Where can I learn about drum syncopation and broken beats?

I have very little music knowledge and did a fast search on “how to make drum and bass beat”, yes corny I know but I need to lay foundation. Well Ok so I got the basic idea kick (on 1st, 11th) snare (on 5th, 14th). That’s the basic idea of “Oh the drums don’t fall on the beat but between beats”. Ok more or less. Same thing results in how to “dubstep, hip hop, electro” etc…

But obviously I can’t just stick to these cookie cutter things, in fact I would like to forget them all together and simply “get the idea”. How can I achieve variety in hip hop, electro or drum and bass tracks using only beats? How can I do this without googling how each track is made? What is the fundemental principle of a “broken beat” ?

I am not musically inclined but something tells me there is logic to this. Someting like there needs to be a certain amount drum hits per bar and they need otbe moved around and not be “on the beat”. I don’t know something like that.

Maybe I am looking too much in the electronic genre and I need to find something to read from the 70s when the broken beat gained a lot of popularity.

There is a lot of helpfull guides and videos online, but all they get me is making an exact clone of the beat used in the said tutorial. I would like a read (or a watch) about the general idea.

I appreciate any help with this.


One thing to try: turn the tempo up so you have lots of resolution and lay down kicks and snares randomly until it sounds interesting?

Hmmm, but hip hop is kind of slow tempo. Or you mean speed it up and then slow down?

A good repository for drum tutorials is “beat dissected.”

I ended up printing off most of them and I keep them in a folder like an electronic beat bible… blessings and may the beat inherent the Earth. :grin::robot:


didn’t know you were talking about hip hop

i’d listen to tracks you like and try and copy them, eventually you’ll start creating something different

1 Like

Not musically inclined?!
In any case, the terms broken beat and straight beat are relatively new and are used to differentiate between beat based genres, eg, techno/drum’n’bass.

Im not going to say you absolutley need music theory knowledge to make music, but… You can really tell when that knowledge is applied.

This question sounds like one for academics. I’ll say this, learn a number of basic beats for numerous genres of music, including perhaps a few that you don’t even particularly care for. Get some of those down and then just rely on your ears and experiment. I’m not sure anyone here can tell you how to write the next best hitherto unheard break beat, so you should expect a lot of the character to have to come from production esthetic.

1 Like

Not sure I needed to know what the difference is between a straight beat and a broken beat is :slight_smile: Also I studied audio engineering, but I do not play any isntruments… I don’t know if the difference is clear. I know what keys are, notes, harmony, dissonance, tempo, chords, melody, chord prgression, resolve, etc… I am not a drummer or a piano player. Not sure why the shock reaction since you are going to be hard pressed to find a music producer who can play piano, drums and a guitar. It’s usually just one, sometimes none. So from that perspective, I am not asking how to play a piano, I am asking what makes a good piano song…sort of.

Broken beat is not a new term, Funk existed in the 70s and is pretty much the foundation for all of the broken beat music today, I mean 10 years of drum and bass existed out of a 5 second loop and before that 10 years of hip hop out of another 5 second loop. So I’d say 50 years of broken beat history should qualify for a collective of knowledge…somewhere.

Etymology debate aside…
Im a producer, I play drums, guitar, banjo and keys…

What makes a good broken beat? Same thing that makes a good straight beat. Timing. Knowing when to put a beat down and knowing where to put it. There is no manual that will tell you how to do it.
I was taught to master modifying the tresillio, and then to explore ghost notes.


You need to listen some music first… Cloning is the first thing you should learn, it will be very difficult for you to be creative without having musical baggage…
I suggest you to listen some brazilian bossa, from the 60’s in special, maybe you could start with ‘Jorge Ben - Samba esquema novo’, or even some Geraldo Pereira… these are masterclass in syncopation… Do you know Fela Kuti also?


Yes to ghost notes! I had ignored them for years then started to apply them to some Maschine based beats I was building - pretty much instantly better!

