One of the first beats you learn if you take drum lessons is a beat called "Four on the Floor". This beat consists of the kick drum hitting on every beat and the snare hitting on 2 and 4. The hi-hats are usually played with 8th notes but can be changed up as long as the kick is hitting on 1, 2, 3, and 4. The notation looks like this.
This beat is one of the most used beats in popular music. You can find Bruno Mars using it in Uptown Funk, The Bee Gees in Saturday Night Fever, and even AC/DC in Thunderstruck.
Although this beat seems simple to program, it is actually one of the more difficult patterns to program properly, and believe it or not, one of the hardest beats for a real drummer to record as it requires a great amount of accuracy to get the hits not to flam against each other. In my recording career, I have seen the best drummers struggle to get a good take when playing a Four on the Floor beat.
When programming the Four on the Floor beat it seems like it should be easy. Place the kick on the beat, the snare on the 2 and 4, and draw in some 8th note hats. If you have done this, I am sure you were less than satisfied. This is because a real drummer can never be perfect like a drum machine. When the kick, snare, and hats all hit at the same time there can be a lot of masking that happens. Sometimes the kick will feel weak, the snare might disappear, or the hats and snare might combine to create the sound of an overly bright snare. The key to getting this correct is what separates real drummers and drum programmers from the others.
The image below shows how even a great studio drummer has some distance between the kick, snare, and hats when they hit together.
To program a proper Four on the Floor beat, you must keep in mind two things.
- The physical nature of drumming
- The intent of the drummer
The physical nature of drumming means that it's nearly impossible to hit all three elements at the same time. It might happen, but it won't happen on a consistent basis.
The intent of the drummer is based on what the drummer is trying to achieve. Where are the accents placed? Is there a push on beat 1? Is the song supposed to feel rushed, relaxed, or in the pocket?
When learning to "Think Like a Drummer" it is imperative that the drummer’s intent is at the forefront of your mind, it is also one of the hardest parts about programming drums.
To follow along with this video please use a treated room or high-quality headphones as some of the things we cover are subtle in nature.