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How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
#3033786 03/17/20 04:38 PM
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This was inspired by a response in a different thread, but thought it was a sufficiently important topic to have its own space.

My solution in many cases is to use loops played by an actual drummer. The Discrete Drums loops were, at least to my ears, by FAR the best ones out there. Unfortunately, they are no longer available as sample libraries, but many of them have been incorporated in Sonoma Wire Works' DrumCore 4. I've used them all over my latest releases, and even real drummers think I'm using a real drummer...because I am. I do a LOT of cutting, pasting, slicing, etc. to keep the loops from getting repetitive, and throw in a fair amount of one-shot sounds (the Discrete Drums libraries included one-shots of the drums used in the loops - how helpful!).

I have a bunch of other tricks too, but I'm curious to hear what y'all have to say on the subject. How do you make non-drummer-generated drum parts not sound like fake, mechanical parts - especially MIDI-based ones?

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033791 03/17/20 04:50 PM
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Yes drum loops work best when you can find what you want and are in a situation where you can use them

I generally am not in a situation where I need to sequence drum parts any more, but I did play in a duo for many years where all the drums were sequenced. A few things:

Dynamics - it's too easy with discrete drum sounds to make everything static. Make sure there is variation and dynamics
Variation - use a variety of sounds. A snare sounds different depending on where on the head you hit it. Hihats arent only open or closed, there are lots of variations in between
Authenticity - play patterns that can actually be played on the drums. You cant hit a crash, snare, and tom at the same time.
Feel - don't quantize the shit out of it.


Dan

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033796 03/17/20 04:58 PM
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All good points. Regarding the hi-hats, a trick I use is that with MIDI drums, you often have synth-type processing modules. Using an amplitude envelope on the open hat can add variations that don't require additional samples.

I also tie sample start point to negative velocity for drums so that softer hits have a softer attack. This makes a big difference in terms of the sound being more realistic.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033819 03/17/20 06:24 PM
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I purchased the entire library from loop loft several years ago on a black friday sale. Good stuff

https://www.thelooploft.com/


A reason why I collect old keyboards is that I feel partly responsible for doing it, responsible for preserving history and being a custodian for these things
Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
davedoerfler #3033855 03/17/20 08:47 PM
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Originally Posted by davedoerfler
I purchased the entire library from loop loft several years ago on a black friday sale. Good stuff

https://www.thelooploft.com/

Do you mean the $1000 bundle of everything, or specific drum bundles?

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033862 03/17/20 10:00 PM
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Hire a drummer, maybe? Lots of musicians are short of work these days.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033863 03/17/20 10:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by davedoerfler
I purchased the entire library from loop loft several years ago on a black friday sale. Good stuff

https://www.thelooploft.com/

Do you mean the $1000 bundle of everything, or specific drum bundles?


Just drums. I believe it was similar to this

https://www.thelooploft.com/collections/drum-loops/products/the-platinum-pack


A reason why I collect old keyboards is that I feel partly responsible for doing it, responsible for preserving history and being a custodian for these things
Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Mike Rivers #3033872 03/17/20 11:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
Hire a drummer, maybe? Lots of musicians are short of work these days.

Try fitting one in my studio.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033873 03/17/20 11:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by Mike Rivers
Hire a drummer, maybe? Lots of musicians are short of work these days.

Try fitting one in my studio.

rimshot

loop loft it is. cool


A reason why I collect old keyboards is that I feel partly responsible for doing it, responsible for preserving history and being a custodian for these things
Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033881 03/18/20 12:11 AM
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It's not just a question of space, either. There are neighbors, you need several good mics and stands, isolation so you can hear what's happening with the tracks while the drummer is drumming, and I guarantee a drummer isn't going to bring over 12 different kits so you can choose the one with the right sound.

Besides, with the loops, I basically did hire a drummer. He got royalties smile

I remember services where you could send your song to a drummer who would record a drum part. Are those still around? Anyone use them?

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033891 03/18/20 01:51 AM
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I'm a drummer/percussionist (I'm the whole f***ing band I can play keyboards, drums, bass, guitar, sing, run sound, repair gear...)

