In Tutorial 1 we looked at how to lay down the basic beats for reggae in a DAW (FLstudio, Reason, Cubase, AcidPro etc). If you’re not completely comfortable with laying down the basic reggae beats, I recommend you run through that tutorial first. You can do that by clicking here. In this tutorial we’re going to look at a few alternate beats we can use with reggae.
The common beats – one drop, two drop and steppers – are all nice and lovely, and they function for the purpose of building a reggae riddim, but we may want to create a tune with a different style of beat, to add more flavour into our reggae pot.
I’ll run through a number of interesting and varied reggae beats step-by-step in FLstudio, adding in a skank – as that forms an integral part of the rhythm. I’ll cheek in a bass at the end as well to give you an inkling of how the finished product might sound, but we won’t look at making the bass here. Remember, if you’re using a different DAW or even recording with instruments you can still follow this tutorial well enough as I’m going to be working mainly in the piano roll.
Although I recommend you start from the beginning if this is your first time here, here’s a quick-jump beats list:
Beat 1: Bluebeat Shuffle
All of the rhythms we’ve looked at so far have been flat 4/4 signature beats. That’s pretty normal in reggae and various other genres, but there’s also a lot of bouncy, shuffling reggae riddims out there and it’s a great skill to be able to produce this style.
The first thing to do, in FLstudio, is go to Project General Settings and change the signature from 4/4 to 4/5, thus:
[remember to click on the pic for enlargement]
You can see in the piano roll that this leaves us with five units between each beat instead of the normal four. That extra unit is going to help us create a swinging, shuffling rhythm. If you’re using a DAW other than FLstudio, be careful. I’m pretty sure this isn’t really 4/5 time (FL works oddly). You’ll have to tinker until your piano roll looks like this. I can’t tell you how, because I’m a maverick.
I’ll open up Drum Kit 2 again in the FPC VST, so that we have the names of the instruments in the piano roll. you can open up the drum kit you want.
The next thing I’m going to do is add swing by moving the swing slider in the Step Sequence Editor thusly:
Now we are going to create a bluebeat style shuffle. Bluebeat is the brief genre that came before ska, so we’re going back to an early, jazzy style rhythm. Let’s start with those hi-hats. I’m going to start with an open hi-hat, then tap in the closed hi-hat in on the first and fourth unit of the second beat, then repeat that, as shown in fig 1-3:
You can listen to what that should sound like here.
Pay attention to the velocities at the bottom of the piano roll – we need to vary them to get an organic feel or it’ll sound like a robot’s playing the drums (which it is) and the rhythm won’t sound right.
The thing to remember about this 4/5 rhythm is that these are the units you always want to work with: 1 and 4. Place a hat on unit 2 or unit 3 and listen, it no longer sounds right. I want to extend my beat and add a little triplet fill at the end, but neither unit 2 nor 3 sound good, so I need to go into the snap feature at the top of my piano roll and select 1/2 step. Now I can move my hat along to unit 2.5, where it is evenly spaced between 1 and 4. Now it sounds right! Weeee.
As shown in fig 1-4:
You can listen to how that sounds here.
Next on the agenda is the bass drum and the snare. I’m going to make this pattern a two-drop, with a bass drum on the first beat, and a bass drum and a snare on the third. Drum kit 2‘s snare doesn’t impress me, so I’ve switched it with a ridiculously over-the-top snare file in FPC, just to make a point. The finished rhythm looks like this:
And it sounds like this.
Before we can say we’re finished, we have to look at how the skank plays with this rhythm. I opened up FLkeys and I’m going to use that for my upbeat. Because we’re going all the way back to bluebeat ska, we’re going to use a ska-tempo upbeat. This means that the upbeat will play on unit number 4 of every beat. I’ve sketched in a ska upbeat like this:
Which will sounds almost exactly if not entirely like this.
Notice how I’ve clipped the second and fourth strikes to give the skank a groove, and splayed the notes minutely from the lines, to make it sound a little more naturally like a pianist striking the keys.
Lets put it together, with a likkle bassy bass underneath. Here is your first shuffle rhythm!
click here to listen to the full:
Beat 2: Reggae Shuffle
Let’s take that same shuffle beat now, and instead of producing ska let’s make some reggae reggae. Instead of using exactly the same beat, let’s start again and make another quick beat, to get ourselves more accustomed to working in this shuffle timing.
I’m going to use Drum Kit 3 in FL and start with a closed hat this time, marking out those fourth units (which this time won’t carry the upbeat) with an open hat, like this:
Sounding like this.
Now, I think that works as our overlying hat rhythm. Next, I’m going to add in a Two-drop beat: a bass drum on the first beat and a bass drum and snare on the third. It sounds okay, but I want it a bit more jaunty. I’m going to take out the hat on the third beat, add in a subtle fill hat after our first beat (remember unit 2.5 so it sounds right) and put in a pick-up hat at the end, beat 4.4. I’m sure that’s confusing to imagine, so let me put you out of your misery:
All of which sounds like this.
