How to Create Beats with FL Studio
This blog post centers on the practical demonstration of some theoretical aspects of music sequencing and composition. That is, how to realize creative ideas based on some basic guidelines using FL Studio (FruityLoops).
The two basic aspects of music/beats sequencing are melody composition and rhythm programming. This is possible with the help of programs, such as sequencers. Essentially, they have to be loaded into the RAM before the user can fully explore their functions. This means that whenever the user double-clicks a program, he is actually loading the module into the memory for execution. Below are some of the advantages of using sequencers.
Sequencers give flexibility over the dedicated drum machines, which by their nature only provide rigid presets. Sequencers provide computer musicians and producers with a number of functions for endless possibility of rhythm programming.
One can learn drum or rhythm notation (music transcription) using sequencers. In terms of creativity, one could create grooves that could possibly challenge a real drummer.
Setting up or buying a real drum set (or other musical instruments) is time and as well as pocket consuming. Essentially, if you have a rhythm or an idea rolling in your head, with sequencers, you can put it down before it evaporates. Sequencers give you the power to control all the instruments within your computer.
A tentative song (rhythm) arrangement could be made (regardless of the quality of the samples) for the entire band rehearsals. This type of pre-arrangement gives the picture of the real final track.
The end-products of sequencers could be easily transferred and shared from one system to another (possibly for audition).
Below are some settings required for FL Studio to optimally function. Note this symbol → is used to show the navigation path within the sequencer.
DirectSound Streaming buffer
The buffer is used for mixing the sound before playback. Bigger buffer size means more stable performance, but at the same time, it increases the playback latency (short delays in ms) of the sound; especially when making real-time changes. Set the slider such that there won’t be underruns, which cause glitches as more CPU power is required. Location in FL Studio (FruityLoops): Options → Audio Settings → DirectSound properties (Streaming buffer).
Figure 1: FL Studio audio settings interface.
Is used for disabling and enabling effects without causing pops or clicks. Enable it to reduce the CPU usage. Note: It may not work properly with effects that have very long decay/delay times. Location in FL Studio (FruityLoops): From any Fruity effect window, click on this symbol and then enable/disable it.
Unlike the conventional delay, in which the output is the sum of the input and its delayed copy, the Echo Delay rather creates discrete echoes of the note events. There are two workarounds here: either reduce number of echoes (ECH) or reduce the number of channels that use this delay effect. Preferably use the Fruity Delay, which consumes less CPU power. Location in FL Studio (FruityLoops): Channel settings → FUNC → Echo delay/fat mode.
This function sets the number of voices to be played simultaneously. Lower settings give extra headroom to the CPU. Location in FL Studio (FruityLoops): Channel settings → MISC → Polyphony.
This function is used when working with MIDI instruments. Disable it to avoid unnecessary performance drawback, if you are not working with MIDI at the moment. Location in FL Studio (FruityLoops): Options → Enable MIDI output.
Use this function to resample your samples to 44.1 kHz (if they were sampled at different rates). Instead of consuming more CPU time, because of real-time resampling, it would be better, if the samples have been converted to 44.1 kHz beforehand. Location in FL Studio (FruityLoops): Channel settings → SMP → Resample.
This is a very vital song setting. It improves the playback performance. Higher settings will require additional CPU consumption. Thus, go for a compromise! Location in FL Studio (FruityLoops): Options → Project general settings → Time signature → Timebase (PPQ).
Rhythm, in musical composition, determines the flow, the movement, the feel and possibly the speed of the music through time. Any rhythm is made up of beats or pulses, which form its pattern. In standard music (rhythm) notation, beats are represented by notes of different durations (whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and 32nd notes). The combination of these beats (and silences or rests) in a musical piece forms the meter.
