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How to program ghost notes for your MIDI drum tracks

Ghost notes refer to notes that are played on the Snare drum in-between the regular Snare drum hits (mostly on beats two and four), usually one 1/16 note earlier or later. But in contrast to the regular hits, ghost notes are not as loud. Their main purpose is to break up an otherwise rigid groove and make it seem livelier. They are more “felt” than actually heard, especially when the whole band is playing.

In order to be able to program them realistically, you have to lower the velocity on the ghost hitsas you see fit. Naturally the ghost notes will be louder on faster tempos as the drummer has to move faster, and therefore even the softer hits will be a little bit louder than on a slow groove. Here are two examples of grooves enhanced with ghost notes.

Grid-1-16-notes-Appropriate-tempo-85-125-BPM How to program ghost notes for your MIDI drum tracks

Figure 1: Grid: 1/16 notes, Appropriate tempo: 85-125 BPM

Figure-2 How to program ghost notes for your MIDI drum tracks

Figure 2: Grid: 1/16 notes, Appropriate tempo: 85-125 BPM

When experimenting with ghost notes, try placing hits one 1/16 note (or depending on the tempo 1/8 or 1/32 note) before or after a regular Bass or Snare drum hit. You can also combine ghost hits before and after regular hits. You can take this to the extreme by adding ghost notes before and after every single hit. Who knows, there might be occasions where that seems to fit. Experiment with different variations. Here’s the “Full on” variant.

Figure-3 How to program ghost notes for your MIDI drum tracks

Figure 3: Grid: 1/16 notes, Appropriate tempo: 85-125 BPM

This is a great way to breath life into an otherwise simple groove. If you were just starting out as a real drummer, this would probably take you weeks, if not months to master. As a programmer, you can incorporate this technique with ease.

Interested to read more about drum programming? Check out the new book #HitIt – The Ultimate Guide to Programming Drums. It covers grooves, fills and techniques for Pop, Rock, and Metal as well as tips on how to alter velocities and quantization for a natural feel. There’s also a host of additional material to go along with the book. You can find out more and download the book at www.drumprogrammingguide.com

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