I’ll leave you to extend it and add fills and whatnot. Let’s instead move on to the skank. If we remember from the first tutorial, the typical reggae skank lands on the upbeat – that’s beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 timing. Well, it works the same in 4/5 timing too.
I’ve opened up some e-keys in the Sakura VST (I’m only using VSTs freely available in FL) and I’m going to place them on beats 2 and 4, but instead of a single strike skank, I’m going to create a double-strike one. That means that I’m going to add in secondary, shorter, lower velocity notes at beats 2.4 and 4.4 respectively. This is how that looks:
Okay, lets work that in together with our beat, add a bass, and this is how it should end up sounding:
Click here to listen to the full:
Beat 3: Bossa Reggae
A lot of the Jamaican greats borrowed from other styles of the time, including funk, blues and latin rhythms and melodies. Take a listen to some of Jackie Mittoo’s or Rico Rodriguez’s work as examples. Here we’re going to add some bossa nova flavours to our reggae rhythm. Before musical experts start writing in telling me this isn’t a real bossa nova rhythm, I know, it’s a reggae rhythm. My perception of a bossa nova rhythm comes from a drum setting on a keyboard I last owned 10 years ago or something.
Haha, maybe I know a bit more than that. let’s see.
The first thing we want to do is find some conga samples, bongo samples will most likely do. We want three samples: low, medium and high (yes, you only have two congas, but you can strike them in a different way to create a higher note).
Unfortunately I’m not sure where FL furnishes these things, so I quickly scoured my samples and came up with a few, and slipped them into pads 18, 19 and 20 respectively in FPC. You should be able to search some free samples online, or a free latin percussion VST somewhere. Now, to cut a long story short, let’s lay out a conga rhythm something like this one:
You can listen to how that sounds here.
Next I’m going to add in a one-drop bass drum and snare on the third beat of each bar and put in some complimentary hi-hats, tapping out each beat. Then, I’m going to get those hats to pick up the beat at the end of each bar, like this:
Audibly, like this.
The final element that’s really going to give it a bossa feel is a syncopated side-stick sound. Cut in the side-stick on beat 1, just before beat 3 (2.2) and on beat 4 in the first bar, then in the second bar on beats 2, 3 and 4. Again, to save mental imagery athletics, this is what it looks like in the mix:
And in case all that clutter is boggling your brain, here’s what the sticks look like by themselves:
In the mix they will sound like this.
Noticed I’ve panned the sticks a little to the left and the congas a little to the right to give them their own space to stand out.
Let’s add in the skank to our beat now. This time I’m going for a single strike upbeat, using SimSynth’s piano. Remember, reggae skank = beats 2 and 4. Over two bars it looks like this:
Easy-peasy. This is what that sounds like.
Now let’s give it the full mix with a bass. Here’s the end result!
Click here to listen to the full:
Beat 4: Cumbia Reggae
Cumbia is a popular rhythm throughout Latin America that was originally brought over via west African tribes. It fits very well with reggae, which is why a quick internet search will bring up plenty of examples of this fusion genre.
The rhythm itself is very basic, characterised by repeating triplets on a shaker. This rhythm garners its groove from the last note of the triplet forming the first note of each downbeat.
We’re going to need some kind of shaker sample with two variant notes. A guiro may make an interesting alternative, but I’m going with the staunch option of the cabasa (I’m pretty sure that’s what cumbia artists use).
Now put the high note on the downbeats (1 & 3) with two low shakes before, beats 2 and 2.2, then beats 4 and 4.2. Add in a cowbell on the downbeats as well. Over one bar that will look like this:
[I hijacked the triangle slots for my cabasa: open triangle = high cabasa; mute triangle = low cabasa]
And here’s that Cumbia beat.
Let’s not mess around. We’ll throw in a one-drop bass drum and snare on the 3rd beat to make it reggae:
Audio here, in case you’re under any illusions what that sounds like.
And that’s how simple it is to make a cumbia reggae rhythm!
It is a bit sparse though, so I’m going to add in some congas. They’re often used in both reggae and cumbia, so they match pretty well with our rhythm. Here’s the conga pattern I picked out:
Which sounds this cong-tastic.
Let’s turn to our skank. It might be nice to use an accordion (or similar sounding melodica) as they are often used in cumbia. Well, we don’t have one in a readily-available FL VST, so I’m going to use the “Trumpet Crappy” preset of SimSynth, which emits some similar tones.
We’ve already done a two-strike skank, and a one-strike skank, so let’s do a mixed skank this time: first strike two-strike, second strike one-strike, beats 2 (+2.2) and 4 of each bar. I’m going to also add a little pick-up note at the start of even-bar strikes, looking a lot like this:
And sounding even more like this.
Let’s put it all together now and see how it works out.
Click here to listen to the full:
If you made use of this tutorial please remember to like and share. I’d also love to hear examples of your work, so post links below!
Until next time, keep on skankin’!