Prior to joining Periphery, I had never dreamed of using drum programming as a way to write my parts. In fact, I probably would’ve said “No way man, I play my parts!” had you asked me to use drum programming.
But now, after almost nine years of drumming for Periphery, I gotta tell ya, I’m a BIG FAN of it. Most of my favorite drum parts on the newest Periphery record were developed and written via an iterative drum programming process, and here it is laid out for you!
After reading, my hope is that you’ll see the value in programming your drums when you start writing, so that your final studio performances are the best they can be. After all, who wants to waste money on a studio recording if your parents aren’t perfect?
Step 1: Focus on the melody
Right off the bat, don’t try and clutter the melody with every single drum idea you can conjure up. Instead, focus on the music, the melodic aspects, and let the person in the band who wrote melodies tell you how they hear the drums. Is it aggressive? Is it a half-time feel? Even if your bandmate doesn’t play the drums, they will most likely have an idea of how the melody should feel in terms of rhythm.
Step 2: Program the obvious parts first
Again, you’ll be tempted to jump the gun and fill in every 16th note possible with a fill, a splash hit, another ghost note, but don’t do it. For now, just focus on the main accents. Enhance the melodies, and focus on the transitions and the movement from section to section.
Step 3: Go nuts!
Now that everyone in the band has agreed on the flow and the movement from section to section, it’s time to go all out. Fill in the ghost notes, play around with fills, use that China and Stack Cymbal you love so much…
I’d even recommend writing parts that are beyond your current capabilities! By doing this you’ll actually push yourself to work on parts that aren’t easy to execute, and that will force you to become an even better drummer! Oh, and by the way, when we wrote P3, there were tons of parts I couldn’t actually play when we programmed the demos, BUT that was the challenge… could I figure them out and actually perform them? The answer was YES!
Step 4: Take it to the kit!
Fill up your water bottle, grab a towel, and clear your schedule, because it’s time to practice! Hopefully by now you’ve been able to sit with the parts and digest them. You’ve tapped them out on your steering wheel, you’ve listened to them before bed, and you’re ready to see how much you’ll enjoy performing them.
Use this practice time to work through the movements and transitions first. Just focus on the flow, then once you feel good there, dig in to the hard parts! If you find they’re easier than you thought, awesome! If not, thats ok, put it in some hard work! Reference my good buddy Mike Johnston’s Four Stage Practice Method, and un-tie the knots that are preventing you from nailing the parts. If i can do it, you can too!
Step 5: Shut up, listen, and enjoy 🙂
Here’s the part where most people mess up. You wrote the parts, you made them more complex than your capabilities, you practiced, got better, now you can play them, and now you want to rush to the studio to record them! DON’T!
Not yet. Now is the time to sit with the programmed parts and let them sink in. Listen to them casually and passively… I bet you you’ll end up hearing things you want to change. Small tweaks or big changes, either way you can STILL USE DRUM PROGRAMMING to get the parts right! You see, most people jump into the studio, record their parts, and then often times end up disliking their performance – at least that’s what happens to me.
So don’t rush it. Take your time, let the parts sink in, and make small changes using drum programming because you can! Even if you have to work out a couple more small things in the practice room, you’ll have made the changes before committing your time, energy, and money on the studio recording!
Once it’s recorded in a studio, the parts are set and you don’t want to regret your performances, so please, for the sake of your happiness, use drum programming to get the parts right before you hit the record button.
So that’s what I got. I hope this piece was helpful. It truly is the method I use, and I hope it ends up being useful to you as well. Oh, and if you need some good sounding drums for your programming, I think I may know where you can find some… 🙂