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How to Add Character and Unpredictability to Percussion Parts in Logic Pro X

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As you probably already know by now, Logic Pro offers dozens of electronic and organic percussion instrument options, but songwriters and producers working with this DAW often struggle to keep their drum parts from sounding lifeless and conventional, without strategies to put life back into these out-of-the-box samples. Logic has a dynamic range of percussion instrumentation available, but the samples are still essentially blank sonic canvases on which the producer needs to paint.

A few basic strategic approaches and effects can color your drum parts in some fascinating ways, so let’s dig in to some of them right now. For more tips and strategies and a full course on how to get the most out of this high-powered DAW, preview our mentored online course for free here.

1. Separate your drum parts with Producer and Drum Machine kits.

Before you start layering effects on your percussion parts, it’s crucial that you set yourself up to be able to mix each instrument in your kit individually. Sure, Logic offers loads of percussion-based EQ settings designed for whole drum kits, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write your parts in a way that will allow you to isolate them in mixing later.

To isolate and mix Electronic Drum Kit percussion parts, you’ll need to select kits listed under the Drum Machine section. To isolate and mix organic Drum Kit percussion parts, choose from any of the kits listed under the Producer Kits section. In theory, you could build drum parts individually, one track at a time, using the combined kit instruments, but this method will take far more time and will be much harder to compose intuitively through.

Once you’ve written a percussion part on a kit with isolated instruments, you’ll be able to add different effects for each instrument. For example, thick reverb might not work when it’s applied to an entire organic drum kit, but can bring out a compelling new character when it’s only added to your snare for example. This is a crucial step you shouldn’t skip.

2. Shape instrumentation with EQ and compression.

Before you start adding in effects like delay and reverb, shape your individual percussion instruments with EQ and compression. A note of caution here: Using too much compression is something that often turns an interesting drum part into a bland one. How you use these tools will entirely depend on the character of the music you’re composing.

For example, a kick-driven house track needs to be shaped much differently than a lo-fi song with drum parts you want tucked somewhere in the background. Experiment with different EQs and compressors and resist the urge to lean too heavily on preset options. Purposefully muddling certain instruments in your kit while keeping others sharp and focused can also create an interesting contrast to build on.

3. Bring otherworldly sounds to your drum parts with delays, distortions, and reverbs.

Something like a well-placed delay or reverb can add unbelievable character to a percussion part. Since your kicks, snares, toms, and hi-hats are each isolated, you have the power to add effects your entire kit as well as individual instruments. Depending on the character of the track you’re building, these effects allow you to construct drum parts that are clear and driving, or ambient and unpredictable.

Delays can either thicken your drums or bring out entirely new note features depending on how they’re used, while reverbs and distortions can add vivid new colors to percussion parts by making them less pristine and obvious. These are effects we are used to using in order to layer over guitar parts, but they can do incredible things to brighten up stale percussion parts as well!

4. Add depth through panning.

To add more character to your drums, try panning each piece in your kit in a thoughtful way. This will help keep sounds from getting muddled and will be great for later when you need to differentiate instruments like the kick and bass. This also gives you the opportunity to spice up you drum part with a bit of unpredictability. For example, if your kit includes claps, each hit could switch from falling on the left or right side.

There’s no formula for creating interesting percussion parts in Logic, so you’ll need to do plenty of experimenting. It’s also important to note that while having a solid source part to work off of is important, unpredictable or complex beats aren’t necessarily ones that will end up sounding interesting in your music. It’s incredible how a boring 4/4 kick-snare beat can be transformed with the right effects and approach.

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Patrick McGuire
Patrick McGuire

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.