Depending on the song I play the parts from my electronic kit or from the keyboard. I don't use loop sets nor do I own a real kit.

If you're trying to sound like a drummer, it's much harder playing the parts from the keyboard. I often change the dynamics of stuff like the hihat. Drummers play a lot of grace notes and rapid fire rudiments on hihat and snare, which are not easy to pull off from a keyboard.

As a drummer, a lot of electronic drum kits do not feel like a real drum kit. That impacts your playing. My electronic kit is a hodge podge of triggers I have collected over the years. It started as a Simmons kit. By the time I added Acupad snare controller, Dauz triggers, DW kick triggers, others only the Simmons pads were left for toms. That plays like a real drum kit.

If the song only needs a simple pattern and/or loop with few dynamics, I'll just play the part from the keyboard.

How to avoid sounding like a drum machine... Grace notes are a good way to sound like a drummer or percussionist, to minimize repetition in a loop. It does require careful listening to real drummers, I recommend watching videos of renowned drummers or percussionists on YT. Watch what they're doing with their hands, the grace notes go by fast. Some drummers "choke" the head of snares/toms, some let them ring. Guys like Carter Beauford and Dave Weckl are nuts. If I'm using loops I may add grace notes.

Play air drums while thinking out your parts. Yes I'm serious!!! The drummers with certain "feel" are about the MOTION. How they swing the arms, the long trajectory while striking cymbals, economy of motion. It may look like they're emphasizing the visual element, but it's part of the feel too. Even if you're not a drummer, this is something you can learn from YT videos.

Accents on hihat can reduce repetition in loops IE in a four bar loop I'll slightly change the hihat pattern in one or two bars. Most drum kits/sample sets emulate closed/open/foot hihat. I add mid closed hihat, that's closer to a real drummer.

It is ridiculous how expressive and dynamic the snare, ride cymbal, and latin percussion can be. Not just level but timbre. Those are very hard to achieve with samples. Even the density, composition, tip material, and how you grip the drum stick has an impact on the expression of what they are striking. A world of tones live on the head of a snare depending on where you strike the head, rim shots, side stick and where you "choke" on the head... Dizzying to say the least. Same with the way you play percussion by the various "cupping" of your hands. That's a level of expression that live players can offer and samples can't even begin to approach. To approach that using note editing may be more work than it's worth.

Few drumboxes have the facility to varying the timbre with velocity. A sampler system with filters gets you there, and sounding like a drummer. You don't just want low pass filters; high pass filter on a snare makes them sound more realistic. A real snare drum loses low frequencies with lighter playing, which helps with those grace notes.

Loops and playing from a keyboard are VERY basic starts, to be honest. The more authentic you want the sound, the more tweaking you have to do. That can be a lot of work and you reach a point where a live drummer playing the parts is the easier option.

And lastly... digital reverb. The better the reverb algorithm the more you'll sound like a drummer in a room. Ambient reverb with very short tails rule, but I have yet to find a reverb plugin that does short room ambiences like my outboard Lexicons and Eventides. Until you try one of those you'll never appreciate the difference. Skip to 1:15 in this video for a demonstration with/without ambient reverb


Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
The Real MC #3033896 03/18/20 02:48 AM
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Originally Posted by The Real MC
Loops and playing from a keyboard are VERY basic starts, to be honest.

I agree about keyboard, but not loops. Audio loops ARE a real drummer, playing a real drum part, on real drums. Most of the loops I use are by Chris McHugh, and he's an A-list Nashville guy. This is why drummers don't realize I'm using loops, although as mentioned, some of that may be because I cut/paste quite a bit, so that there are very few repetitive elements that scream "I am the same thing being repeated over and over."

Another major benefit is that even though I don't play drums, my father was a fine jazz drummer. I was brought up hearing what good drumming is all about, and it was burned into my DNA from an early age.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033985 03/18/20 06:26 PM
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Here's an article on my free educational site called More Expressive Electronic Drums. I hope you find it useful!

