In a previous article titled The Click Perspective, I introduced some wisdom from a drummer named Rusty Knorr. This nugget also came from Rusty and I am grateful.

The year was 1988—it was late in the new-wave genre and drum machines and technology were taking over the music industry and also become affordable, bring drum machines to the masses. When I, as a 12 year old new drummer, heard this wisdom from Rusty, I was kind of lost. It came with head-scratching and a marination process that would take more than a decade to fully become realized within my mind. He said “If you can program a drum machine well, you’re a good drummer!“.

WHAT?!?If you can hit buttons, you are a good drummer?” This made no sense to me. On the Yamaha drum machine my dad let me play around on, it allowed you to move the cursor left and right to any 16th note and place a kick, snare, or whatever into that spot within the measure… isn’t this cheating?!? It was called step recording. One thing that I didn’t pay attention to at the time was velocity. Velocity in drumming is how hard something is hit. Still cheating, right?!?

Well—now I realize that the goal is different than what I thought it was. Programming a drum machine is not about adding drums to a song, it’s about creating a groove. Groove is an elusive concept. For me, it’s about making your booty shake, the thing that makes you want to move to what you’re hearing.

After 20+ years of teaching, and more than 35 years of being in the industry, I have heard the same beat played by hundreds upon hundreds of drummers. The same beat played by different people ALL SOUND DIFFERENT! Our personality and physical energy and capability comes through in the simplest of beats.

But what makes the simplest of beats groove?
= Dynamics and note placement.

If you can program a drum machine well, you’re a good drummer!“. To accomplish this, you NEED TO HAVE an intimate knowledge of exactly what it takes to make a drum part groove…

  • the note placements
  • the ghost notes
  • the pulsing of a single instrument like a Hi Hat
  • the dynamics that can be played on the Kick Drum
  • which notes should be loud and present and those that can hide within the 8ths or 16ths of the groove.
  • a busy beat should still sound easy, how to do that takes experience and skill, so….

If you can program a drum machine well, you’re a good drummer!