as far was conventional wisdom is concerned.

Anyway, here goes, my take on drum programming.

Almost all articles about drum programming go on and on about sounding like a real drummer. I have known a number of real drummers,  I even shared a room with one for a whole year, and they are a fidgety bunch of freaks who tap on things incessantly. They still exist in the wild, although they are on the endangered list these days. I guess you could care about sounding like them… however I listen to mostly electronic music and so I have probably not heard a real drummer in decades.

If you are programming drums for a 4 piece rock band then maybe you would want to sound like a real drummer, but for any genre of music I want to listen to it isn’t really a consideration. I want interesting groovy drums, or complex edgy drums, or loud bangy drums… but not a real drummer. Besides most of my tracks would require a team of drummers because the secret of PoD drums is layering!


While I do it differently each time a ‘typical’ (or a caricature) PoD track probably has 4 layers of drums:

  •  Basic Kit Layer
  • Percussion Layer
  • Big Drum Layer
  • Clicks, pops and sounds Layer

Sometimes these layers may be combined but let’s look at each in turn

1. The Basic Kit.
The core to all of my tracks is the “Basic Kit”  The basics kit consists of a bass/kick, snare and hi hats. That’s it.

You can probably get almost everything you need from this combination. Imagine a brilliant drummer with a kit consisting of just these elements. The Kick has a wide variety of volume and timbres it can produce, the snare will vary wildly in volume and timbre and can also produce rimshots, drags, rolls, flams (whatever they are) semi-rimshots etc etc, hihats can be open or closed and each sound chokes off the other meaning there is a wild availability of long and short patterns available, think Morse code… dit dit dit daa daa dit…

Because of this massive and exciting variation in sound I frequently program my “Basic Kit” section with two or three kick drums and two or three snare drums, I usually have just one open/closed hi-hat pair because I find things sound weird otherwise….

Let’s build the most basic of all patterns – a “4 on the floor” type dance pattern with a kick on the beat, a snare on beats 2 and 4 and closed hi hat on every 8th:

I am going to be using the notation found in the Drum Studio app for this bit, except I will stick some spaces in to make the beats more readable.

Kick    :   x – – – x – – – x – – – x – – – 
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – – – – x – – –
CHH     :   x – x – x – x – x – x – x – x – 
OHH     :   – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

There we are, very common, and a bit dull, unless you have a really interesting bassline going, in which case this could be just right!

The closed hihat on the 8th is pretty laid back, you can get a load more pace into the track by hitting every 16th, this will give you the standard issue drum line of all dance music from 1987-1992. Whack an acid 303 bassline on that and see. Alternatively you can open up some of the hihats to give a different vibe:

Kick    :   x – – – x – – – x – – – x – – – 
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – – – – x – – –
CHH     :   x – x – x – x – x – x – x – – – 
OHH     :   – – – – – – – – – – – – – – x –

For this to work properly you really need your hats to choke each other off. In old hardware drum machines this will happen automatically but it is depressingly common in iOS apps to find that the hats do not choke each other which leads to really flabby lazy sounding hihat lines.

I tend to use Nanostudio for hats for this reason because you can set the same group for each and then only one sound in that group can play at a given time.

Incomplete List of apps that choke on the hats:
Drumjam and Figure in their own way on a single pad each
Probably BM2 but can’t be bothered to reinstall it to check
EasyBeats3 – though I don’t know if you can set it for imported kits
Yamaha Synth and Dr pad
BeatMachine (if you can be bothered waiting all that time for it to load…zzzzzz.)
S4 Rhythm/Industrial composer

Incomplete list of Apps that should bloody well know better
Synergy studio (as far as I can make out)
akai synthstation

You can work around this issue in some apps (like DM1) by setting the sample lengths on the open hat shorter.

our rhythm so far is a bit dull, but you can do a lot with it by adding in some quieter (ghost) hits on the kick, and adding in more complex hi hat lines, in fact you can go a long way just using those tricks:

Kick    :   x – – g x – – – x – g g x – – g
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – – – – x – – –
CHH     :   x – x – x – x – x – x – x – – x 
OHH     :   – – – x – – – – – – – – – – x –

So by simply adding a few quiet bass hits and an extra open and closed hi hat we have gone from dull to kinda funky (well I think so anyway).

