Music Production

Drum and Bass Drums: 32 Tips To Improve Your DNB Breaks

Get ready to take your DNB breaks to the next level with these 32 tips! From mastering basic techniques, improving sound quality and developing complex patterns - we've got you covered. Start exploring new ideas today so you can bring some serious heat to your productions.

When it comes to producing Drum and Bass, drums can make or break a track.

As one of the most powerful tools in a producer’s arsenal, it’s important to get them sounding as good as possible.

Here we will provide 32 invaluable tips that are sure to help make your DNB drums sound better.

Combining these techniques should help you on your way to producing top-notch DNB breaks and level up your overall production game.

So let’s dive into our list of 32 Drum & Bass Drums Tips To Improve Your DNB Breaks…

1. Use saturation

Saturation is a type of distortion that can be applied to audio signals to add warmth and character.

It does this by generating harmonic content.

Commonly used on both bass and drums, saturation can make a sound more punchy and powerful, while also helping to add a sense of “glue” to the mix.

By adding saturation to your drum and bass drums, the sound can become more defined and full-bodied.

Additionally, saturation can be used to make the sound less brittle and harsh, and can be used to create interesting and unique tones.

2. Layer in a Drum Loop or Classic Break

Layering a drum loop can improve the sound of drums by adding depth, warmth, and texture.

By layering different loops, you can create a fuller sounding drum track that is much more interesting and dynamic.

This is done by adding different elements such as different types of kicks, snares, hi-hats, and other percussion instruments.

The different elements can be blended together or used to create a unique rhythm.

Layering can also be used to give the drums more impact and punch, as well as create a sense of space and groove.

Opting for a classic break sample can add a sense of familiarity and assist in gluing together your track.

3. Don’t stick to the beat grid

Map drum parts such as hi-hats and shakers off the grid.

This helps to create a more dynamic, human-like feel to your track.

When a drummer is playing live, they may play slightly ahead or behind the beat.

By going off the beat grid, you can capture the nuances of a live performance and give the track a natural, organic feel that can’t be achieved with a strictly quantised drum performance.

4. Be mindful of frequencies when layering samples

If you’re layering lots of snares up and they don’t sound right: check the frequency content of each layer and if it’s occupying the same space as another element.

If it is clashing with something, consider pitching it up or down to make it sit better – or reach for an alternative sample!

Read more on things you should consider when layering samples.

5. Explore alternate drum patterns

Straying from the more popular drum patterns can be a great way of adding character to your track as a whole.

Look to unconventional artists for inspiration, such as Photek or Burial.

6. Strengthen the ‘shuffle’

The small phrase that sits between the snares is an important part of the break that is sometimes referred to as the ‘shuffle’.

Adding hats and event light percussion to strengthen this phrase can transform the flow of a break.

It makes up a crucial part of the sound of drum and bass drums and can be pivotal in making a break work.

7. Use limiting to control transients

Limiting is a tool used to reduce the dynamic range of a signal, typically used to control the peaks of a signal that might otherwise overload a system.

When used to control transients on drums, it can help to create a more consistent sound, allowing for a more even mix of the drums into the rest of the track.

It can help to ‘level out’ the sound of the drums, creating a more consistent, punchy sound while still allowing the dynamics of the drums to shine through.

Limiting can also help to reduce the amount of ‘ringing’ that can be heard on the drums, creating a more focused and controlled sound.

Taming the transient information of your break with a limiter can improve its potential for loudness.

8. Reserve the low frequencies for the kick

You don’t need any low end information in any of your drum parts other than your kick, so apply a low cut to your hats, snares, claps and percussion – find the right spot that doesn’t start to impose on the character of the drum part

Removing the low end from everything apart from the kick can improve the sound of drums by making the kick drum sound bigger and more punchy..

It creates a contrast between the kick and other elements, which gives the drums more clarity and focus.

Removing the low end from the other drum elements also helps to prevent the mix from becoming muddy and overly bassy.

9. Select a kick frequency that is compatible with your bassline

Tuning can help the kick to fit more easily into the mix, allowing it to sit nicely with the other drums and instruments in the track.

This could help improve the harmony of your kick and bass, alternatively consider sidechaining your bass so its not playing over the kick.

10. Consider using a wide kick layer for a deep sound

Wide kicks are kicks that contain a large amount of stereo width.

They have potential to improve the sound of your drums by creating a more powerful, deeper kick drum sound with more low-end presence.

They can be very pleasing and complimentary to a Deep / Dark sound and pair well with a low Reese Bass.

11. Create detail with glitch FX

Glitch FX can compliment dark and techy styles.

Just be mindful of cashing with other drum parts, or overdoing it and having too much information happening at once.

