Lesson 2

Lesson aims

  • Analyse existing grooves and identify their elements (tempo, time signature, drum kit types and component drum sounds)
  • Explore Songzap’s tactile Groove Designer and generate a number of different beats
  • Acquire familiarity with drum notation and modify beats by editing drum notes
  • Consider the value of rhythmic variation and generate grooves for different song sections
  • Play to a variety of beats and reflect on recorded performances

Exploring Songzap’s Groove Designer

Songzap’s Groove Designer introduces a completely novel approach to creating and programming musical drum beats for songs being developed. The tactile on-screen interface motivates you to intuitively move the control dots within the surface of the Kick drum, Snare drum and Hi-Hat cymbal circular pads, and Songzap’s intelligent groove engine generates a plethora of viable drum-pattern variations. You can begin your groove creation process with a preset beat pattern as a starting point, and explore the correlation between what you’re hearing and the real-time representation of the pattern displayed in the notation screen. Moving the Kick or Snare drum dots horizontally adjusts the on-beat notes of a pattern, and moving them vertically modifies the off-beat (syncopated) elements of the pattern. Adjusting the Hi-Hat cymbal control in the horizontal direction produces a number of on-beat and off-beat quarter, eighth and sixteenth cymbal patterns. You can also tap on the notation screen to add or delete notes and this is a great way to customise or refine grooves to preference once a viable initial pattern has been created. The approach doubles as a powerful learning tool, enabling you to interact with notation in a fun way, hearing immediate results out of your editorial actions!

Let’s explore the interface next, following a few simple steps:

Things to consider…

  • Style/genre
  • Type of drum kit
  • Tempo of musical idea
  • Time signature
  • Pick a preset, load a drum kit, stay in 4/4 for now
  • Play with the Groove Designer interface until you get a drum beat you find interesting
  • What drum sounds are playing? (Kick, Snare, Hi-Hat)
  • What is different about them when loading different kits?
  • Switch to a Ride or Tom, instead of a Hi-Hat
  • Familiarise yourself with how the beat looks in notation
  • Tap to add or remove a hit in the notation screen

Crafting beats

Now that you have reviewed the basics of the Groove Designer interface and, through that, you’ve listened to different types of drum patterns, kits and sounds (as well as tempi and time signatures), it will be valuable to analyse and then try to mirror the beat of a popular song. Think of a current hit with an infectious groove that you like, and break down its rhythmic and sonic elements using the Groove Designer to imitate its basic beat. Then consider if there is any variation to the beat across the song’s sections. This is a good opportunity to copy the basic beat created and modify the copied beat through a range of actions:

  • switching the Hi-Hat cymbal to a different drum sound
  • altering the pattern of the cymbal by dragging the control dot to the right horizontally
  • editing (removing or adding) Kick, Snare or Hi-Hat notes within the notation screen by tapping

Let’s follow some of the suggested steps below to navigate through these examples:

  • Listen attentively to the beat of the song you selected (identify tempo and time signature, imitate pattern with mouth sounds (beat-box) or ‘sing’ the pattern, and describe the main sounds…)
  • Does the pattern change over different sections of the song? (e.g. for a hip-hop track it may be the same all the way through, or change slightly between verses and choruses) 
  • Are there any ‘cuts’ that create dynamic anticipation?

  • Investigate the correlation between Arrange segments and your groove designs (note: the Arrange page will be covered in detail in a forthcoming lesson).
  • Make a two-segment beat using the Groove Designer that is similar to the beat analysed
  • To do that, copy the basic beat you created (say from a Verse to a Verse B) so that you can modify the copied version and create a variation (see below)…

On the copied beat:

  • Switch the Hi-Hat cymbal to a different drum sound (e.g. Ride)
  • Alter the pattern of the cymbal by dragging the control dot to the right horizontally
  • Edit (remove or add) Kick, Snare or Hi-Hat notes within the notation screen by tapping (for example, delete some hits from the end of the bar, so it sounds like a DJ is cutting the beat before the next section)

The value of rhythmic practice

Having created a two-segment beat with Songzap that mirrors the groove pattern of an existing song, it is useful to consider next how a drum idea can become a springboard for further song development. Much of modern music is founded upon a strong beat, the beat is mostly articulated by the drum sounds, but additional instruments reinforce and interact with the drums. This ‘conversation’ between the drum beat and further instruments is what we generally understand and appreciate as the collective ‘groove’ of a song. Think about and play some popular music examples ranging from earlier decades to the present that illustrate this concept: for instance, the basslines of James Jamerson (‘What’s Going On’), Carol Kaye (‘Good Vibrations’) or Bootsy Collins (‘Super Bad’); a rapper’s syncopated flow over a hip-hop beat (Nas’ ‘I Made You Look’); Nile Rodger’s rhythm guitar over a disco drum beat and Bernard Edwards bassline (‘Le Freak’); chopped instrumental samples syncopated against the beat in boom-bap productions (DJ Premier’s ‘Mass Appeal’). Here is a great Carol Kaye interview of her practicing and playing against the click track and making the interaction feel like its ‘grooving’.

