5 Tips for Dynamics in Programmed Drum Performances (+free SD3 preset)

Mike Luke
26 Apr 202018:13

TLDRIn this informative video, the host shares five essential tips for adding dynamics to programmed drum performances. The discussion begins with the importance of volume automation, which is crucial for maintaining the drum's presence throughout a song's varying volume levels. The host then advises against always using a velocity of 127, emphasizing the need to vary velocities to prevent a monotonous mix and to capture the tonal differences that come with different playing intensities. The third tip involves utilizing different articulations, such as room shots and rim shots, to enhance the song's dynamics and create a more natural sound. The fourth tip is about stacking additional samples onto the snare drum to help it cut through the mix without affecting the ghost notes, which are recommended for humanizing the performance. Lastly, the host introduces a post-production technique to adjust the velocity curve, allowing for a more controlled and humanized drum performance without the need for manual adjustments to each hit. The video also provides a free drum preset called 'Maple Heaven' for viewers to experiment with these tips.


  • 🥁 Tip #1: Utilize volume automation in DAWs to ensure drums match the dynamic range of the music, gradually increasing the drum volume to maintain balance throughout the song.
  • 🎛️ Tip #2: Avoid using maximum velocity (127) constantly on MIDI-programmed drums; varying velocities can provide a more dynamic and realistic sound, influencing the tone and character of the drums.
  • 🎼 Tip #3: Employ different articulations (like rim shots and center hits) to enhance the dynamism and realism in drum programming, making use of the tonal variations they offer.
  • 👂 Tip #4: Use flams and off-center hits to create a more natural and varied drum sound, which can mimic the slight inconsistencies of a live drummer.
  • 💡 Tip #5: If a track has too many high-velocity hits, use a DAW’s features to adjust the velocity curve, limiting the maximum velocity to below 127 to avoid overly harsh sounds.
  • 🔗 Tip #6: Link to downloadable presets, like 'Maple Heaven', which are tailored for specific drum kits and musical styles, offering a starting point for personal adjustments.
  • 📚 Tip #7: Understand the importance of mixing in drum programming—not just for level adjustment but for enhancing the drum tracks’ integration with the rest of the music.
  • 🎨 Tip #8: Experiment with adding additional samples (like a stacked snare sample) to enhance presence in the mix, ensuring these are only triggered at appropriate velocities.
  • 📉 Tip #9: Adjust the velocity curve for individual instruments within your drum software to fine-tune their dynamics post-programming, allowing for global changes without individual note adjustments.
  • 👥 Tip #10: Engage with community feedback and share resources such as presets and MIDI files to help others improve their drum programming skills.

Q & A

  • What is the purpose of using volume automation in MIDI drum programming?

    -Volume automation is used to adjust the loudness of drum tracks in relation to other elements of a song during post-production. It ensures that the drums maintain a consistent presence, matching the dynamic changes in the music, thus preventing them from being drowned out as the song intensifies.

  • Why should you avoid always using a velocity of 127 when programming drums?

    -Using a velocity of 127 consistently makes every drum hit its loudest, which can reduce the dynamic range and impact of the music. Lower velocities not only allow for more expressive playing but also ensure that softer parts sound more natural and that the drum sounds vary in character, not just in volume.

  • How can different articulations improve the dynamics of MIDI drum programming?

    -Different articulations, like rim shots or center hits, can significantly alter the sound and impact of a drum. Using varied articulations allows for more nuanced performances that better mimic live drumming, enhancing both the realism and the dynamic expression of the programmed drums.

  • What role do ghost notes play in MIDI drum programming?

    -Ghost notes add subtlety and complexity to drum patterns, contributing to a more nuanced and human-like performance. They are particularly effective in parts of a song that require a delicate touch, enhancing the groove and dynamic texture without overwhelming the main beats.

  • How does adjusting the velocity curve in a drum software like Superior Drummer help in post-production?

    -Adjusting the velocity curve allows you to set limits or thresholds for how drum hits are triggered based on their velocity. This can be used to uniformly reduce overly loud hits or boost softer ones, ensuring a more consistent and controlled performance across the entire drum track.