Kick    :   x – – g x – – – x – g g x – – g
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – – – – x – – –
CHH     :   x – x – x – x – x – x – x – – x 
OHH     :   – – – x – – – – – – – – – – x –

Alternatively for something more energetic you can keep your 4×4 snare and kick and do interesting things with the hats:

Kick    :   x – – – x – – – x – – – x – – – 
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – – – – x – – –
CHH     :     x x x x – x – x x x x x x – x 
OHH     :   x – – – – x – x – – – – – – x –

Trick is to avoid putting the open hat on 2 and 4 because the snare is there anyway and the effect is a bit Meh.

For most of my “Basic Kit” parts I lift the bass drum on 2 and 4 and I also tend to move the second snare hit to the last 8th like this:

Kick    :   x – – g – – – – x – g g – – – g
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – – – – – – x –
CHH    :   x – x – x – x – x – x – x – – x 
OHH     :   – – – x – – – – – – – – – – x –

I like the little hanging pause before the second snare, this also leaves some room for a ghost snare or two

Kick    :   x – – g – – – – x – g g – – – g
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – – – – – g x –
CHH     :   x – x – x – x – x – x – x – – x 
OHH     :   – – – x – – – – – – – – – – x –

or (for extra grooviness)

Kick    :   x – – g – – – – x – g g – – – g
Snare   :   – – – – x – – – – g – – – g x –
CHH     :   x – x – x – x – x – x – x – – x 
OHH     :   – – – x – – – – – – – – – – x –

You will also notice that this sounds better in some tempos than others, and that the tempo also changes the groove entirely. 85 bpm sounds like you could rap along to it, if you were so inclined, and not a 44 year old middle class white man.  122 bpm, while not very fast, sounds pretty quick with this rhythm because those ghost hits really drive it along, 140 bpm sounds crap with this rhythm because it all sounds a but crowded and “benny hill chase scene” fast.

140 bpm needs something more sparse, if you added 16th hi-hats you could probably drop this to 70 bpm and get a different feel again.
If you are playing along at home in drumstudio this now sounds groovetastic with that busy flutter of quiet drums between beats 3 and 4 and then the delayed accent on the snare playing on the 8th. If you are playing along on DM1 or Nanostudio you will have noticed that how this sounds really depends on the kit you have chosen. More importantly you will probably have noticed that the quite kicks and snares sound really crappy in some kits.

This is because drumstudio is actually playing a different sample on the quiet notes than it is on the louder ones.
Choosing your sounds: if your quiet drums sound the same as your louder ones, just quieter, then your pattern will sound like an ’80s drum machine, think Miami Vice, this is a good thing if you want that effect, but bad otherwise. Pick a softer, less punchy sound for your quieter drums.

So – three basic lessons

1. Sounds, stick to kick, snare and hats, for kick and snare try to find a quiet sound and a loud sound for each, but it isn’t compulsory.

2. Start with a basic rhythm, move the hi/lo hats about, make small shifts in the bass and snare and work from there.

3. You need to create the drum line for the tempo you are working with, but tou can also recycle, I have frequently reused drumlines at different tempos because it changes them so completely.

Now let’s have a look at a groove in Stockastik. I use this app all the time, partly because it has a load of really good samples and partly because the ability to make a probability on each step makes for some interesting patterns.
Let’s start with essentially the same pattern as before – because Stochastic will not choke hats and to make it fit on one page I have simplified the hat line.

As you can see I have 2 kicks and 2 snares, I have chosen a hard sound an a soft sound for each. For now I have left the probability on each hit at 100 (so this is acting like any simple drum machine)

photo 1

To soften the ‘soft’ snare and bass I have reduced the Gain to about 0.7 on each but also stitched on the Modify Gain with Chance option to give a little bit of variation.

photo 2

Now I am going to keep my “main” hits at 100% but reduce the secondary ones a little to add some variation

photo 3

Be careful when in stochastik not to leave your pattern liable to gaps – if you turn down the probabilities low make sure you have a lot of parts (you can have up to 15) otherwise you can be left with jarring silences, conversely having lots of parts playing at the same time on the same measure can sound like crap (unless you are deliberately mixing sounds) so it often pays to make sure that, for instance, only one of your bass drums can play on a given measure, or one of your snares.
now lets add in some low probability hits in

photo 4

And there we have it – now you can get Stochastik to render 8 or 16 bars of this pattern, both groovy and containing plenty of variety, and you can whack that into your daw/looper of choice.


Right, that’s your lot for now – this is going to be a mammoth post so I am going to split it up – this is part one… stand by for more Drummy Blogness next time when we look at the percussion layer…

FunkyTurnip’s Back to the Future Challenge

So, Funky Turnip (@ATurnham) has challenged me to do a track using only Back to the future samples…

and Andrew Minatelli (‏@Aminatelli) has added the refinement that those samples must be:

“1.21 gigawatts” 


“great Scott!”