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Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3033993 03/18/20 07:02 PM
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I read your More Expressive Electronic Drums. It IS useful, thanks!

Korg Wavedrum Global offers a great range of expression for snare drum sounds but it requires a player. You can easily hear the differences between sticks, brushes, hands and fingers. Moving the strike zone from the center to the edge changes the tones in a similar way to a real snare drum. The force of the strike is accurately represented as well.

It is an electronic drum but it does not play samples or have MIDI, it lives in it's own category. The A Frame drum seems similar, would love to try one. All that said, it doesn't have the same sort of rim as a snare drum and I haven't found a way to get an authentic sounding rimshot. I've picked up 3 small snare drums for kid's drum sets at thrift stores - all different sizes and all sounded good in the store. $5-6 each. With proper tuning and mic'ing they should work well here. I may create my own sample library of rimshots and then donate them back.

I've also got a couple of tom toms (one BIG floor tom with double heads) that may find a place. And a box full of fun percussion stuffs I've picked up along the way.

I do want a cymbal or two and would LOVE a real high hat stand with decent hats. Real hats offer expression that is difficult if not impossible to attain otherwise.

It will happen as these things appear at absurd prices.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034000 03/18/20 07:48 PM
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I'm a want to look at it from two different schools of thought; 1. background tracks for my duo and 2. my own song creations.

Currently I'm trying to build some backing tracks for covers gigs so I want to emulate that which already exists and is widely known while at the same time keeping it in a support role behind my wife and I as we remain the focal points. It's interesting and challenging but not what I call fun. Overall I want to keep tempo reasonably consistent but with occasional variation where it's truly expected. Most of the material we cover was clearly not recorded to a click but constantly varying tempo from measure to measure is not practical, necessary or even desired in this circumstance. It's a long list of songs I'm trying to get this done on and each seems to have unique challenges. I'm constantly at battle with my OCD here!

When I can get back to creating my own music (which I'm waaaaayy behind on doing!) then I'm totally up for experimentation and I see some great suggestions and helpful advice posted here which I'll certainly explore. And yes, there's a good chance that I'll get a real drummer to come over as well!

Last edited by Greg Mein; 03/18/20 08:02 PM.
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034110 03/19/20 03:01 PM
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I'm a little late to this party. Here is my advice:

1) Get a pair of drumsticks, a practice pad, and enough lessons to learn the basic rudiments (drummer's equivalent of scales). There are 40 rudiments. You don't need all but you should know the first 15.

2) Listen and emulate great drummers like Hal Blaine, Bernard Purdy, Ginger Baker, and so many more (for pop/rock).

You have to understand the instrument to emulate it.

Fortunately my first instrument was drums. I didn't understand sax until I learned how to play it. Same for bass, guitar, flute, wind synth, keyboard synths, vocals. I'll never be a full-time pianist, it's not my desire, but I learned enough about piano to get piano parts down. I've gigged on drums, bass, guitar, flute, wind synth, and doubled on keyboard parts.

When you learn how to at least properly manipulate the drum sticks you know you have a strong hand and a less-strong hand and they both sound different when they hit the drum. You will learn how minuscule increments of time make the difference between a groove and a robot, even how a simple thing like a roll isn't just a bunch of equally timed, equal volume, and equal tone sixteenth notes.

When you learn your basic rudiments you will recognize the difference between a single stroke roll or a double stroke roll by ear. Be able to hear flams, paradiddles, ratamacues, and so on. Drummers use these, and if you can recognize them and play them, you will be able to use your personal taste to insert them and coax the right sound out of the rather stagnant MIDI drums.

To get you started. To get a single stroke roll to sound NOT like a machine gun, detune every other note a bit flat (weak hand) and play it a hair late.

I've played this in live using drum controllers and noticed the time lag. The detuning is hitting the drum head in a different spot, and not quite as hard. There is more to it than that, but this much MIDI can do.

The next best option is hire a drummer.

I hope this helps,
Notes


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Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034111 03/19/20 03:19 PM
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LESS IS MORE !

