Drum programming is the process of creating the drum sequence by using computer software, and not the actual playing of the instrument. You place certain tones in a certain pattern that you later multiply, adjust, manipulate, and mix.

You are making your patterns or using the ones that are already made by someone else. Those tones and patterns come in the form of computer software like an integral part of your digital audio workstation (DAW), or as a VST plug-in that can be used through your DAW.

You arrange tones and patterns on the timeline or the piano roll of your DAW project, by clicking the mouse. 

MIDI drumming is the use of a physical MIDI instrument that can be connected to your DAW through your sound card, or the use of virtual MIDI instruments that are built-in into your DAW or plug-ins.

Why do we do drum programming?

Recording drums is the best way to make drum lines for your music project, but at the same time, it is the most complicated part of any recording. If you don’t have one, you have to find an available drummer, practice with him the drum parts, and pay a very expensive lease for the recording studio. 

This process can last long, and it can cost you sometimes hundreds of dollars. Many musicians find this as an insurmountable obstacle, they are discouraged, and eventually, they give up on their music projects. 

That is where drum programming found its way into the music. With the development of the drum programming software especially VST drum plug-ins (such as EZ Drummer, Addictive Drums, Studio Drummer, and many others), it became incomparably easier and much more affordable to record drums for your music project on the professional level.  

All you need to start programming your drums is a good quality VST drum plug-in that suits your need the best, and your dedication to learning drum programming which doesn’t need to be super complex work with today’s very intuitive software.

With time you will become a better and better drum programmer, and eventually, your projects will sound more and more professional.       

How to set up your drum programming software?

To be able to record any music the first thing you have to do is to choose and install your DAW. All the recordings, samplings, processing, and mixing of your music will be done through this software.

Choosing the right DAW for you can take some time, but there is a lot of material about their characteristics online so you should dedicate some time to that. Before you buy DAW software that you think suits you the best, you should always check for the program requirements. Some of those programs need a lot of RAM or processor power to work properly.  

Installing your DAW should not be a problem. You will probably have to install the software which will allow your DAW to recognize your sound card. If you don’t already have that software you should be able to find it online on the sound card manufacturer’s site. 

If you had properly installed your DAW and your sound card software, you should be able to do drum programming already, because many DAW programs come with built-in MIDI drum instruments or drum pattern banks.

The best way to program your drums is to use the VST plug-ins, which are the software programs of virtual instruments, sound banks, and drum patterns that you will use to sequence your drum parts. They also have powerful mixing and processing options such as different effects, layering, different microphone positions, and many other features.

There are two types of drum VST plugins:

  • free VST plugins that you can download for free from the manufacturer’s site 
  • VST plug-ins that you have to pay for

If you are a beginner the best option is to start with the free VST plug-in, and as you become better at drum programming you will feel when it is time to buy a more advanced plug-in.

Before you buy the drum VST plug-in you think is best for you, you should check for compatibility between the plug-in you want to buy and your DAW. Certain DAWs support certain plug-ins, and you should always check that first.

Sometimes installing your VST plug-in can be hard for beginners. There are certain steps to follow when you do that.

Steps you need to follow to install and set up your VST drum plug-in:

  1. Install your DAW software
  2. You have to locate your VST plug-in directory
  3. Download your VST plug-in
  4. Move your file to the VST directory and extract the file (they usually come as ZIP files)
  5. Restart your DAW

Choosing the right VST drum plug-in for you   

The first thing to think about is that there are some simpler drum plug-ins that you can use for free, but the good ones with professional quality tones and powerful processing possibilities need to be purchased. 

In the beginning, you can start with the free ones, but as you progress and feel that you need better tone and more tone processing options you can invest in the VST plug-in that you will use in your professional projects. 

Choosing the right VST plug-in is not an easy task, because there are so many of them out there. But, as you slowly learn about drum programming you will have a much clearer picture of what you want from your drum plug-in, and therefore it will be easier for you to choose the one that suits you the best.

Creating your drum beats

Using just your DAW you will be able to program your drums. Many of them (Studio One, Ableton, Pro Tools, and many others) come preloaded with some basic drum kits and tones in the form of samples. Arranging those tone samples on your project timeline or in a piano roll, you can create patterns and drum sequences that will become drum parts for your songs.

The other way to program your drums is to create a MIDI instrument track inside your DAW. You can add a virtual instrument that you have in your DAW or you have previously installed a VST plug-in that you can use also as a virtual instrument. 

You can create MIDI parts by using the virtual instrument by clicking on your mouse or you can connect a MIDI controller, which is usually a small keyboard (drummers can use an electric drum pad), and use that to record your drum parts. 

The best and easiest way to make drum parts for your song is to use the built-in beats of your VST plug-in MIDI library. You can drag those to the track timeline, or edit them in the MIDI editor of your DAW.   

If you decide to make your beats, you will have to start with a simpler drum beat, and slowly progress toward the more complex ones. You have to arrange the different drum parts in the curtain way on the project timeline, or your midi editor. 

You can also make your bank of drum beats and use them for different projects. 

Arranging and recording your drum beats

If you have decided which samples match your song the best, you can start building a drum sequence. Following your song, you can arrange those samples or patterns you have previously made, or change the samples that came with your drum plug-in. 

When you have made your drum sequence you can start experimenting with the different sound options. Today’s VST drum plug-ins come with powerful editing tools, effect banks, and mixing options. You should slowly learn to use those until you find a tone that suits your song the best. 

These are the steps you should follow when you do drum recording:

  • First, you should search inside your tone bank and find the best-sounding tone. You should do that for all drum parts of your drum project
  • Experiment with the possibilities that your drum VST plug-in has. you should search all the options like microphone positions, ambients, and other similar possibilities
  • Try to master the essential mixing operations such as compression, reverb, equalization, and other
  • Test how your drum parts interact with the other song instruments. If the sound isn’t clear you should adjust the tone until you can hear everything clearly in the final song mix.

Arranging and recording drums is not an easy task. You should practice by making small sample songs and learn from your mistakes. It can be a longer process, but when you master those skills you will be much more efficient. 

In conclusion 

Drums are the most important but at the same time the most complex instrument to record. With the development of the DAW-s and VST plug-ins, it became much incomparably simpler and cheaper to make good quality drum tracks.

Drum programming isn’t easy and it will take some time to learn all the things that you need to make a good quality drum pattern, sample, and track. But, once you master those skills, you will be able to create much better quality music and have another tool in your arsenal to make your dreams come true.