PreSonus Blog

Fix Boring Acoustic Drum Loops

Acoustic drum loops freeze-dry a drummer’s playing—so, what you hear is what you get. What you get. What you get. What you get. What you get. What you get.

Acoustic drums played by humans are  inherently expressive:

  • Human drummers don’t play the same hits exactly the same way twice.
  • Drummers play with subtlety. Not all the time, of course. But ghost notes, dynamic extremes, and slight timing shifts are all in the drummer’s toolkit.

Repetitive loops cue listeners that a drum part has been constructed, not played. So, let’s explore techniques that make acoustic drum loops livelier and more credible. (We’ll cover tips for MIDI drums in a future post.)

Loop Rearrangement

Simply shuffling a few of a loop’s hits within a loop may be all that’s needed to add interest. The following audio examples use a looped verse, and a fill, from Studio One’s Sound Sets > Acoustic Drum Kits and Loops > Fool Rock > Verse 132 BPM.

The first clip plays the Fool Rock Verse 2 loop four times (8 measures), without changes. It quickly wears out its welcome.

We can improve the loop simply by shuffling one snare hit, and adding part of a fill (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Modified Fool Rock Verse 2.

The black loop at the beginning is the original two-measure loop. It repeats three more times, although there are some changes. The red loop is the same, except that a copy of its first snare hit (colored orange) replaces a kick hit later in the loop.

The light blue loop uses the same orange snare hit to provide an accent just before the loop’s end. The copied snare sounds different from the snare that preceded it, which also increases realism.

The dark blue loop is the same as the original, except that it adds the last half of the file Fool Rock Fill 1 at the end.

Listen to how even these minor changes enhance the drum part.

Cymbal Protocol

The Fool Rock folder has two different versions of the Verse 2 loop. One has a crash at the beginning, one doesn’t. I’m not a fan of loops with a cymbal on the first beat. With loops that are only two measures long, repeating the loop with the cymbal results in too many cymbals for my taste. Besides, drummers don’t use cymbals just to mark the downbeat, but to add off-beat hits and accents.

The loops in fig. 1 use the version without a crash. If we replace the first loop with the version that has a crash, the cymbal doesn’t become annoying because it’s followed by three crashless loops. But it’s even better if you overdub cymbals to add accents.

The final audio clip’s first two measures use the Fool Rock loop that includes a crash on the downbeat. However, there are now two cymbal tracks in addition to the loop. A hit from each cymbal creates a transition between the end of the second loop, and the beginning of the third loop.

Loop Ebb and Flow

In this kind of 8-measure figure with 2-measure loops, it’s common for the first and third loops to be similar or even identical. The second loop will add some variations, and the fourth loop will have a major variation at the end to “wrap up” the figure. This natural ebb and flow mimics how many drummers create parts that “breathe.” Keep this in mind as you strive for more vibrant, life-like drum parts.