I'm really curious about this ever since I read about how drummers now are expected to play "on the grid" and what quantization is and how its applied.

I read in modern rock drums are ALWAYS heavily quantized, but what about jazz? I was thinking about it and I was wondering (depending on the song/drummer) if its even possible.

Can or would you try to quantize say an Elvin jones or Tony Williams playing a bop tune? Is it even possible?

A lot of fusion has more of a rock rhythmic structure, but here I'm asking about more traditional bebop.

  • There's an option with modern DAWs to set the level of quantization, i.e. you can choose to only move the samples 50%-70% closer to the grid. Also, as others stated, you should check before quantization if there's a swing feel and check that option in as well. Total quantization should be avoided even in modern metal as well, as it kills the "feel". (Usually when I write rock drums from scratch I always use a small percentage of swing, to humanize it and make it realistic).
    – atoth
    Jul 11, 2016 at 16:46

2 Answers 2


Wow, this question illuminates my heart! Pretty inspired of you to ask.

The quantization that applies to jazz drumming would most likely not be a standard grid of 8th/16th notes (which is commonly what's thought of when we mention "quantization"), but with a certain amount of swing/shuffle. Or, you know how certain DAWs like Ableton allow quantization in the sense of locking them to whole grooves? This can be used to capture a "signature" of sorts that future MIDI recordings can be quantized to... allowing for more fluid and less machine-gunney rolls, paradiddles, etc. And BTW even in rock music, fills may push ahead of the groove and involve rapid notes that are "in between the grid".

There are times when it's exhilarating to alternate between being generally on- and off-grid (aka "drums falling down a stairwell" sort of wild sound), as popularly demonstrated in the recent soundtracks to Birdman and Whiplash — the latter had performances that were edited in post-production to match the visuals.

I'd generally quantize if what you current hear isn't the desired result, and you either want to tighten or loosen up rhythms, perhaps to match the rest of the production. :)

This is a very, very fascinating read: https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/james-holden-human-timing/

Hardly anyone brings up these issues but they are relevant!


Jazz recordings were never quantized, but with today's technology you can do much more with quantized music. Quantization started with the invention of MIDI, an electronic music protocol invented in the 80's.

Quantization and MIDI have evolved to a point where it's possible to

  • Change audio peaks to midi notes (via setting a waveform peak threshold)
  • Quantize audio/midi to any note rate (1/2 to 1/128th...etc)
  • Reference predefined grooves that have a customized quantization(as seen in Ableton's Groove feature https://www.ableton.com/en/manual/using-grooves/
  • Changing each pitch of a sung vocal (Auto-tune)
  • Set the amount of quantization applied (Between 100% "wet" and 100% "dry")

As for "Modern" Jazz Recordings to have quantized drums, I highly doubt it as that goes against the art form, which is based on human expression. You mostly find quantization in popular music, although it could be possible to find it in Jazz, especially with creative use. As a drummer myself, Jazz Drummers strive to be human metronomes. When playing to a "Click Track" they practice every rhythm against these three basic "feels". You might also hear this referred to as "Playing in the Pocket"...

  • Playing "on the beat" where the "click" is masked by a rhythmic note to where you can't even hear a click! This is usually what is meant by "playing on the grid"
  • Playing behind the beat where you play a groove slightly behind the click consistently to achieve a laid back feel
  • Playing ahead of the beat where you play a groove ahead of the beat, mostly in dance or upbeat feels

Every good Jazz drummer is a master of these concepts and takes pride in developing their own feel behind the drums...

A Modern Jazz Drummer I'd recommend checking out is Chris "Daddy" Dave. He's recorded a lot of Robert Glasper's records, and also recorded a few songs on Adele's album. Watching him play live, you become captivated at his ability to play ultra fast, complex rhythms and then come back in on one into a simple groove, still keeping the same tempo and feel or smoothly changing the tempo into something else. This type of human control with varying tempo is something that is not as easily achieved with quantization, although the article Torley pointed out is interesting...

Overall, even though you could easily apply any number of quantize techniques on a recorded track, I don't really see it happening to Jazz, although it could be possible if done creatively. It also depends on the producer, label, and engineer. However, you will find Quantization mostly on popular songs.

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