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Composing Bass Lines and Drum Sequences

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Bass lines and drum sequences are repetitive patterns usually lasting one, or occasionally several, bars. They are composed using the Beat + Bassline Editor, shown here:

BeatBassline Editor1.1.0.png

First and foremost, you need to know what you want to have as the end-result already before you begin to 'compose'.

A simple BB-pattern has constraints! All 'notes' will as events be executed exactly at chosen tick!

The 'note' is a 'no-length-note', and it is green. 'No-length-note's will play short samples from start-to-end. 'No-length-note's can only be selected with the select tool, they cant be selected with ctrl+a.

Normal-notes are blue, and play for the actual length of the note!

If you know you will make use of 'studder' with very short notes extremely close to each other, or you plan to humanize the percussion, where the events wont be exactly on tick-marks -because thats how computers play, humans dont.. -Then you need to create your percussion-tracks in piano-roll!

You can not make advanced quantizing from B&B-editor.

you open the Beat in piano-roll (right-click| and choose open in piano-roll).

For advanced note-placing, i would use at least 400*magnification, and the highest quantizing.

But first lets look at adding instruments to the BB-editor.

Adding new instruments

Typically you'll be adding samples of drums and instrument notes into the Beat + Bassline Editor. Double-click on a sample or preset in the Side Bar to add it directly into the Beat + Bassline Editor. You can also drag samples and presets into it as well and drop them in the free area at the bottom of the editor window. You can rearrange the order of instrument tracks by dragging the stippled handle on the left end of the track (Grip handle.png).

Composing patterns

On the right end of the instrument track is a display of the beats in a bar, divided up into steps (BeatBassline step editor1.0.0.png) - 4 steps per beat in a 4-beat bar. This resembles the classic interface of the Roland TR-808, with the 4 beats shaded alternately for easy reference. Pressing the step buttons turns on the note at that particular step of the bar; pressing it again turns it off. Hover your mouse over a step and roll your mouse scroll wheel to change the volume of the step.

The best way to get the feel for this is to add a bass or kick drum and a hi-hat to the Beat + Bassline Editor, turn on steps 1, 5, 9, 13 (i.e. the 1st step of each beat in the bar) and press the 'Play' button (The play button 1.0.0.PNG). The rhythm plays at 4 steady beats in a bar. Then you can experiment by turning steps on or off on each instrument while the rhythm is playing to get a feel for the sound of that rhythm. This gives you an intuitive feel for the sound of the rhythm based on when the notes are played, and is the best way to refine a pattern.

More than one pattern

You have have now created the first of what may be many separate patterns in your song. This is called 'Beat/Bassline 0' in the Song Editor and in the pattern drop-down selector at the top of the Beat + Bassline Editor. You can create a new pattern using the Add beat/bassline button (Add beat 1.1.0.PNG) and it will be named sequentially. You can also rename these Beat/Bassline tracks by right-clicking on their name in the Song Editor. This allows you to give your patterns useful names.

Philosophies of pattern design

There are several schools of thoughts to pattern design, usually stemming from the kind of software one has used previously. To illustrate the differences, imagine a typical 4/4 'trance' rhythm (the 'oontz-oontz-oontz-oontz' style: kick-snare-kick-snare-kick-snare-kick-snare) and a variation on that style with 2 snare hits instead of 1 at the end of the bar.

Plan A. One pattern per bar

This means having a single Beat/Bassline track active for a particular bar in the Song-Editor. This is probably the most common style. Each separate pattern includes beats for all the instruments it uses. In our trance rhythm example, you would have pattern #1 containing the kick-snare-kick-snare-kick-snare-kick-snare and pattern #2 containing the kick-snare-kick-snare-kick-snare-kick-snare-snare. You would trigger the 2 separate Beat/Bassline tracks alternately in the Song-Editor, never simultaneously.