When I first started playing drums 45 years ago, I wanted to play a roll/break every 8 bars. Not that I'm lazy today, but I only add a roll when I FEEL it is time...maybe twice in a song. That way it STANDS OUT at the right time. And don't play crazy 16th note triplets and 16th note rolls all of the time. 1/8 not rolls are better.

NEVER PLAY A ROLL WHEN A VOCALIST IS SINGING and don't fight with another lead instrument.

Dan

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Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
techristian #3034130 03/19/20 04:19 PM
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Originally Posted by techristian
LESS IS MORE !

When I first started playing drums 45 years ago, I wanted to play a roll/break every 8 bars. Not that I'm lazy today, but I only add a roll when I FEEL it is time...maybe twice in a song. That way it STANDS OUT at the right time. And don't play crazy 16th note triplets and 16th note rolls all of the time. 1/8 not rolls are better.

NEVER PLAY A ROLL WHEN A VOCALIST IS SINGING and don't fight with another lead instrument.

Dan

Excellent advice here!

There is LOTS of excellent advice in this thread, thanks Greg for wanting it and Craig for starting it.

I DO "air drum" often. Sometimes I slap out beats on my thighs to the turn signal in my car when I am waiting at a stoplight.
If it makes any sense, I try to play "across" the timing of the turn signal. Any sort of fairly consistent click will do.

If I am listenting to music at the grocery store or other retail outlet, I'll try to parse the beats.
As a guitarist, I am also playing a member of the percussion family. I play a LOT of rythm parts, my job is to serve the song. When the vocals are the main focus find something that supports them and is different than what others are playing.

Or, as a friend told me once "Whatever I do, don't do that." Seems to me if you can play music in time, lay back into the groove, etc., you can play drums at some level.

Here's another good one, learn 3/4 time. We get requests all the time for songs that are in 3/4 time and we can do them justice. Happy crowd is a tipping crowd.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034142 03/19/20 05:40 PM
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Here's another tip: Quantization strength. In my experience, non-drummers often lead or lag the beat subconsciously (as they should), but overcompensate because they don't have the finesse of an experienced drummer. Quantizing with 50% strength pushes the sound closer to the beat, without strangling the feel. If it's not enough, apply 50% again.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034145 03/19/20 06:01 PM
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Here's my bullet list on this:

> you'll just have to commit some time, do a bit of thinking, a whole lot of listening, and some training.

> find a good percussion track you like, study it, and re-create it in your software.

> as Dan said, keep it as simple as works. Cull unneeded notes. If the drums are noticed, the noticeable parts have to be just what's needed, no more.

> identify a drummer you particularly like, listen to all you can find with that person on the skins, and analyze what they do.

> build a collection of MIDI files with grooves, fills, patterns, that you have actually used in your tracks. Re-use them constantly and tweak as you go. Get totally familiar with them, love them, take care of them (i.e. back up!)

My go-to pop-rock drummer is usually Jim Gordon. Poor fellow is locked away forever as criminally insane, but he was really great. So clear in his intentions, never flashy, musical, a master at building things up, pulling things back, settling into a groove, creating grooves that can make a track sparkle. He's the guy on Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Layla, and about forty million other tracks in the 60s and 70s.

My go-to jazz drummer is Antonio Sanchez. He did that entire soundtrack for the Birdman movie (remember? Micheal Keaton and Emma Stone?) He was also Metheny's drummer for the latter phase of Metheny's career. He floors me constantly.

nat

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034146 03/19/20 06:01 PM
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An interesting anecdote just occurred to me, thinking back to the time when mp3.com was the rage, back in the mid to late '90s. I was doing a lot of recording with Sonar then and I sent a disc to a regional college radio station who played a cut from it (I was told but never heard it myself). The song was sitting on mp3.com and suddenly one day I noticed plays had shot through the roof! It leveled off at number 6 or 7 on the instrumental chart nationwide in the USA and stayed in the top 20 there for a week.