  • What is the benefit of stacking additional samples onto a snare drum in MIDI programming?

    -Stacking additional samples can enhance the snare drum's presence and cut through in the mix, especially during powerful sections of music. This technique adds depth and intensity to the snare, making it stand out more distinctly during critical moments.

  • Why is it important to use velocity gating when stacking samples in drum programming?

    -Velocity gating prevents additional samples from being triggered by softer hits like ghost notes, which could otherwise sound unnatural. By setting a velocity gate, only stronger hits trigger the stacked samples, ensuring that the extra layer adds impact only where it's most effective.

  • What advantage does MIDI programming offer to guitar players who program drums for their music?

    -MIDI programming allows guitar players to create realistic and dynamic drum tracks for their music without needing to be skilled drummers themselves. It provides flexibility to experiment with different beats, styles, and dynamics to complement their guitar playing and overall song composition.

  • How can varying the velocities within certain ranges improve the realism of MIDI-programmed drums?

    -Programming drums with velocities in a realistic range, such as between 100 and 110 for certain parts, helps replicate the natural dynamics of a drum performance. It avoids the mechanical feel of maximum velocity hits and allows for a more expressive and lifelike drum sound.

  • Why is it beneficial to vary the intensity of drum hits throughout a song?

    -Varying the intensity of drum hits throughout a song mimics the natural ebb and flow of live performances. It adds emotional depth and helps build tension and release, making the music more engaging and impactful for listeners.



🎼 Introduction to Dynamics in Music Production

The speaker begins by welcoming the audience and stating the topic of discussion: dynamics in music, specifically how to create and maintain them using both hardware (DAW) and software (drum and MIDI programming). The speaker shares their approach by first picking a MIDI performance, programming a song, and using the Death and Darkness expansion pack for Superior Drummer. They mention creating a preset called 'Maple Heaven' and offer it for free. The audience is encouraged to listen to the song, which starts softly and grows louder, as a demonstration of dynamics in music.


📈 Volume Automation for Dynamic Control

The second paragraph focuses on the use of volume automation as a method to create dynamics in a song. The speaker explains volume automation as a post-production process that adjusts certain elements automatically. They demonstrate how the drum tracks' volume is increased incrementally throughout the song to match the overall increase in the song's volume. The importance of maintaining a balance between the drums and the rest of the music is emphasized, as it is key to a good sounding song.


🥁 Utilizing Velocity for Dynamic Expression

The speaker advises against always using the maximum velocity of 127 when programming drums, as it can lead to a lack of dynamic range. They explain that using different velocities can help maintain the character and tone of the instruments, especially during quieter parts of a song. The speaker suggests using velocities between 100-110 for a good balance of body, attack, and control over the instrument's transience. They also recommend taking advantage of the tonal differences that come with varying velocities.


🏔️ Adding Excitement with Articulations and Layering

The speaker discusses the use of different drum articulations to add excitement and a natural feel to the mix. They mention using center and rimshot articulations, as well as off-center hits, to create a more dynamic and human sound. The speaker also talks about stacking additional samples onto the snare drum to help it cut through the mix more effectively. They demonstrate how ghost notes can be used to humanize a performance and how to adjust velocity settings to prevent over-triggering of samples.

🔄 Post-Production Velocity Adjustments for Perfection

The final paragraph talks about post-production techniques for adjusting velocities to avoid over-triggering of drum samples with maximum velocity. The speaker introduces a feature in Superior Drummer that allows for the adjustment of a velocity curve, which can limit the velocity at which samples are triggered. This can be used to quickly and easily prevent every hit from being played at the maximum velocity, thus adding more human feel and dynamics to the performance.




Dynamics in music refer to the variation in volume levels throughout a performance. In the context of the video, it is about creating and maintaining these variations using both hardware (DW) and software (MIDI programming) to ensure the drums complement the song's changing intensity. An example from the script is the song starting very low and getting louder towards the end, showcasing the dynamic range.