This might take a day or two… 🙂

Anyone else wanting to join in? So far I think we have

Lengthy Rambling thoughts on MIDI

My last track was a bit of an experiment as I was using Midi to control Alchemy. In response a few people asked for my thoughts on Little Midi Machine and virtual MIDI – so here we are:


In the past I have hardly used MIDI at all, this is simply because I didn’t really understand it. I have had some brushes with MIDI though…

<engage PoD history lesson>
Back in the old days I had only one Midi compatible device, my drum machine (Boss Dr-220 Dr. Rhythm drum machine), so no need for Midi, my MiniKorg and Logan “String Melody” string machine were pre-midi devices.

Then a couple of years later I upgraded my synth to a Yamaha DX11 and my drum machine to a Roland Tr505 – that meant 2 midi compatible items and by reducing my drum patterns to use only bass, snare and hats I found I could free up the remaining 12 parts to send signals to the yamaha.


Not very sophisticated signals I grant you, no note length, just a 16th note and volume, but by making the DX11 Mono, setting a longer release and by using velocity sensitivity in my patches I could make some pretty cool basslines. Sync was not an issue, I just had to press the button at exactly the right time when recording.

A few of years later I had a couple of Yamaha QY walkstations and found the DX11 made a really good midi keyboard to control the tiny sequencer/soundmodule.
</engage PoD history lesson>

When I think of music technology I am reminded of this Calvin quote from Calvin and Hobbes:

“Do you hate being a girl? What’s it like? Is it like being a bug?
I imagine bugs and girls have a dim perception that nature played a cruel trick on them, but they lack the intelligence to comprehend the magnitude of it.”

Like a musical bug I am dimly aware of a vast world of deep technical sophistication that exists out there, but I lack the knowledge and or intelligence to comprehend the magnitude of it. And you know what? That is OK with me.

<here he goes again with the old-days!>
I used to play guitar and bass (and sing, but that’s a whole other story) but switched to synths, in part, because I could not play a note. After 10 years of guitar I was competent, but every time I picked the thing up I would end up playing the same old blues scales and rock riffs and could not write any songs on it. I wanted to write songs, and I found moving to an instrument I could not play, but which made great sounds, was the solution. I could write a 4 note song because I was really listening to the sound and rhythm rather than letting my fingers run through their routines. Even now I consider myself an intermediate, or possibly an advanced beginner, when it comes to electronic music, I am always learning new stuff and that is a large part of the joy, but there is still a mountain of knowledge to be gained. My old punk ethic tells me that anyone can make music and I am able to do tunes I am proud of, and learn along the way. </here he goes again with the old-days!>

So, back to the subject at hand, MIDI.

When I mentioned using Little Midi Machine in my last track 3 people independently asked me to blog about it because they wanted to know more. So here is my Dummies Guide to ipad Midi, written by a dummy rather than for a dummy. I am just learning this stuff so expect mistakes in my understanding, I hope it helps some of you!

Midi is now 30 years old and seems to be going strong

Wikipedia has a fairly lengthy piece on what MIDI is… but at it’s most basic- when dealing with MIDI I have 16 available channels, each one of them can send a variety of information to a device (effectively as series of numbers from 0-128) to control various parameters on the downstream device.

On an iOS device we have 2 flavours of MIDI (yes Americans, “flavours”):

Core MIDI which is the old standard we use to get signals to and from external hardware (so if I plug in my little Akai keyboard and press a key the MIDI information for which note, how hard etc comes into the ipad on a single MIDI channel and is received by the app/apps I have open and listening on that channel. )

To see the numbers arriving and understand what signals are coming in better I would recommend installing “MIDI Monitor” by Domestic Cat or “MIDI Wrench” by Crudebyte, both free on the App Store.

Virtual Midi: an internal iOS protocol that allows you to send signals from one app to another (eg from SoundPrism to Animoog, or Little Midi Machine to Alchemy).

Now you know, you can forget about the difference because pretty much all of the serious synths that support either will support both. There are exceptions that are important, I believe Nanostudio doesn’t have virtual MIDI which is why otherwise decent respectable people feel obliged to sully themselves with BeatMaker2 (hee hee) and iMini doesn’t seem to work with Virtual Midi at all for me and, apparently, for anyone else.

Now six months ago I would have chipped in with “Well who needs Virtual MIDI anyway, I have sequencers and arpeggiators on all my favorite apps anyway” and that is a good point, you can get by without using Virtual MIDI. I write a lot of my basslines in iPolySix because I like the internal sequencer, but that functionality is not available everywhere.