12. Add fills or variations to the end of 16/32 bar phrases

Bringing diversity in your drum pattern can help keep your drums interesting, the end of 16/32 bars are natural spots where you can switch it up and add a fill to introduce the next section.

This is so common in Drum and Bass tracks and can create moments in your track that turn heads and level up your production sound.

13. Use Sidechain on shakers and rides

Sidechain shouldn’t be limited to your kick and bass, it can be used in a variety of creative ways such as bringing variation and excitement to shakers and hats.

For even better granular control over volume shaping, check out Cable Guys Shaper Box.

14. Introduce subtle panning

Hats, percussion and shakers don’t have to be dead center in the stereo field, consider positioning them somewhere off centre to add a sense of space to your break.

When panning drums, you can create a wider and more spacious sound by placing the different elements of the drum kit into different parts of the stereo field.

This gives the listener the impression that the drums are coming from all directions, rather than just one.

It can help to make the drums sound fuller and more dynamic.

Additionally, panning can help to separate out the different elements of the drum kit, making it easier to distinguish the different sounds.

15. Add reverse FX

Reverse FX are a great layer and rarely don’t sound good.

Try reversing a ride, hat or snare and positioning it in time with your break.

This can be a great way of emphasising a snare or marking the end of 4, 8, or 16 bars.

16. Try inverting your kick drum EQ on your bass layer

Try taking the exact EQ settings on your kick, and apply them in reverse on your bass group.

This can drastically improve the separation between your bass drum and your other bass instruments.

17. Use a transient shaper/designer

A transient shaper is a special effect plugin you can use on your bass drum or other elements to shape the attack and sustain part of the sound.

Basically it is a kind of special compressor that focuses on the initial attack part of the sound, as well as the ringing sustain part of the sound.

You can use a transient designer to make your bass drum snappier by decreasing the sustain.

Or punchier by increasing the attack.

The transient designer usually have two simple dials: attack and sustain, which you dial in to create the perfect shape for your final bass drum sound.

18. Tune drum elements to match or harmonise with the larger composition

Percussion and hats can be made part of your tracks melodics too.

Using a drum sampler and/or mapping drum hits to a keyboard gives you a great level of control over tuning.

19. Add synthesised drum layers for granular control of drum characteristics

One of the advantages of layering synthesised drums into your productions is the level of control you have over shaping the decay and tone of the parts.

Even layering in a synthesised drum snare or kick can transform the character of your drums.

Having this extra level of control is also very powerful and more versatile than sampling alone.

20. Use Compression

Compression can be used to shape the tone of drums by reducing the dynamic range of the sound.

This allows the loudest parts of the drums to be brought down in level, while boosting softer parts.

This can create a more consistent and controlled sound.

Compression can also make the drums sound more punchy and powerful.

21. Use Parallel Compression

Parallel compression can be used to improve the sound of drums by blending a heavily compressed version of the drum track with the original unprocessed version.

This technique is used to bring out the “punch” and “snap” of the drums, which results in a fuller, more impactful sound.

It can help to increase the level of the drums in a mix without having to increase the gain of the original track, which can cause distortion.

Check out our detailed guide on Parallel Compression and how to use it for more info.

22. Get smart with EQ

EQ (equalization) is a powerful tool for controlling the tone of drums and other instruments in a mix.

It can be used to shape the attack and sustain of your drum and bass drums, emphasise certain frequencies, and make them fit better in the mix.

EQ can be used to create special effects like making the drums sound bigger and more powerful.

Here are some EQ guidelines for improving the sound of drums, bare in mind that no one technique applies to everything:

  • Boost the low-end frequencies (around 60-80 Hz) to make the kick drum sound punchier and more powerful.
  • Cut the mid-range frequencies (around 400-800 Hz) to reduce the muddiness of the drums.
  • Boost the high-end frequencies (around 8-12 kHz) to give the drums a bright, crisp sound.
  • Use a high-pass filter to remove any low-end rumble that might be cluttering up the mix.
  • Use a low-pass filter to reduce the high-end frequencies and make the drums sound warmer and less harsh.
  • Use a shelf filter to boost or cut the entire frequency range of the drums.

These are just a few of the many ways EQ can be used on drums.

23. Experiment with sample layering

Sample layering is a technique used to combine two or more samples to create a new sound.

This technique can improve the sound of drums by adding new textures, dynamic range, and sonic complexity.

Layering samples can make drums sound fuller, thicker, and more interesting.

Remember that there are no rules here, experimenting and combining unusual things can yield great results.

Some experimental techniques for using sample layering on DNB Breaks to improve their sound include:

  • Combining a sample of a kick drum with a sample of a snare to create a fuller and more powerful sound.
  • Adding cymbals and FX to add high end textures.
  • Using ambient and foley sounds to add unique character.
  • Combining a sample of a hi-hat with a sample of a low-tom.
  • Layering shakers with vinyl crackle to create excitement.

