I've been making music since the '80's.  In that time I've written all types of music in all different styles.  The one thing that has been consistently difficult for me has been producing great drum tracks.  Luckily, today's music software, like GarageBand, help make the process much easier than it used to be.  Let me share with you my secret to programming great GarageBand drum tracks.

Programming Professional Drum Tracks, Even in GarageBand, Is Hard

One of the biggest problems we face as musicians today is that technology gives us the tools to play any instrument.  What technology doesn't always give us though is the ability to play every instrument well.  What makes you think you should be able to sit down at a MIDI keyboard and bang out great drum tracks?  Just because GarageBand gives you the technology to play a great drum track doesn't mean you'll instantly be able to do it.

It takes years and years of hard work and practice to become a great drummer.  It takes almost that long to learn how to program a great drum track.  So what do you do in the meantime?   Let me tell you what I do to program professional-sounding

drum tracks in GarageBand.Programming Great GarageBand Drum Tracks(53117)Credit: Bill Hartzell

Copy What The Pros Are Doing

I do this in two different ways:

1.  Steal Someone Else's Drum Tracks:  No, I'm not advocating actual theft.  What I really mean by this is study your favorite drum parts and learn what it is you like about them.   What is it about the kick/snare combination that makes that drum track hit so hard?  Why does that hi-hat sound so lazy, but in a totally cool way?  Once you've picked these tracks apart it will be easier for you to program your own drum tracks that work in the same ways.  This isn't a new concept.  Musicians, especially jazz musicians, have been learning like this for generations.

2.  Start With Professionally Programmed MIDI Files And Loops:  I've never understood why so many producers ignore this great resource.   This isn't cheating. In fact, the pros do it all of the time.  I mean, the entire foundation of Hip Hop was built on using other people's beats (sampling).  If it's good enough for Hip Hop, it should be good enough for you.  There's no reason you should try to reinvent the wheel.  Life is too short and there's too much music to be made.   I would, however, offer this one caution.

Don't Just Copy Someone Else's Tracks, Edit Them To Work With Your Music

Maybe P. Diddy can get away with sampling an entire Police song, putting some new words over the top of it and calling it art but I'm going to encourage you to be a little more creative.  You want your music to be unique, right?  You aren't going to get there by using the stock loops in GarageBand or simply looping 4 bars right out an old Chic tune.

In order to stand out, you need to take those tracks and tweak them to fit your music.  Change the pitch, vary the rhythms, rearrange some notes.  Do whatever it takes to make those tracks yours.  This is where great drum tracks come from.  This is where you should be applying some of that, "sweat equity".

Just Do It

It's really not a very complicated concept. Artists have been "borrowing" from the greats since the very first musician started playing. The really important part of this secret is to actually put it to use. Start now. Start today. The more you work at your craft, whether it's playing the saxophone or programming GarageBand drum tracks, the better you're going to get. Let's not waste any more time.