Meter signature is represented by ‘time signature’ (a fractional number written in front of any musical piece). The numerator indicates the number of beats in a bar, while the denominator specifies the type of note assigned to one beat. For instance, the common [C] time signature 4/4 indicates four beats in a measure (bar) and each beat has a value of a quarter note. Concisely, a rhythm pattern is a sequence of strokes (taps) regardless of the pitch. Here is a simple illustration (Figure 25) of a rhythm pattern made up of two measures.
Figure 25: Musical rhythm notation of two bars.
A rhythm track is simply the combination of different families of instruments, which form a rhythm pattern. As a matter of fact, the rhythm is the bed rock of the music while it remains partially incomplete to give room to the melody. The rhythm and the melody are ‘better halves’ in search of each other. Therefore, in any composition they are one. From the above illustration in Figure 25, one may assign the first beat (1) to the kick, beat (3) to the snare, then the hi-hat takes beats (1, 2, 3, 4); while the shaker takes the (&) beats. In FruityLoops, it would look like this in Figure 26:
Figure 26: Using FL Studio to represent the rhythm pattern of Figure 25.
Still from Figure 25, it is possible to create a reggae beat, in which the kick is on the third beat, the chopped guitar (Upbeat Chord) takes the first beat, and the hat takes all the beats. Check it out in Figure 27.
Figure 27: Using FL Studio to create reggae beat from the rhythm pattern of Figure 25.
Figures 26 and 27 show the possibility of creating several rhythm tracks from a rhythm pattern (Figure 25). For more on music (drum) notation interpretation in FruityLoops, see “FruityLoops and the Drum notation” section.
A good rhythm track is characterized by its pattern, the sonic quality of the samples (instruments) and the speed. The pattern of a rhythm could either be scanty (spacious) or busy (packed). For instance, let’s have two rhythm patterns (of the same speed): one of them is made up of only whole (half) notes, while the other is made up of the 8-th (16-th) notes. The former will sound very relaxed, while the latter would sound tight.
Amazingly enough, if you slow down (speed up) a rhythm, it gives you an impression that different notes were used instead of the original. In other words, a pattern of whole notes, if sped up twice, will sound like a half-note pattern. Thus, the speed or the tempo [number of beats per minute] of a rhythm goes a long way in determining the feel of the pattern.
Table 3: Instruments Pitch Ranges.
Personally, whenever I program a rhythm track, I start with the pattern and I set the tempo (almost simultaneously); then follows the choice of the sonic quality of the samples to be used. Look at it this way, two or more tracks can be of the same pattern, consisting of the same types of instruments (e.g. hat, kick, snare), but still sound differently. This is because instruments are played or treated (processed) in several different ways.
For instance, a kick may sound dead, dry, deep, hump (distorted) or even bassy. Snare, on the other hand, may sound dry (centre stroke), rim stroked, compressed (squashed), brushed, flanged, side kicked. The same thing goes for the hi-hats – random, vary, tight, open, close, etc. Basically, there are no strict rules when it comes to rhythm making, but there are still some guidelines to adhere to. Whatever the case, always make sure you let your creativity and your ears lead you.
Logically, in contemporary music, a rhythm track is made up of the drums (kick, snare and toms), the cymbals, the bass line, percussions and other special effects (either weird or soothing). The key elements of a rhythm track are the kick (bass drum), the snare and the hi-hat. Why? It is not only because it gives the picture of the rhythm, but also because physics plays a great role in composition per se.
Since the human hearing range lies between 20Hz – 20kHz, any musical composition aims at covering the entire spectrum. This makes a track to sound full, bright, lively and tonally balanced! Therefore, when programming a rhythm track, we look for instruments, that will cover the low, low-mid, mid-hi and hi frequencies. This approach helps us to understand why we need the kick (for low frequency), the snare (for mid frequency) and the hi-hat (for high frequency).
Usually, when programming the kick, for slow songs, use bassy kicks with longer note duration (whole or half notes). For mid tempo songs use thumpy kicks, while for fast songs, dry and brief kicks will do. There is no doubt, why TR808/909 instruments sound cool in dance tracks. They are punchy and short; hence, they can be played at the tempi of 140 and above!
