Author Dr. Justin Paterson was a session drummer for many years before turning to audio engineering and music tech education – he has been teaching Advanced Music Technology at London College of Music of University of West London since 2004.
With The Drum Programming Handbook he aims to tackle the sticky situation of electronically programmed drums: the human-emulated complexities alongside unabashedly synthetic sounds. He shows some of the boundaries and the way they are being pushed by contemporary professionals, from programming itself to studio production techniques.
Paterson covers the core fundamentals (great for beginning/intermediate level producers), but also manages to tackle a multitude of advanced techniques that even veteran producers will gain much benefit from. It should be noted that while metal, reggae, drum & bass and glitch styles are covered in-depth (genres which Paterson has had years of experience in), the vast majority of the methods employed are applicable to all genres.
What’s in the book?
The author first delineates a short history of drum programming, taking the reader from the first drum machines on through to digital controllers and DAWs of the 2000s. Along the way, he touches on noteworthy advancements made by musicians, touching upon the significant albums that utilized each new technique for the first time. It’s an effective and apropos crash course precursor to the information that follows.
Paterson concisely touches on a multitude of fundamentals – basic digital audio workstation usage, beats, tempo, note values, signal types and the nuances of MIDI use. He has a talent for brevity in these explanations. What follows is essentially a tour of dozens of drum patterns (with some really nice audio files included to follow along with aurally) and how to input them in a DAW.
The beauty is in the details
The beauty is in the details here: the author describes and justifies what changing, for example, a hi-hat pattern or its velocity on a certain few beats does to the overall feel, and situations when this may or may not be beneficial to a song/mix.
With respect to the main meat and potatoes, the book offers a compelling format and presentation for learning the ins and outs of drum usage. The reader will learn to utilize space more effectively, or wondered what in particular can make a drum mix more “bouncy” or “funky” – things that I as a horn player never really learned to examine in full.
From swing patterns, shuffles, triplets, ostinato hi-hats, phrasing, crescendos, ghost notes, fills, tempo and more broadly use of tension and release – Paterson incorporates exercises wherein the reader can experiment and see for themselves why certain things work in certain situations and why they don’t in others.
Sampler use and functions, layering, beatslicing, timestretching, creating multi-sample kits (a brilliant way to give your drums a more natural feel by changing the sample slightly with each trigger), other means of intricate audio editing, and advanced timing techniques with swing, partial quantization are all covered concisely but compellingly.
This was by far my favorite section – the reader is really put in the seat of the drummer, and the approach Paterson takes in clarifying various elements makes it all really start to click!
Paterson’s exploration of DAW-drum creation and -mix methods is comprehensive. The reader is walked through the ins and outs of drum synthesis, creating the majority of types of drum hits from scratch via a synthesizer. Basic production techniques and effects such as mixers, equalizers, compressors, automation, delay, reverb, and mixing and producing a drum track are all covered, from broad strokes to intricate details, Paterson leaves no stone unturned in creating a cohesive and effective drum mix.
While many experienced producers will already understand most of these techniques (and indeed some of these sections will be a bit redundant for those who have been mixing for a few years – but I can see why it would be useful for beginners), I managed to pick up one or two tricks that I intend to use for years to come in my own productions.
Drum use in four main genres are investigated: metal, reggae, drum & bass, and glitch. The supplementary audio samples included are particularly useful in this area – it really helps to hear the drums interact with other instruments in the mix as Paterson walks the reader through why certain drumming methods and stylistic structures are more effective than others in different genres, all the while managing to unpack the history of certain famous drum patterns and why they were so impactful, an area I found to be particularly illuminating and enjoyable.
While one or two sections might do well to be skimmed by the more proficient user, I would recommend this book to essentially anyone that utilizes any kind of drums (or any rhythm for that matter) in their productions with less than twenty years of drumming or mixing experience under their belt
Overall, the depth and breadth of knowledge offered by the well-seasoned drum guru are priceless. Unless you’re looking for a guide to odd and complex time signatures (the book focuses on 4/4), The Drum Programming Handbook is an incredible resource for both newcomers and veterans looking to refine and enhance their drum production.
Price and info
The Drum Programming Handbook – The Complete Guide to Creating Great Rhythm Tracks
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Publisher: Backbeat Books
Author: Justin Paterson