Ghost Notes

When a real live person plays the drums, they’ll often keep time and momentum by lightly tapping a drum head or cymbal between beats. Computers and drum machines, on the other hand, only play exactly the beats that you tell them to. Make a MIDI drum loop more realistic-sounding by adding some almost-inaudible “ghost notes” between the drum hits. Ghost notes are subtle but can be a powerful addition to a groove.

1: Load a kick, snare and a few hats into your drum machine. I’m using the excellent — and free — Luthatron sample pack in Ableton’s Drum Rack. Set all of the samples’ velocity to 50 percent: this will let you hear the difference when you add the ghost notes.

2: Program in a simple breakbeat.

3: Add a note before and after each drum hit (except for the kick drums). Click on each of the newly-added notes and drag its velocity slider all the way down to “1.”

4: Shift-Tab back to the Drum Rack control window and turn up the velocity settings until you can barely hear the ghost notes.

All samples licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Non-Commercial Attribution.

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