The thing about it is that I couldn't really find a drum beat I liked for it and finally eschewed all other avenues and just put the beat in myself with the keyboard. I thought I did a pretty crappy job but there I was with the biggest original music success story I'd ever had.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
techristian #3034372 03/21/20 01:17 AM
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Originally Posted by techristian
LESS IS MORE !

When I first started playing drums 45 years ago, I wanted to play a roll/break every 8 bars. Not that I'm lazy today, but I only add a roll when I FEEL it is time...maybe twice in a song. That way it STANDS OUT at the right time. And don't play crazy 16th note triplets and 16th note rolls all of the time. 1/8 not rolls are better.

NEVER PLAY A ROLL WHEN A VOCALIST IS SINGING and don't fight with another lead instrument.

Dan
That's what I like about drummers like Bernard Purdie. The rolls fill holes in the most tasty ways and never step on the melody.

Also never-ever quantize or step enter a drum part, drummers play with a groove.

Insights and incites by Notes


Bob "Notes" Norton
Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com
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The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<
Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034391 03/21/20 05:07 AM
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Another option for more realistic sounds is to use real cymbals. Sampled cymbals just don't sound as rich as "the real thing," and it's probably not too difficult to the cymbal on the beat, where needed. If you're really really bad at timing, then record cymbal hits on their own tracks, shift them to the correct timing, and if you like, bounce into a stereo track.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034417 03/21/20 02:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Another option for more realistic sounds is to use real cymbals. Sampled cymbals just don't sound as rich as "the real thing," and it's probably not too difficult to the cymbal on the beat, where needed. If you're really really bad at timing, then record cymbal hits on their own tracks, shift them to the correct timing, and if you like, bounce into a stereo track.
Indeed. Even more so than trap kit drums, cymbals have a variety of sounds depending on where you hit them, how hard you hit them, how much you let your stick bounce, and at what angle you hit them.

Hand drums are also capable of a wide range of sounds.

There are things you can't do on a MIDI set that you can do with a 'real' drum, and vice versa.

Notes


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Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Notes_Norton #3034421 03/21/20 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Notes_Norton
Indeed. Even more so than trap kit drums, cymbals have a variety of sounds depending on where you hit them, how hard you hit them, how much you let your stick bounce, and at what angle you hit them.
I find it's almost impossible to have a realistic ride cymbal sound unless you use a physical cymbal, or a loop of a drummer playing a physical cymbal.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034428 03/21/20 05:46 PM
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Agreeing with Anderton and Notes, real drums and cymbals can create subtle and different tones "on the fly".

Recorded drums are good too, my go-to is NI Studio Drummer which is a solid pack of loops recorded in studios using a drummer and drums - coverted to MIDI.

I have a few select drums and really want a decent hi-hat stand with cymbals. A crash and ride would be nice too.
They will come my way.

I have all sorts of fun hand percussion. Easy to find for cheap.

There are LOTS of choices on YouTube for "hand drum lesson". Some great stuff there!


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Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
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I’ve sat out of this for a while but I feel myself getting sucked in (or I’m terminally bored from sitting at home).

Is your question about “tone” or about the appropriateness of the parts being played?

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
dboomer #3034474 03/21/20 10:45 PM
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Originally Posted by dboomer
Is your question about “tone” or about the appropriateness of the parts being played?

To me, it's about both...although I think appropriateness of the part being played is probably the more important of the two. But, if you play an appropriate hi-hat part, I find it difficult to believe that a sampled hi-hat would convey it properly.

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034482 03/21/20 11:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
Originally Posted by dboomer
Is your question about “tone” or about the appropriateness of the parts being played?

To me, it's about both...although I think appropriateness of the part being played is probably the more important of the two. But, if you play an appropriate hi-hat part, I find it difficult to believe that a sampled hi-hat would convey it properly.

Funny, as I see it the other way. If you play that hihat in the right spot with the right feeling if it is even anywhere close the song should work. Oh, well smile

Re: How Can Non-Drummers Get Realistic-Sounding Drum Parts?
Anderton #3034483 03/21/20 11:30 PM
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