Mostly I use MIDI when I dislike the sequencer/arpeggiator in an app or that app doesn’t have a sequencer/arp. Examples – I cannot get on with Sunrizer’s arpeggiator, I love Sunrizer and I know a lot of people love the arpeggiator, but not me. If I want to run a sequence in Sunrizer I use an external sequencer. Alchemy doesn’t come with a sequencer/arpeggiator (or at least not one you can get to) so I thought I would see how it sounded running a sequence and loved the result.

So my default midi sequencer to date has been the excellent, and free, “Little Midi Machine”.


This app is an emulation of an old hardware sequencer, similar to the sequencers built into iMS-20 and Magellan. You have 2 sequence banks (you can set the MIDI channel for each) and each can contain 4×16 step sequences or one 64 step sequence. You set the notes by moving a set of sliders which can be a little fiddly. You can turn a given step on or off, and you can skip a step to give crazy time signatures. Sequences can be run forward, backward or random (!). You can sequence/control notes, note velocity, note length. The routing to midi channels is straightforward and you can fast switch from one app to another. There is functionality for Midi record and transpose from outside sources that I have never used.

In short an amazing package for NO MONEY AT ALL. Get it and try it, you have nothing to lose. This is still my most used MIDI sequencer.

Next I bought Phaedra. This is another analog hardware emulator. Much of the same functionality as LMM but here you have 4 sequencers, you can set the channel for each, and each can be up to 32 steps long. each can run forward, backward, bounce forward to backward, and random.phaedrascreen_hr

As with LMM you can set note, length (called gate), velocity and also 2 assignable cc values that you will need to configure on your synth. I have had problems with Phaedra when I first got it because there was much I did not understand about MIDI, but even this morning I found that it arbitrarily stopped playing when I was switching between Apps which kind of defeats the object of having the damned thing. If it worked right you could use it to do some very cool stuff however.

Next up is that MIDI-head’s favorite Genome. People who know and love MIDI live Genome. I don’t.Genome
Genome has seven 16 tracks (thanks Tim at Discchord for pointing out you can scroll down and see more!)and you can set as many patterns as you like in each, this is great if you play live and want to control multiple synths (internal and external) and program in whole songs. I don’t do that and so all that functionality is wasted on me. The programming is through a draw-bars-on-a-grid interface familiar to users of Nanostudio, BM2 etc but as I am used to Nanostudio’s beautifully executed and intuitive editor I find Genome really difficult, I have tried many times to use it but always end up getting frustrated. This probably isn’t Genome’s fault, I just don’t like the interface and it is the wrong tool for the job I want to use it for, namely running sequences on synths so I can record the output into a track.

New kid on the block is Sugar Bytes’ Thesys.
I know a lot of people have grumbles about the interface being crowded, buttons small, zoom difficult to manage etc and that is all true, I had complained to the dev about the zoom within an hour of this beast coming out. However this is a serious MIDI Sequencer. Now as far as I can tell this only has a single sequence bank, and so for the basic user could be said to have less that Little Midi Machine, and that is true, it was born of a VSTi plugin and is designed to control a single synth. But here is serious control. You can program up to 16 patterns of up to 32 steps. For each pattern you can control pitch, velocity, gate time (length).

Then there is the performance bar that lets you add ‘events’of 5 types (octave/2octave up/down, bends, split notes into a variety of stutters, Add chords on a step ?!?, or add one of 17 other events) and at the bottom there is the innocently named Modulation bar, that is actually 8 selectable modulations that allow you to sequence balance, volume, Dataentry,foot, portamento, ctrl3, breath, modulation. I am not going to pretend to understand what half of that means. Suffice to say if there is some aspect of your sound that can be pissed about with you can automate that pissing about here. Ever one of these things can be randomized, and played forward, backward, random, each 2nd, 3rd 4th… if you want.

You can chain all your sequences together into a song. of course. Nicely it also comes with an internal synth with a whole bunch of presets so if you are just noodling about you can try out your sequences without having to open up any other apps.

Most interestingly though is the ability to change the lengths of any or all of the sequences, for example I could set a 16 step sequence on the pitch, and a 15 step sequence on the performance setting the 11th step to down-octave the pitch. As I run both that down-octave would creep forward a step every time the 16 step phrase repeated. And this poly-rhythmic ability can be set across the board, so that simple sequences can evolve in very complex ways.

I am sure there are plenty of other but I don’t have them! Devs, feel free to send the codes to me!

Nave, enemy of productivity

This is a true story!!


The Joy of MixTikl

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