💡Volume Automation

Volume automation is a technique used in post-production to adjust the volume levels of different tracks automatically. It is crucial for ensuring that the drums maintain their presence in the mix as the song's volume changes. The script mentions adjusting the volume from minus 2 dB to -1.4 dB in small increments to keep the drums audible without overwhelming the mix.


Velocity in MIDI programming denotes the force with which a virtual drum is hit, typically ranging from 1 (softest) to 127 (hardest). The video emphasizes not always using the maximum velocity of 127 to allow for variation in the drum's tone and to prevent the drums from dominating the mix. An example is using a velocity of around 105 for a snare drum in a low-energy verse.


Articulations are different ways of playing a drum to produce varied sounds. The video discusses using different articulations, such as room shots or rim shots, to add dynamics and realism to the drum performance. It is illustrated by the use of center and rimshot articulations to emphasize certain parts of the song and create a more natural and dynamic sound.

💡Ghost Notes

Ghost notes are quiet, unaccented notes that add subtle rhythmic interest to a drum part. The script mentions using ghost notes from a MIDI library to humanize the performance and give a great feeling to the song, especially in heavier parts where the drums are played more forcefully.

💡Stacking Samples

Stacking samples involves layering multiple samples on top of one another to create a fuller or more distinctive sound. In the video, an additional sample is stacked onto the snare drum to help it cut through the mix more effectively. The script provides an example of using a preset called 'snare number five' for this purpose.

💡Velocity Curve

The velocity curve is a feature in some drum software that allows users to adjust the sensitivity of how hard a drum is hit. The video describes using the velocity curve to prevent the software from triggering the maximum velocity of 127, thus avoiding overly loud hits and making the performance more human and dynamic.

💡MIDI Programming

MIDI programming is the process of creating and editing musical performances using Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) data. The video is centered around MIDI programming techniques to create dynamic drum performances, including adjusting velocities, using different articulations, and volume automation.

💡DW Collector's Kit

The DW Collector's Kit is a drum sample library used in the video. It is part of the Death and Darkness expansion pack for Superior Drummer, another software mentioned. The script references using this kit to create a custom preset called 'Maple Heaven' for the drum performance.

💡Superior Drummer

Superior Drummer is a drum software used for creating realistic drum sounds and performances. The video uses this software for mixing the song and programming the MIDI performance, highlighting its capabilities in achieving a dynamic and natural drum sound.


Rimshots are a drumming technique where the drumstick strikes both the rim and the head of the drum simultaneously, producing a sharp, loud sound. The video discusses using rimshots as a way to emphasize certain parts of the song and to add excitement to the mix, contrasting with the more common center articulations.


Importance of dynamics in programmed drum performances for a more natural and human sound.

Use of volume automation to maintain the level between drums and music throughout a song.

Avoiding the common mistake of always using velocity 127 for drums to prevent a lack of dynamic range.

Utilizing different velocities to achieve a more dynamic and expressive drum performance.

The impact of velocity on the tonal character of drum samples, with examples of how it changes the sound.

Programming drums with different articulations, such as room shots and rim shots, for added dynamics.

The use of ghost notes in drum programming to humanize the performance and add a natural feel.

Stacking additional samples onto the snare drum to help it cut through the mix more effectively.

Adjusting the velocity curve in Superior Drummer for post-production adjustments to the entire MIDI performance.

The significance of starting a song with low dynamics and building up to a louder, more powerful end.

How to use MIDI programming as a tool to create dynamics in a song, not just for mixing purposes.

The process of editing volume automation visually through waveform analysis to ensure drum tracks match the song's volume changes.

The concept that 'level and balance is the key to any good sounding song' and its application in drum programming.

Differentiating between the use of velocity for volume and the tonal differences it brings to the drum sound.

The recommendation to use a range of velocities between 100-110 for a balance between body, attack, and control over transience.

The creative use of different drum articulations to add excitement and a natural feel to a mix.

The practical tip of using velocity gating to prevent one-shot samples from triggering on ghost notes.

Free preset 'Maple Heaven' provided for Superior Drummer, utilizing the DW Collector's kit from the Death library.

The inclusion of a link in the description box to access the free preset 'Maple Heaven'.