1 Like

In my worldview, most of this comes from jazz drummers. If you want to learn about breakbeats, study jazz drummers, different meters (triplets, quintuplets etc) and how pushing and pulling the drumhits on the groove creates ”funk”.

Grooviest stuff is never 100% quantized to the grid IME. Study humanization techniques, swing/shuffle, offsets… Or just do what most DNB cats do and chop sampled breaks (amen, apache etc) or layer some of that with your single drumhits…

Last thing - velocity! Controlling the dynamics of a groove is vital for nice rolling breaks (ghost notes are much lower velocity than the accented notes)


Wow, that’s an amazing resource, thank you so much for sharing it!

1 Like

pick a song you like, loop it’s first four bars (slow it down if need be, eg on my ipad i use dj pro to do this with spotify tracks) and study what goes on there. try to recreate it, try to understand it, try to alter/experiment with it. ask yourself, why does it seem to work? what os it that makes you like it? what do you need to take away/add to lbreak it" (ie so it no longer works for you)?

move through the song like that.

this will help you progress faster than any book you can read on the subject matter.

1 Like

With regard to Ghost notes, eventually one doesn’t have to think about them, they just seem to happen by themselves (I speak specifically about playing the drumkit here) and those ghost notes are dependant on the individual character of the player and how they express the beat. They contribute to the Drummers voice so to speak. Bernard Perdie would say ‘Don’t worry about those ghost notes, they aint nothin but rebound’’ which is another story for another time…


can you explain tressilio and ghost notes? Ghost notes are notes played with low velocity I guess?

Really good thread! Thanks OP! Wanted to ask this as well because there really is not much out there. I have the same problem with nice beats - most of the time they are happy little accidents that happened when hammering random notes into the sequencer.

if you’re looking for a good book/reference on this topic (breakbeats in the broadest sense and its stylistic elements such as ghost notes etc), Michael Adamo’s “Breakbeat Bible” is a great and practical resource.

for drumming and drumming expressiveness more generally, Mark Guiliana’s “Exploring your Creativity on the Drumset” is fantastic and the exercises can be translated to finger drumming practice beautifully.


…well, it’s all about how u count…

a classic dubstep is 70 bpm…but for higher grid solution u better program it in doubled tempo…
at 140 bpm…get it?
and yes…all music has mathematical logistics within itself…and it’s no fun to learn all about it…
but lot’s of fun to figure that out while doing so…so stop thinking…start listening for real…and start to dance, might help, also…
while any kind of expression starts breathing with at least different volumes/velocity of the single hits u lay out…
and maybe stepsequencers are not the real deal for u…also try a mpc one day…and some real drum lessons…some simple paradiple lections can do all the trick within a few hours…

1 Like

…but, oh…i defenitly check on that breakbeat bible, too…
u never know all…so u better never stop learnin’…this adamo script sounds really like a good hint…amen…break…

1 Like

Yes sort of, Ghost notes are softer notes played in between the main notes of the beat. For a drummer this becomes instinctual, each drummer will accent a beat differently with ghost notes in different places, different velocities, even different voicing, eg ghost notes played on not just the snare but also the kick, hihats, toms, cymbals etc

Translating the concept of ghost notes to a step sequencer means yes, lower velocity than the main notes. however the placement of the ghost notes using a step sequencer is never as fluid and natural as someone playing the drums, due to the inherent nature of a step sequencer and having to program it.

The tresillo is a rhythmic phrase found in afro/latin/arabic music. It is a syncopation that spans two bars of any basic one bar beat. Once you learn what it is, you hear it literally everywhere. Modifying the tresillo creates some fantastically intricate and compelling rhythms.

As for how to create really good breakbeats in the context of electronic music? Sample a real drummer that has ‘funk’ then chop those breaks up :slight_smile:
Or connect an MPC to a 606/808 and finger drum the funk!

1 Like