Using Drum Loops to Write Awesome Songs

(Image) Animal from the Muppets playing drumsAre your songs built from the top down, or the bottom up? If you start with a melody or lyrics, this is writing from the top down. If, on the other hand, you begin with the drums or bass, this would be considered writing from the bottom up. Beginning with the chords would place your starting point somewhere in the middle.

So, which is the best way to begin?

Well, the quick answer is — Any, or All of the Above. When writing songs, the final fully arranged band version will usually include a drum groove, bass line, chords, melody, lyrics, and song structure (although you can only copyright the melody and lyrics), but where you begin is a mater of choice.

The interesting thing, however, is that the musical component from which you begin writing will often directly influence the final product. If you started with a melody the song will probably come out a lot different than if you started with the drums.

You can use this phenomenon to your advantage. Beginning your songs a different way than you normally do can add a lot of variety to your songwriting style, and it can also increase your number of completed songs. Additionally, if you ever suffer from writer’s block, beginning songs in a new way is a great technique to snap you out of it quickly.

There are several easy ways to begin writing from the bottom up. If you play the drums you could simply bang out different beats until you find a groove you like, and then record it. Not all songwriters play the drums though — but technology is here to the rescue! You can either buy a drum machine, a keyboard with a-built-in drum sequencer, computer drum sequencing software, audio drum loops that were recorded by a real drummer, or even a smart phone app for drum loops.

You can change tempos at will, and even string together whole songs, complete with drum fill transitions between sections. These options are fairly inexpensive these days and usually come with every musical style imaginable. A representative in the Pro Audio section of any major music store in town can be a great source of advice and education on what will work best for you.

TIP 1: If you plan on doing this type of writing a lot, being able to edit your work on a big computer screen, rather than a tiny screen on a drum machine or keyboard is one of the many advantages of using computer sequencing software.

TIP 2: The quickest way to find out if you like writing this way would NOT be computer software though, as there is often a learning curve with manual reading and/or tutorials involved. A quicker way would be to search, purchase, and download some drum loops online and start experimenting with them. But make sure you get mp3 versions and not versions that only work with certain software.

Once you dial up a drum groove that gets your inspiration flowing, start layering the next component of music on top of it. This could be the lyrics, a melody, a bassline, a chord progression from a guitar or keyboard part, or even interesting sound effects. Layer by layer you can begin filling out your new song, feeling the creativity rise like bubbles from a secret well within.

Beginning with drum loops is commonly the starting point for Hip-Hop songs, but it is just as common when writing with a rock band, in addition to many other styles. If you don’t normally write this way, give it a try, you might be very surprised at the amazing and innovative new songs you create.

How Do You Usually Write

Top Down, Bottom Up, Or Somewhere In Between?

Please Share Below

  • Mia Stewart

    I like how the article explains that if you use drum loops when writing songs, you want to make sure that you have a large screen to edit the songs. We are wanting to try using a drum loop to write a song soon. We will make sure that we have a big screen when editing the song.

    • Kevin

      Yes Mia, any sequencing becomes much easier on a full computer screen, phones can be very limiting.

  • Mark Valdez

    It helps to understand drum beats/patterns from the methods drummers use, through listening, transcribing and going through drum books as a basis for creating your own beats.

    • Kevin

      Mark, I’m glad you got a lot out of this, it is a really practical way to build songs from the bottom up! Kevin

  • Taylor

    Adding to Kevin’s answer to Ava: I recently started using “Band On Demand” loop sets distributed by Drums on Demand. You can get drum loops only, or complete sets of a full band that works with each loop. Harmony instruments like guitar and piano are labeled by the chord name. If you come up with a cool chord progression you just drop the chord loops in, add the drums and bass that goes with it or from another set with a similar groove, or you can take any instrument or combination and jam to it with your instrument.

  • Edward

    being a jazz pianist I start out with some chord progressions and subs for those chords and come up with multiple melody lines until something strikes me

  • Wes Stevens

    So, my question for loops is – does the manufacturer of the loops now own a percentage of my song since it was used in the creation?

    • Kevin Thomas

      Great question Wes, usually you are given full rights to use the loops any way you like, but it is always good to check with the specific seller. Kevin

  • Ave Topel

    I’m a songwriter, not a drummer, and I get overwhelmed with drumbeat software programs because they are usually not labeled with descriptors that are meaningful to me. I know we can change tempos and add swing, etc, to any groove, but are you aware of any drum programs that use descriptive labels like “Country Ballad, Jazz Trio Hi-Hat, Rock Straight Eights, etc? The names of drummers (i.e. Garageband, Tunecore) or celebrity drummer’s names for a track (i.e. Summer Nights) is pretty meaningless for most folks. Thanks for opening this topic for conversation.

    • Kevin Thomas

      Thanks Ave, good question. Most of the drum software I have used with Protools, Band in the Box, Cuebase, Sibelius, Logic, (and the loops I get for them) all tend to label with styles, which is more of what you are looking for. I have never seen the specific drummer named though. If you are getting vague titles like “Summer Nights” you could look to see if there is a secondary search method to find styles in the software. It is also possible that lower cost programs and drum loop collections are not as user friendly with their categorizations, so if you are enthusiastic about this method of writing but not happy with the software and loops you have used you might try some higher end programs and/or loop collections. On a Mac I suggest Protools or Logic for software, and then doing a search for loops compatible with these programs, most are, but it will probably lead you to some better drum collections, and I believe Logic comes with a lot of loops in the package. Kevin


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