Songwriter's percussion tools

Budget vs quality

I’m slowly learning n-Track as a tool for songwriting and hopefully creating CDs. I’ve got most of what I need; a good mic, a keyboard, bass and guitar. The problem is drum tracks. I don’t want a canned rhythm track, would rather create one. It should sound realistic, and be fairly simple to make. I’ve looked at two options. LeafDrums seems like half a tool; I believe it just creates the patterns that eventually become percussion. NSKit looks a lot more promising, but I’m still downloading the huge files. My question: Given my desire for quality, simplicity and low cost, are there other options I need to be looking into? Thanks. (I’ll gladly take a link as an answer, in case this has been covered elsewhere.)

VSTi drum tracks sound canned to me. :(

How about a drummer? Not an option? :)

Unfortunately a drummer is not yet an option. This is one-man entry-level work I’m doing in my tiny apartment.

Rather thyan using leafdrums or similar to make your drum tracks you will most likely get a more “lifelike” feel if you just record your drums using a keyboard or percussion pad and recording the midi into N.

Obviously this means you have to be able to play fairly consistently in time.
Although you don’t have to be able to play drums.
You can do 1 part at a time (eg. just do the kick, then overdub the snare etc. (although I usually do kick and snare together and then overdub everything else bit by bit).

You can then edit it in N’s midi editor to adjust the velocities that you got wrong or move notes around if you were a bit off.

Can also then copy and paste bars or sections around to make a decent drum track.

Using drum machines or drum sequencers where you just click notes into the sequencer is usually where you end up getting the robotic feel.

Real person inputing in real time will get the subtle differences in timing and velocuty that can then be tweaked and fixed up later.

And then ue a good soundfont or some nice samples through a sample player (like RMF) to make them osund like real drums played bya real person.

My 2c anyway,


well, i use Fruity loops that uses samples to emulate drums sounds, and it worked very fine to me. Although, you can make a simple rhythm or a very complex one with a lot of details. And the best: it sounds like a real one… if you can get a human drummer, i think that it’s the best option.

Quote (keithpurtell @ Feb. 27 2005,15:28)
I've got most of what I need... a keyboard

Use your keyboard to tap in MIDI drum tracks to n-track and use NSKit for your samples. I would recommend NSKit with sfz.

It may be an expensive option, but Reason 2.5 is down to $199.99 due to 3.0 coming out next week (nothing special added to 3.0 in my opinion). I’ve made and heard others create drum tracks on the Redrum module that sound very life-like. Listen to the demo sounds at (the one done by Charlie clouser is a great example). First time I listened to that track I swore it had live drums on top of the sequences…but all programmed.

I’m sure what I am about to go on about is on this site somewhere

In essence, anything that is not a real drummer tends to sound canned. So, in the absence of a real drummer, you need to “think” drummer. There are some basic rules, such as a drummer can’t phyically hit more than two drums/hats/rides, etc. with sticks at any one time.

You can tap out a beat on the keyboard and then quantise this in the piano roll editor, or not quantise if you purposely want to hit a bit quicker or slower than the mark, so to speak. Quantising can be an enemy is sounding canned

When you are done in midi, as has been suggested, there are lots of plug-ins that tend to work well. As a suggestion, I tend to split my “whole drum” midi tracks into typically bassdrum, snare, ride, hats and then a general percussion for any rolls, in-fill, etc. I use a soundfont player (sfz) and any number of soundfonts or samples to get the individual sound I want for snare, ride, etc. I then drop each of these into a seperate .wav file and then I can add more effects to each track, i.e. reverb, compression and so on.

You can also slightly advance or retard the tracks to emphasise a fast or slow song.

I tend to save snippets of midi drum tracks to a library area that I can use to copy and paste from. This saves a bit of time, but for me, it’s time consuming to get those hits where they really matter.

I have played drums (not very well) and my son is learning (has his own basic kit at home). I find this really inspirational when laying down midi drums. As a suggestion, go and buy some drum sticks and lay out a few stools, pillows, etc. and use your imagination within your own song. It;s surprising how you get a “feel” for where and what you should hit.

Good luck


This may sound heretical, but consider getting a copy of Band-In-A-Box, from PG Music.

It really is invaluable for trying ideas, playing with arrangements, setting styles etc. The Styles are flexible, and certainly do not sound Mechanical.

At the end of the day, you can drop out all the tracks except the drum from your N-Track song as you replace the bits you can play.

As a practice tool, it rocks.


Steinberg has a package called Groove Agent that looks very interesting. It works as a VSTI, which you would trigger inside of n-Track. The street price is a little steep, around $199, but it looks like a great way to build drum tracks for nondrummers. The also have a Virtual Bassist program as well as other music production software. If I weren’t invested in Fruity Loops and other stuff, I would definitely consider GA; it’s seems pretty versatile.

Groove Agent (be sure to check out the screenshots to get a better idea how it works)

There is a new product which is generating a load of interest over at KvR. Its called Jamstix, costs $99 from It responds ‘automagically’ to an audio file and generates its own beats with fills etc… I have downloaded a demo last night but am yet to try it out (81 Mb download!)

As a “it’ll do until I can get a real drummer” solution, I find that, if done right, Fruity Loops and a good set of samples will fool 95% of you listeners.

Here are some songs I did with Fruity Loops and the “Tom Hicks” drum samples.

I’ve gone to the Jamstix sight and listened to all their demos, and if this thing works the way they say it does, and by every indication the demos point to that, then this is going to revolutionize desktop recording. Check it out.

I’ve been using drum loops for ages now. There are many, many different styles availabe from heavy metal to hip hop and they really do sound almost real - much more so than something like fruity loops. I use Acid Pro to put them together and it’s very intuitive.

Another vote for Band in a Box (and other, similar, midi-based programs).

What I like in midi based accompanient programs is the tweakability of the result. You’re not tied into the sound of original loop, you can adjust the groove, the sounds used etc. until the result sounds just like you want it to sound (at least, with the sampler/synth sounds you have). And THEN you can record the result to audio with the track assignment you prefer (in my case, bass drum and percussion in separate tracks from the rest of the drumkit).


You could try For 20 dollars you can’t go wrong very powerful.

oops, that should read Rhythm Rascal from :D

Quote (BobbyS @ Feb. 28 2005,15:37)
I've been using drum loops for ages now. There are many, many different styles availabe from heavy metal to hip hop and they really do sound almost real - much more so than something like fruity loops.

That's because "drum loops" can made from a recording of a real, live drummer doing his thing in the studio, or they can be made by someone on a computer. So then, the ones recorded by a real drummer will sound like a real drummer!

Fruity Loops is not a just program for sequencing pre-made loops (like acid), FL is a program for taking drums samples and creating your own loops *from scratch*, and then sequencing the loops that you made into a song. How "real" it sounds depnds upon how real your orignal samples sound, and mostly how good you are at making "real" sounding loops, from scratch.

Some of the songs on my CD took upwardss of 8-10 hours (total, not all at once!) of programming and tweking to get "right". ANd even now, well after the project is done, I hear things that I wish I would've done differently.

That said... a decent real-live drummer is a much better solution, anyday. In the meantime, we make do with what we have.