24. Use reverb on a drum send

Reverb is a great tool for adding depth and dimension to drum and bass drums.

It can be used to make DNB Breaks sound more natural and realistic, or to give them a bigger and more dramatic sound.

Try some of the following techniques when using reverb on your drums:

  • Add a small amount of reverb to the overall drum mix to give the drums some depth and space.
  • Use a medium to long reverb to create a larger-than-life sound for a room or stadium effect.
  • Use a short and bright reverb to add a subtle shimmer.
  • Use a short and dark reverb to add a subtle echo and ambience to the drums.
  • Use a longer reverb on individual drum parts (snares work well) to create a characteristic sound.

25. Use velocity-sensitive samples

Using velocity can improve the sound of drums by allowing you to adjust the volume and attack (how hard or soft each drum hit is) of a particular part.

This allows producers to add more nuance, dynamics and expression into drum parts that would otherwise be lost if they were playing at a static velocity.

Additionally, using different velocities for individual notes within patterns can help them stand out from one another in order to create interesting fills and grooves that are both musical sounding as well as technically accurate when played back on an acoustic kit.

26. Get creative with delay and echo

Delay and echo can improve the sound of drums by adding a sense of depth, space, and dimension to them.

Delay adds subtle repeats that build upon each other over time while echoing creates reverberations which expand the sonic landscape surrounding your drum sounds.

These effects can help create an atmosphere or texture in addition to providing more dynamic range for your drum parts.

They also work well when used together since they both add different elements to enhance the overall sound of your drums.

27. Use unique effects racks

By using multiple types of processing such as reverb, delay, compression, EQing and other modulation effects like chorus or phasing on specific drum sounds within your mix it’s possible to craft an interesting sonic palette that will breathe life into any track.

28. Don’t be afraid of using white noise

White noise can help to add more texture and depth to the sound of a DNB break.

It’s most commonly used on snare drums as an effect, but it can be added in small amounts to just about any type of drum for subtle enhancement.

White noise helps create additional high frequency content which adds airiness and brightness, making the overall tone fuller and richer.

Additionally, adding white noise at specific frequencies (such as around 1-2 kHz) will make certain elements stand out more in a mix or recording compared with other instruments sharing similar sonic characteristics.

Lastly, when blended tastefully with drums that naturally have less presence or are lower end sounding – such as acoustic kits – white noise is great for fattening up their sound without taking away from its organic quality.

29. Experiment with different drum kits

Different types of drum kit will provide a range of tones, textures, and timbres that are not achievable with one set alone.

For example, some sets may have more cymbals than others or feature unconventional percussion instruments such as bongos or congas for a Latin feel.

Mixing different drum kits together in your Drum Sampler can bring about subtle changes in the way your drums interact with each other – this opens up endless possibilities when it comes to creating an exciting sonic palette.

30. Use field recordings, ‘Found Sounds’, Foley and Textures

Field recordings can be used to add a unique texture and realism to your track.

Field recordings often contain unique sonic characteristics that cannot easily be replicated in a studio setting, like natural room reverb or the sound of different environments.

By blending these field recorded elements into your drums you can create more intricate textures and give them greater life and movement than would otherwise be possible with purely digital samples.

Additionally, using field recordings for percussion allows producers to capture real-world acoustic nuances which may not exist digitally sampled equivalents; this ultimately results in a much fuller sounding kit overall.

Read more on using Foley and Textures in your productions.

31. Make use of side-chain compression

Sidechain compression is a technique used to create an effect in which the loudness of one sound affects another.

When applied to drums, sidechaining can help control dynamics and improve clarity by adding more definition between different elements of the drum mix.

It does this by allowing sounds with higher frequencies (like cymbals) to come through but still keep lower frequency instruments like kick drums from masking them out or taking up too much space in the overall mix.

This helps bring out some details that would otherwise be lost due to competing frequencies, making for a fuller sounding kit with greater depth and clarity than what could have been achieved without sidechain compression.

32. Take your time

Don’t rush and enjoy the process.

Take your time to get your drums sounding just right and take regular breaks!

Hopefully there is something there to help you take your drums to a level above where they currently are.

With a little bit of patience and experimentation, you can create some truly unique and powerful sounds.

What is the most effective technique for improving your drums?

Let us know in the comments!

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2 comments on “Drum and Bass Drums: 32 Tips To Improve Your DNB Breaks

  1. Matt Moore

    Gating! Use a gate on individual drum hits as well as the drum group to shorten the tail and ring of the drums. This gives the drums a tighter feel and can emphasise transients. Used lightly on raw breaks it can remove washiness and noise.

    Liked by 1 person

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