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How To Make Programmed Drums Sound Exciting And Human Part 2

In the last article of how to make your programmed drums sound more exciting and human, we talked about using delay and parallel compression. In this article, however, we will cover the most essential thing to make your programmed drums more exciting and human.

Think Like A Drummer

You don’t have to be a great drummer to be able to think like a drummer, you just need a basic understanding of drumming.

For example, if you have ever seen or heard a drummer play (which is most of you), you might have noticed that not every single drum hit is at the same velocity. In other words, they are very dynamic in their playing (most of them at least).

This could be playing ghost notes on the snare drum. Accenting each quarter note on the hi-hat in an 8-note pattern. Dynamic tom or snare fills. And much more.

When we are programming our drums we need to take this into consideration, too. Because what happens when we write our drums in the piano roll? They are all at the same velocity.

This is why it sounds boring and not very exciting. And why it sounds like a robot is playing.

Unless you are going for that sound or working in certain genres you want to avoid this.

In most DAW’s you should be able to change the velocity in the piano roll. In Pro Tools, you can do it at the bottom left as shown in the picture below.


Sound Examples

Let’s listen to a few examples so you can really hear the difference between programming with a drummers mindset and not.

Example 1


Example 2


Can you hear the difference? Doesn’t it groove way more in Example 2?

The kick and snare drum have way more impact (played harder) but what makes it groove is the dynamic of the hi-hat. Go back and listen to accents on the quarter note on the hi-hat.

This is more in line with what a drummer would play like.

Ghost Notes

Let’s take this groove to the next level. Check out the example below.

Example 3


Could you hear what changed?

I added ghost notes to the snare drum.

In drumming, ghost notes are a note, like a snare drum, played at a low volume (less velocity). They are essential to adding groove and excitement to a drum pattern. By adding ghost notes you are further developing the mindset of “thinking like a drummer”.

You can play around with the dynamics of anything you want on the drum kit. However, the more you know about drumming the easier it will be to know where you can utilize and where to place them for maximum impact.

Listen below to another example below how important it is to include dynamics into your programming.

Example 4

Example 5


How do they differ? Both in feeling and impact? Let me know in the comments below

Don’t Be Lazy

Another thing I want to mention is don’t be lazy. When programming drums it’s easy to make one bar and copy it across the whole song. That’s not what a drummer would do (I know there are exceptions) and you shouldn’t either.

By changing it up and “reacting” to what the other instruments are doing you will create more excitement in your song.

For example, hitting the accents together with the other instruments. Going to the ride cymbal in the chorus. Adding an open hi-hat every now and then. Changing a ghost note to an accent, et cetera.


Making drums more exciting and powerful doesn’t always come down to slapping on a lot of plugins. More times than not is down to the performance (your programming in this case) and trying to accentuate that in the mixing process with compression, delays, et cetera.

The more you can emulate a drummer mindset when programming your drums the easier it will be when mixing and creating impact.

You don’t need to be an expert drummer to utilize the tips in this article. However, if you feel like you are struggling with how to utilize dynamics go and listen to some great rock, funk, jazz records and pay attention to the drummer. What makes them groove? What makes the chorus hit so hard? Try and emulate that in your programmed drums and I’m sure you will see results.

I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below and feel free to share your own tips.

About Niclas Jeppsson

Niclas Jeppsson is a freelancing sound engineer in London, England. Head over to his site, Your Audio Solutions, to download your free guide, 3 Tested Ways To Increase Your Client Base or listen to his podcast with guests such as Mixerman, Gavin Harrison, John Paterno, Brian Lucey and many others.

More Drum Mixing Techniques?

If you’re looking for an in-depth guide to help you transform your weak home studio drums into powerful and punchy drum mixes, check out the Drum Mix Toolkit here.

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About me

About Björgvin Benediktsson

I’m Björgvin Benediktsson. I’m a musician, audio engineer and best-selling author. I help musicians and producers make a greater impact with their music by teaching them how to produce and engineer themselves. I’ve taught thousands of up and coming home studio producers such as yourself how to make an impact with their music through Audio Issues since 2011.

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