Making your drums sound more lively for Neo Soul / R&B

One of the main problems for beginners making drums tracks is that they tend to rely of the quantization and fixed grove features of music software. When programming a drum pattern for example using Reason, it is all too easy to just flip the buttons and make a drum pattern in a few minutes. This may work for electronic music and some pop, but for Neo Soul /Jazzy Hip hop this will sound far too robotic.

The aim is to get the drums sounding as natural and as live as possible. The easiest thing to do is to try and humanize it with some swing factor., most DAWs should have this function. 60-75% setting is usually a good swing setting. We can also make the drums sound better with the below tips.

  1. Keep the kick drum quantized and add some swing around 60-75%
  2. Program in the snare drums as per the quantized groove but afterwards, select all the snares and shift them to left, so the they are slightly early.
  3. (Optional) add soul-clap type snares in the correct quantized place, this will lengthen the sound of the early snares from point 2.
  4. Turn quantize function off and manually play a soft open hi hat slightly after the 1 and 3 of each beat. E.g. 1 (hat), 2, 3 (hat), 4
  5. (Optional) manually play a closed hat on every beat, making sure it slightly lags behind on top quantized.

What you will get is a more bouncy human sounding drum pattern, the hi-hats do not have to be perfectly on time, as long as the kick drum is keeping the exactly timing.

12 thoughts on “Making your drums sound more lively for Neo Soul / R&B”

    1. Most of my drum samples are actually sampled from my record collection. I like to samples the intros, before the other instruments kick it. Then it’s a matter of EQing and filtering to get the right sounds.

  1. Well another way is to actually get a live recorded drum session recorded and then play around with that. That way you get a real natural sound. Programming beats electronically, will always sound electronic, no matter how you structure, re-arrange or compress it.

  2. Putting a flam swing factor into your rhythm livens things up a little however never as natural and live play and recording. If something sounds off then manually adjust it.

    1. Swing factor does makes things sound a lot more natural and can be enough for most music genres. However if you want that live soulful vibe similar to D’Angelo, then you may want to turn off all forms of quantization.

  3. For me, I prefer to use live drum samples and loops to keep that natural feel. Whenever I program drums, it never sounds right, too stiff and rigid.

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