Regardless of the fact that rhythm programming is virtually done on a PC, the virtual track should still sound natural and realistic. For example, a live drummer should be able to play what the virtual drummer played. It is important to note that the live drummer is limited by the fact that he has two arms and two legs; hence, he can only play a maximum of four instruments at a time. Because of this quadraphonic phenomenon, when programming rhythm parts:
- Avoid unrealistic instantaneous swapping of instruments. For instance, switching between brushes on the snare and stick rim shot or side-kicks; or switching between ordinary hi-hats and the one with a tambourine clipped to the top.
- Avoid loud crashes on the same cymbal in succession. It is better to use two different cymbals with different timbre (sonic quality).
- Let the drumbeats (played in a quick succession) sound a little bit softer (quieter).
The real drummer plays the hat with both hands (L and R). Therefore, every time he hits the snare (for instance), one of the hi-hat beat (stroke) would definitely be missing. This is how it should look like in FruityLoops in Figure 28.
Figure 28: Sequencing realistic 16-th Note Hi-hat in FL Studio (Note: the tempo for this beat is 92 bpm).
It is possible to program swing rhythms, by moving some beats just a few milliseconds backwards or forward in time. Shuffling the snare or the kick is highly not recommended, since they constitute the drive or the backbone of the rhythm. However, since in real life the drummer is not 100% perfect (he isn’t a robot), then swinging the snare early in time (very few ms) would create an energetic feel. You can also produce a laid-back feel by delaying the snare. Generally, swing is introduced on the cymbals, especially on the first or third beats or random single hits. To sequence swing rhythms in FL Studio, do the following:
- To program swing rhythms in FruityLoops, you can use either the Graph Editor or the Shuffle tools.
- In the Graph Editor, use the sample Shift to set the values for individual notes.
- Use the Shuffle to give an entire pattern a swing feel.
- You can also automate the whole procedure by using the Event Editor. Right-click the Shuffle function; choose Edit events (from the displayed menu) to invoke the Event Editor. In the Event Editor, use the Pencil to draw the shape of the graph for the swing. Then press spacebar to stop and start the playback.
Figure 29: Sequencing swing rhythms in FL Studio.
Varying the velocity (note’s volume) for a set of beats on the snare or the kick does add some feel to the rhythm. Note that ghost notes are produced by reducing the velocity of the beat. The Velocity function of the Graph Editor can help you achieve this effect/feel.
Figure 30: Programming velocity variations in FL Studio.
A flam is a beat of two almost simultaneous strokes. This technique happens when the drummer hits the snare, and then the stick touches the snare again for the second time immediately after intended hit. The second stroke is usually softer. This is a very important technique in Jazz.
Figure 31: Programming flam/grace notes in FL Studio.
Use the Echo delay/ fat mode section of the Function Channel settings (FUNC). The main knobs to be tweaked are the Feedback (FEED) and Time (TIME). You can adjust the remaining functions to add some unique feel.
When a drummer is playing (e.g. on the snare), he targets a particular place to hit (depending on the music style – it could either be the rim, the side or the center). But because he’s definitely not a robot, he hits such places with a degree of ‘approximation’, which gives slightly different sounds.
Use the Filter cut function of the Graph Editor to set the cut values for each note. For instance, see Figure 32.
Figure 32: Sequencing damped notes in FL Studio.
FL Studio is a full-featured music production environment capable of multi-track audio recording, sequencing and mixing for the creation of professional quality songs and realistic drum loops. This Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is based on the VST/DX hosting, 32/64-bit internal mixing with advanced MIDI support. Songs/loops produced can be exported to a WAV, MP3 or MIDI.
Figure 33: FL Studio interface.
How to Create Beats with FL Studio is a blog post culled from an eBook: Beats Sequencing with FL Studio by E. J. Garba