So, recording and practicing to a beat is essential for developing both songcraft and performing ability. Drummers and bass players in bands practice together for hours to develop a tight rhythmic pulse, MCs practice and record to beats and backing tracks for years to develop their unique ‘flow’, and all kinds of instrumentalists rehearse to click tracks or drum tracks to become ready for studio recording (as well as live performance that deploys backing tracks). Using the patterns you develop with the Groove Designer, it’s like having your very own drummer on hand for unlimited practicing and songwriting. Add to this the kind of variation you can create for different segments, and you can see how slight adjustments to particular drum sound performances (e.g. a busier Hi-Hat or edited Kick drum pattern) can influence the rhythmic complexity or the dynamics of the musical ideas that you will be developing over your drum grooves. This approach is also valuable for drummers and percussionists. You can interact with the Groove Designer in many valuable ways, from interpreting patterns using the notation screen, to overdubbing drum or percussion parts over beats you have generated in Songzap for both practice and polyrhythmic layering purposes.

  • Bands practice together to develop a communal groove
  • MCs rap over numerous beats to develop their flow
  • Bassists and drummers practice together for hours
  • Pianists play to metronomes (Carol Kay plays “off” the metronome, to make it ‘groove’)
  • Drummers play to click tracks in studios and live, carrying other musicians with them
  • Infectious Grooves are created out of the rhythmic relationship between instruments (Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ is a great example)

Rhythmic practice helps:

  • Develop your phrasing ability, rhythmic consistency and accuracy on instruments and voice
  • Create rhythmic correlations and syncopation between instruments
  • Create groovy hooks!

Let’s put some of the above concepts to practice. The objective here is to practice simple performative actions against our main beat (clapping, singing, playing), record some examples, then create a variation of these ideas to record over a slightly modified (B-section) beat. It could be useful to loop each of the created beat segments for a number of bars, to practice and record an instrumental or vocal idea over, say, a 32-bar A-B song structure (16 bars of section A and 16 bars of section B). This will provide an opportunity to begin exploring the correspondence between groove segments and arrangement sections, consider the evolving structure of the song and allow for reflection: can you identify issues in your playing during playback that you were not aware of when recording? Is your tone, articulation, dynamics and timing (including the length of notes or phrases) consistent? What can you do to improve any of these aspects?

Some of these experiences and reflective findings can be huge surprises for performers and songwriters when they interact with recording engineers, other session players or producers in a professional studio environment for the first time. Experimenting with recording technology, beat programming and song structure during the development of a musician’s career brings about considerable benefits in terms of studio-readiness, rhythmic tightness and appreciation of structural dynamics in songcraft.

  • Play a beat segment
  • Practice clapping to the beat you designed
  • Practice speaking over the beat you designed
  • Practice rapping to the beat you designed
  • Practice singing to the beat you designed
  • Practice playing an instrument over the beat you designed

  • Switch to the Arrange page
  • Tap on the bar duration area of your first section (e.g. Verse A) and change it to 16 bars
  • Tap on the bar duration area of your second section (e.g. Verse B) and change it also to 16 bars

  • Practice over your new beat segment
  • Try to introduce a variation in your playing inspired by your altered beat (e.g. a busier bassline for a busier drum pattern, or one where the bass notes lock to the kick more…)
  • Now try to record both section parts in one go, letting your Groove Designer play from segment A to B seamlessly (use the Tracking page, as we did in Lesson 1)

  • Review your recording: how does it sound?
  • Did you find inconsistencies between how you were ‘hearing’ your performance whilst playing, and how it sounds when you reflect on it playing back?
  • Could your timing be better or could you ‘lock’ more to the beat?
  • Is your tone consistent? (does your voice or instrument variate in tone or dynamics over the rhythmic changes?)
  • Incorporate the Groove Designer into your instrumental or vocal practice strategy