Where can I learn about drum syncopation and broken beats?

Well this book is pretty much exactly what I was looking for! Thanks for that! I am almost stunned that a book like this didn’t come up with a Google search. In fact none of the books did. Wikipedia pages, forums and blogs…I guess because they all contain ads bringing Google money, it’s a scary thought actually. But maybe not I am sure people learn about the existance of these books in schools and courses.

The book has a very interesting intro:

“It’s the summer of 1975. You’re walking through the heart of the South Bronx, NYC. Suddenly, a dude pulls a knife on you and wants to jack your wallet. You cut into an alley and lose him after a quick chase. As soon as you stop running, you hear, in the distance, the rumble of a nasty funk track played through a huge sound system.”

This little intro actually descibes the breakbeat itself. If you try to play this little paragraph as a drum beat you can actually hear this sounds like a breakbeat. A perfect intro.

Thanks everyone for advices!


Yes, with all the noise out there, it’s getting increasingly harder to single out the signals that are relevant to us. I found this book on Amazon one night, when I was looking for cool books on drumming :slight_smile:

I’m not a drummer but use the concepts in this book to develop my finger drumming technique and expressiveness. I did a few one-on-one sessions here in Berlin with the mighty David Haynes (Search for him on YouTube if you don’t know him!) and during that phase I would chase down anything that would help me improve my drumming vocabulary… both books I recommended here do a great job with that! :slight_smile:


I love Adamo book


(Edit, I previously said put the snare on the 3, but this is due to me not having any formal training…I just counted with the beat, 1,2,3,4 & the snare was on the 3, so looks like I have some studying to do. Fixed the below.)

A good way to start:

Put a snare on the 2 :

Loop it.

Then just start tappin the kick…listen & feel…put the kicks where they sound good. Then start tappin on the hi hat…listen & feel…put them where it sounds good. Maybe throw a cymbal in there. Keep doing this, put the kick in different places, hell put the snare in different places.

Boom bap - hi hats come in a little late, so do the ghost notes…(for example the ba in ba-boom). Just a little late…feel it out…

A lot of good advice in this thread, but honestly what confuses me is you say you want to learn the “formula” (even though in hip hop alone there are SOOOO many drum formulas it’s insane), but yet you are not fond of the videos you’re finding as they are cookie cutter. That’s what a formula is in a way… the basic way to do something. Especially concerning drums, watch a beat making video, only listen to the drums, do what he or she does, there you go.

The best advice I can give is learn by doing & experimenting. I mainly make Boom Bap, but it just happened, I never set out to make a specific style or genre, I just follow my ears & my heart…yea I know, but just go with what you feel, it’s all about feel. I learned that I like my hi hats to hit a little later… everyone says “unquantized” when making Boom Bap/hip hop but there is more to it than that, which I learned by making drum rhythms. When I started using quantize I hated how the hi hats sounded. So I fucked with the hi hats & figured out why I didn’t like it. Experiment with all kinds of drum rhythms. Just play & have fun. Every single time you make a beat you will learn & gain skill. For the first 6 months of making music, I would make drum loops on a sp404. No sequencer. Just sampled myself banging out drums every day numerous times a day (my fav is drums, has been since I was a little girl). Add effects to the drum loop, put delay on it, “oh it sounds nice when the delay snare hits there”, which means a good place for a drum hit (I learned some crazy drum rhythms just adding delay to basic drum loops I made). I would grab records rhythm roulette style, sample the first song I hear, chop it up & make a beat. I did this daily for 2 years. Made shit for the first year, but learned so much & gained skill.

Wow…this is the longest post I have ever created…hopefully I had some tips for you :grinning:


Is this something like the stuff you’re after?

I read a drum patterns for drum machines book a long time ago and one of the biggest things that helped me was understanding the roles of the different drums.

Snare - the signpost, if you move this around people will start to lose their way (for better or worse)

Kick - the groove. You can be loose with these. Between the kick and the snare you should already feel like dancing if the groove is strong.

Hats - articulate the groove. Hats accentuate the already present groove through subdivisions.

Overall groove of a drum loop is;

  • The pattern of hits
  • The micro timing of each hit
  • The different velocity of each hit (ghost notes are the extreme of this)

Start with the basic amen break kick snare pattern like you seem to already know and simply add and remove a kick at a time. Get your ears adjusted to how hits just before snare seem to step into it. How hits just after seem to bounce off it. How hits on the 16th seem to step into the next bar.

Additionally something unique to breakbeat production is playing around with slices. You can do this with OT and Ableton. Once you have a decent loop chop it up into 8ths and set it up so you can trigger any of the slices in a quantised manner. From there you can mash your keyboard or pads and it will spit out variations and breakbeat mayhem that you will instantly recognise from this genre.

Beat making is a hell of journey with no substitute for experience. Best of luck!


Well that’s a lot of books about drumming!

For me, the best teacher is practice and experimentation. Which is kind of one and the same for me at this point but… I feel like I learned more in my first 6 months with Rebirth than I have in the 20 years since.

I guess what I’m saying is some experiments now will pay off big time for a long time.


Agreed! See my earlier comments above. Supporting discovered knowledge with a structured conceptual framework can really unlock that knowledge (“I know it and now I understand it too”). However, while starting off with a conceptual framework PRIOR to experimentation could possibly support discovery, it could instead also block discovery as the mental model is applied prescriptively (“this is how it has to be”). This can sometimes be observed eg with classically trained musicians, who struggle to break out of the norms they were educated in (no diss to classically trained musicians of course).

So yeah, experimentation and exploration are key…and also that’s where the fun is :slight_smile:

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Folks have been dissecting this guys drums for years.