Plan B. Pattern and variations

A different way to do the same thing is to again have 2 patterns in our example. The difference here is that the variation pattern (pattern #2) is totally silent except for a single snare hit on the last step (1/16) of the bar. In other words, pattern #2 only plays the notes that vary from pattern #1. In order to hear the complete variation pattern, you trigger both the main rhythm (pattern #1) and the variation (pattern #2) simultaneously in the Song-Editor. In other words, you have 2 Beat/Bassline tracks playing in those Song-Editor bars where you want the variation to play.

Plan C. One pattern per instrument

We now change our philosophy significantly by having 3 separate patterns. The first pattern (pattern #1) triggers just the kick drum, common to both the rhythm and variation. The second (pattern #2) contains just the snare drum for the rhythm, and the third (pattern #3) contains just the snare for the variation. Once again, you sequence the tracks together in the Song-Editor, so that the appropriate Beat/Bassline tracks play simultaneously in the appropriate bars, in order to get the complete effect.

What is best?

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the approaches above:

  • Plan A makes logical sense from a musical notation point of view, and it's easier to see the integration of all the instruments in the rhythm. For example, you get a clearer picture of whether 2 instruments play in the same sixteenth using this method. On the other hand, you have to re-compose the entire rhythm for each minor variation; however, Clone This Track is available to help in this regard.
  • Plan B is usually quicker because you compose the variation pattern to contain only the notes that vary. On the other hand, Plan B does not allow you to remove notes that are already in the 'base' pattern--you can only add notes to the 'base' pattern. This might suggest that you breakdown the composition further into common sections and their variations which is Plan C.
  • Plan C is most difficult because you must compose the instruments individually; however, it is easier to combine them in new and novel ways within the Song-Editor. On the other hand, creating more tracks in order to separate out these individual differences may make the rhythm tracks harder to manage and combine together. Also, it's tiring to create yet another drum track for another slight variation in the rhythm, even when this might sound significantly better. The temptation to reuse what is already there even if it sounds boring is one of the great causes of songs sounding dispirited and ordinary.

Ultimately, like so many artistic things, it is better to use the methods you are familiar with than to struggle with a way that someone else considers 'correct'. For beginners, I recommend starting with Plan A or B until you have established a clear preference. It is also useful to pick and choose from these based on the situation.

Putting patterns into your song

Naturally, the patterns by themselves do not create rhythms in your songs. Using the editing tools in the Song Editor, you 'draw' new areas for the rhythm to be active at any time in your song. You can also have a pattern that goes for a fraction of a bar (using Ctrl+drag); however, you cannot shrink a pattern to be less than 1 bar in length.

Multi-bar Rhythms

Sometimes you may want a rhythm that is 2 bars long or a rhythm that repeats not every bar, but every 2 bars. One way to handle this is to create 2 patterns (rhythm #1 and rhythm #2) and alternate their use in the Song Editor. Another way is to create a single rhythm that is more than 1 bar long. For that you should use the add/remove steps buttons in the top right corner of the Beat + Bassline editor (Add steps 1.1.0.png)

When you activate a pattern that is more than 1 bar long in the Song-Editor, the initial pattern 'block' size will have the same number of bars as the pattern. However, once present, you can drag the right end of the block to shrink or enlarge it in multiples of a single bar, thus allowing you to end a multi-bar pattern in mid-pattern. The 'repeat' tick marks within these bars will display at multiples of the actual pattern length, for easy identification.

Modifying Notes

The Beat + Bassline Editor can also be used to play instruments, not just drum samples. This is where the word 'bassline' in the title comes from - it is commonly used to play the repetitive notes of a typical bassline in electronic music. This saves a lot of the copy and paste process that would be required if you were composing for the instrument directly in a track of the Song Editor.

When you turn on a step button for a particular instrument, the instrument sample will play its base note. However, you may want a repetitive bassline that does not play the same note all the time. To change the note, right-click on a step button and select Open in piano-roll. The Piano Roll Editor will open and display the notes for that instrument. This pattern, too, can be any length (not just a single bar).

Adding or modifying notes in the Piano Roll is also useful for situations when you need more notes, or when you need more accuracy in time placement than the sixteen steps per bar that the Beat + Bassline Editor gives you. You can also modify the volume of each note.


Reference: Beat + Bassline Editor

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