I compose and produce my own original electronic music songs and I generally only have trouble with one aspect of music: the drums. This is the only major instrument that I have no formal (or informal) training with. The real reason I never picked it up was because back when I first tried it, I couldn't for the life of me keep the kick drum on beat with the various songs I tried playing. because of how hard it was for me to coordinate the control over my foot in the attempts to play in sync with my hands. This initially made me shun learning anything about the drums probably due to the fact that I was mad I couldn't figure it out when most of the other instruments I played came really easy to me.

So, as you can now probably see, this is definitely the toughest part for me. Even though I create all my beats and patterns using audio samples of different drum sounds, I feel like they lack that variation or that life that comes from live drummers. This is probably partially because of the lack of formal training while since I never had the responsibilities of writing drums in any of the musical groups or projects that I've been apart of.

What are some tips to make the drums sound more like a live drummer? Or are there any ways to replicate this sound or feel? Is there a repository somewhere with the most common drum patterns used in various genres? I was relatively briefly enrolled in a music technology program and we had an assignment to learn some basic drum patterns but the original source the teacher got them from (one of the big drum company's old website) had long since been a dead link.

I'm open to learning from any sort of source as well be it sheet music specifically for drums, tabs, videos, articles, etc. Even word of mouth tips and tricks or various techniques built into the midi of a DAW would be cool too (sort of like the arpeggiator in FL Studio).

  • shoot all these answers are really good. I'm going to wait a little to see how people vote
    – Travis Dtfsu Crum
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 14:26

6 Answers 6


A popular technique to do this is to layer breaks into the beat. These really help fill out the frequencies and give the whole beat a 'groove' as these breaks tend to be sampled from older tracks where the drums are played live. For instance, in drum and bass, a big % of the tracks use breaks such as the Amen, The Think Break, Apache Indian, Funky Drummer etc e.g.


A sample CD of some vintage breaks can be found here: http://www.loopmasters.com/product/details/457

If these breaks don't quite fit you can always chop them up using recycle: http://www.propellerheads.se/products/recycle/ and use the .REX file in your DAW to position the hits where you want them. A lot of sample CDs these days come with REX files as well.

If you are looking for a software solution you can use any of the drum romplers available such as

EZ drummer: http://www.toontrack.com/products.asp?item=7

Addictive drums: http://www.xlnaudio.com/productline/1

Rayzoon jamstix: http://www.rayzoon.com/

Jamstix also has algorithms for different 'drummers' i.e. they incorporate a human feel to the drums so they sound less static.

You can then purchase MIDI loops from places such as groove monkee: http://www.groovemonkee.com/en/ and then use them in conjunction with the romplers. These are particularly good as they are not quantised so they have a 'played live' feel to them.


For me I found that when I started using the DFH superior sounds I felt the "sound" aspect had been more or less taken care of, as the sounds in that library ( which is pretty old at this stage so there may be even better ones now ) are very hard to tell from the "real thing"

... as regards the feel, it depends on what genre you are recording and which actual drum you are recording, ie kick being typically easier than snare.

With some drum/genre combinations you can replicate the feel of what a real drummer would do if you listen carefully and patiently tailor each hit wrt velocity and nudging the timing ( and possibly using groove quantize ) .... but a good electronic pad will surely make this easier. It really does take a lot of patience and attention to detail to get it right though.

In case you havent realised it already it's usually vital that you ensure that you have a max of 4 drums being hit at a time ( 2 hands and 2 feet ) as this is a dead giveaway unless you are trying to replicate drum overdubs

Another obvious thing which you probably already realize is to listen carefully to some good drummers to see what they are doing and imagine what they'd do on your track.


You can use Cubase or Sonar (and probably other DAW's) to allow the beat to move with the groove.

In Cubase, the Quantise function lets you go from being precisely on the beat to some way off :-)

In Sonar it is "Groove Quantise"

This will at least feel more realistic, but really what you want to do is try to play the beats you want to hear and feel where you have a slight delay in moving from the snare to a tom, for example, and build those delays in. Or if you don't have a drumkit, try listening to some real drum samples to get inspiration.

  • Don't forget to accent some drum hits here and there :) Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 1:57
  • playing (parts of) the groove with a midi keyboard or trigger pads is even better. "feel" the groove. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 13:13

The easiest way is obviously adding "swing" through the DAW or plugin. I find 1/16 helps my stuff "come to life".

Also layering drum parts, shifting some slightly, can have a huge effect. Even a drum part doubled, with one slightly shifted, can make a huge difference.

Remember to not be super rigid on your beats. Add closed or open high hats on off beats or using some type of poly rhythm can also be helpful.


I use Cubase and Nuendo and one thing that makes my drums sound more realistic is to manually adjust the velocities of each hit. For example I change the velocity of the snare just about where I want it to be but manually (using the mouse) so that every snare hit will be slightly different from each other. Also I do the same with hi-hats but I also like to accent their velocities. for example every 8th note can have a slightly higher velocity.

Also remember that a real drummer is not a machine and limit the amount of simultaneous notes being played remembering how many foots and hands a human has. For example you cannot have a simultaneous hit on the crash, the ride and the snare because a human drummer only has 2 hands.

There is an excellent tutorial by Misha Mansoor of Periphery on how to make drums sound realistic. It is not for electronic music but I found it extremely useful.


There's a few elements that make sampled drum programming sound closer to a live drummer, and mostly it comes down to a mix of imprecision and subtle nuance. It's useful to approach this from a macro level in terms of applying to any instrument, and a guiding rule is that "the fidelity limit of one activity becomes the nostalgia of another".

For example, when we analyse the Amen Break we can see not only a non-quantised groove, but some other interesting elements. Namely the use of ghost notes, or those little nuanced flairs that form and shift around the main rhythmic anchors, and the quirks of the recording and hardware of that era.

That second point is important to think about. If you listen to the stems of rock albums from the 70s, you can hear a lot of "annoyances", like squeeking kick drum pedal hardware, spill from other mics, room noise, etc. The human brain is extremely receptive to these elements, as we are naturally attuned to space and volume and subtle cues. Call it "ear candy".

As an experiment, try this: take your existing drum track and play it out of some portable speaker. Set up a mic and recorder (could even just be your mobile phone) and record that speaker playing your programmed drums in a few different public spaces. And then layer that recording very gently over your digital track in your original session file. Notice how it automatically feels differently. A new dimension (whether desirable or not in your project file).

A way to use this phenomenon in a studio is to play a programmed drum track LOUD in a drum room, over a drum kit, and record the kit sounds as it and the room reverberates from it. It might seem like an odd exercise, but it's been a common tactic to add some "life" and room vibe to drum tracks recorded in a small drum room or home studio.

TLDR... aside from the actual grooves (there's so many midi groove libraries these days), there's also the psychoacoustics, and those are worth exploring. Good luck!

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