Gold tip for me that wasn’t immediately obvious from a composers perspective is to limit yourself to the physical limits of rhthe e drummer i.e you can only play max 4 drums at any one time. So patterns arrive based on what can be physically played not programmed.


p-locks are great for hihat accentuations or attenuations, and for a ghost-note, on the Machinedrum i sometimes try p-locking a hihat sample’s Hold parameter to zero, and then set the Dec to be around 64.

a Swing setting of 53 at 89 bpm is fun for broken beats … and then for a different feel, try 98 bpm and a Swing setting of 57.

to accompany a broken beat, a note cluster on the synth could work… mid-low range with some low-speed chorus sparingly applied.
if that integrates enjoyably with a pattern, then other note clusters could be explored.

further harmonic exploration could be to sample a few bars of each enjoyable mid-range note-cluster, assign them to different machines on the DT or OT, and then try playing them in different rhythmic or sequential patterning. to escape just the single harmony-not-changing vibe.

another idea for broken beat accompaniment: a bassline that only plays when the bassdrum sounds … if there is a Swing setting on the drum sequencer, then it most likely should be the same for the sequencer playing the bass notes.

melody fractions, tweaks, bleeps, frictions, frissons, vocal syllables with echo or reverb … all these could possibly make a broken beat drum sequence start to be an identifiable composition.


Good thread. I’m just replying to remember to check back at it every now and then. :smiley:

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I think it’s worth adding (unless I missed someone else doing it) that “those cookie cutter things” mentioned in the original post are usually pretty widely used universals…

the usual basis of drum and bass and garage and 90s R&B is the same two step pattern
the usual basis of soca, reggaeton, UK funky and about a million other music genres is the same soca beat.
Hip hop and rock go “boom bap”
It’s often really simple changes in percussion or hats or swing or positioning/velocity of individual hits that make things sound funky and broken, not some magic secret about kick and snare placement.

I find this a useful place to get basic ideas from:

(and the Attack Magazine “Beat Dissected” stuff linked above is amazing.)

But also, just stealing ideas from records.
Or trying to rebuild a cool sample with your own hits usually goes wrong and creates something new with it’s own syncopation rather than what was there originally.

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an earlier suggestion of putting the Snare on 3 seemed quite an interesting idea, it would make for a different kind of feel to a groove, like a half-time vibe perhaps.

not sure how to make Trap beats, although love the sound of those 32nd note hihat tweaky trills. very natural, laid back and yet hi-tech, all at the same time.

currently i’m working on a downtempo broken beat, pretty stoked with a base-level interaction between the bassdrum and snare.

it’s a four bar groove and each bar has the Snare on beat 2 (a very usual placement), also sounding on beat “4-and” (Trig 15).

there is a main bassdrum sample, and a different lesser-volume supportive bassdrum. this seems to make it easier to somehow craft a subtle feeling to the syncopations.

main bassdrum Trigs on beat 1 (oh so unexpected) and then on beat “2-a” (Trig 8) … this pulse sequence is the same on Bars 1 and 3. Bar 4 is similar with an extra trig on beat 3-and.
Bar 2 just has a single trig on beat “2-e” (Trig 6).

the different, softer ‘supportive’ bassdrum does not sound on Bar 1 … then on Bar 2 trigs on beat “1-and”, beat “3-and”, beat “3-a” (Trig 12) … does not sound on Bar 3, and trigs once on Bar 4 - beat “3-e” (Trig 10).

it isn’t necessarily a less-tough sounding sample than the main bassdrum, although does have less “click” at the start of the sample. with some slight adjustments, it sounds 3 semitones lower than the main bassdrum… due to the main bassdrum sample being pitched upwards slightly. this is approximate.

at a tempo of 89bpm and a swing of 53, there is room for some different percussive elements and moderately spacious hihat work to explore the rhythmical options of broken beat sequencing.

anyway what i was intending to say was that the rhythm “signature” of the snare drum being on beat 2, beat “4-and” is just a slight adjustment, still familiar, and yet provides a bit more space … different to the snare being on beat 2 and 4, and yet close enough to hopefully not confuse the crowd at a gig, perhaps.


Did I do it wrong? Snare on the 3 is the basic place to put it, at least that’s how it is in my head when counting with the beat…
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 (2 bars)
Basic hip hop beat:
1)Kick 2)hihat 3)snare (late 4)kick 1)kick 2)hihat 3)snare 4)cymbal.

kick hihat snare kick kick hihat snare cymbal

The kick that hits on the 4, would be a little later, so maybe it’s not considered on the 4, but isn’t that where the snare is in just about every basic beat? On the 3???

Honestly, like I said above I just go by feel, but when counting, the snare is almost always on the 3 (unless I work in double time or Im doing something completely different than the norm)…correct me if I’m wrong… hopefully I’m not misinforming, I try to be careful of that :persevere:

Yea I think I did it wrong…damn it…if kick is on the 1 & snare is on the 2 what would the hihat be that is in-between the kick & snare?

I will say I HAVE put the snare on the 3 in a few different beats (the real 3, not the 3 I made up in my head). It def gives a different vibe.

Thanks guys for so many responses…

I think you’re thinking of the eight notes, the “ands”, and counting them as downbeats.
Edit: The snare on three would be a standard reggae rhythm I think

Yea, I was counting the “and”… you’re right :smiley:

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snare on the 3 is a cool idea though!
when counting 16th’s my approach is "one-e-and-a two-e-and-a … " etc.
not so much when playing but when trying to notate a drum bar sequence.

i think 32nd’s are the next level.
always want to utilise them and yet often get distracted by other things like synthesizers.

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