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8 tips for playing live drums with loops

By Clementine Moss

There is a magic in combining live and digital drums. Drum loops harness a world of sound that's impossible to create on an acoustic kit alone, and there are infinite ways to use them. On the other hand, when you play a live kit with digital loops, you’re adding the human element, as well as the uniqueness of your own voice and feel. It can be a match made in heaven.

Here are eight tips to owning your mixture of live playing and drum loops, whether you're working in a studio or on stage.


Love Playing to a Click Track

This goes without saying in so much of today’s music, but the better you are at playing to a metronome, the happier you’ll be when playing along to a loop.

Push and Pull Against Perfect Digital Time

This is your job as the human. You get to create the feel of the track by playing behind, on top of, or exactly with the beat. This is where your work with the metronome plays off. The chasm of space between notes is where your feel lies.


Pay Attention to Transitions

When you’re playing along to a track, your live transitions are probably the ones that are going to be most important, because you have the ability to build excitement in the feel, and splash around more. Make sure your fills and transitions are settled. Use the opportunity to say something on the drums as you move between parts.


Fit In

When you have two more-or-less complete drum tracks running, you have to make sure everything fits. For example, if there’s a killer pattern on the loop hi-hat, you should probably lay out on the live hat. Kick-drum patterns are often necessary to alter, as well, because two kicks going simultaneously can create unwanted flams. It's great time to experiment with patterns you would never normally play. In fact, I once played just a kick and snare through each verse of a song, and I was dealt a great lesson in restraint and power.


Leave Space

Sometimes, the loop is exciting, and playing along with it is exciting, but when you listen back, it’s one big mishmash. Know how to edit yourself, and zero in on the main groove the two tracks are creating.


Practice Blowing It

Falling out of time with the loop may naturally happen as you practice the song, so it’s important to recognize when you are losing the tempo, and how to get quickly back in time. Trouble-shoot potential glitches and trouble spots in your performance. Nothing is more glaring than a drummer who is out of time with an electronic loop.


Add Cues

For live performances, make sure to add some cues to the drum loop so that you always know where you are in the song arrangement. It's easy to get disoriented when playing on stage in front of an audience. What you thought was a no-brainer in the practice studio can become a train wreck in the fog of performance. Something as simple as a tambourine figure or a snare accent incorporated into a loop can wake you up, and warn you about what's coming next—a verse, chorus, solo, bridge, breakdown section, and so on.

Push Your Limits

With so many creative possibilities on our laptops, the world is our oyster. Experiment. Push the boundaries of your creativity. Let go of the ways things have always been done. Create something that is uniquely yours. Rock it!

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