Looking for a tutorial on how to program drums / better understand a sequencer grid

Hi there,

I’m looking for tutorials to help describe the different parts of a 16 beat sequencer grid.

At the moment I mainly live record my sequences but I’d likely to better understand some of the theory behind creating a drum loop using a sequencer. There are terms like ‘upbeat’ and ‘downbeat’ that I’d like to understand better.

Any tips?

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I’m also interested



I also find trickier to use the endless seq for drums

hey squiddly, not sure why you deleted your post there was some excellent advice in there, exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. Can I re-post it? It’s all things I know subconciously through live drumming but I wanted to study it a little to make it more conscious and I find it really helps seeing it written down. I’m hoping it will help my use of Endless and Finger sequencers in particular. I do manage to live program Finger sequence though by using the hold function and starting it in time with the metronome which is a really useful tip.

The Ableton tutorial looks useful too. Looking forward to sitting down with that later on today.

Any other tips anyone for drum programming/sequencing?

What was @squiddly advice?

They described at what points on the grid you would traditionally put certain instruments. I don’t really want to paste it here unless they give permission though.

Sure thanks anyway we’ll see

I think this is a good way to understand it


i deleted it because…i thought maybe i misunderstood what people meant by " drum theory" and i was just coming across all preachy and also, i have no formal training and no natural talent…there are people on here who know way more than me about this. so what i said was something like this…

the pattern sequencer has 16 steps, start with something like this…
kick on; 1, 5, 9, 13 (add extra kick on 15 every two or four bars for variation) (that’s called four on the floor…house and other dance styles. for hip hop…jeez, i don’t kn ow
for rock/pop…kick on 1,9)
snare/clap on 5, 13. every two or four bar add some variation with 12, 15
hats/shaker; 3,7,11,15 for classic house sound. or try…
hats/shaker 1,,15,16 . you can add extra hits or take one or two out to get some more interesting patterns here.
for hand percussion stuff like cowbells, go-go bells, timbales, congas, put a few of your hits on the even numbers – 2, 6, 8, 10 etc. these are called the off beats and will give you syncopation. but better yet, go to the endless sequencer. enter your cowbell four times. set sequencer running and twist white knob to change the pattern, and shift +white knob to alter pattern position. this is a really good way at getting syncopated patterns.

one the 1, every four bars (the pattern sequencer is one bar) put a loud crash cymbal – that tells everyone this is a new time around, it adds excitement and expectation.
in the last few beats of every second or fourth bar add a few toms, this signals the end of a sequence to the listener and adds excitement and expectation of what comes next.
or, simply delete the kick at the end of every four bars, this also will signal the end of the sequence.

ok…that’s a basic beat. now turn the pattern sequencer on and set it to hold. then press shift to add/delete a drum sound…and see what sounds good as the pattern plays. this is where the pattern sequencer really shines…it’s really easy to experiment and find great drum patterns by just adding and deleting drum sounds, one at a time.

with music, you are creating a tension between similarity and change. keeping things the same pulls as in, but if it doesn’t ever change, we get tired of it.
you establish a beat, but every now and then you add or subtract or change it.
say, after four bars, you replace the hi hat with a ride cymbal. you change the clap to a snare. and you use tom rolls, whistles, timbales at the end of four bars, and crash cymbal at the beginning of four bars to signal that change is coming.

once you know this basic stuff, you’re going to easily hear it going on in every song you listen to and you’ll start gaining knowledge really quickly


I’m a trained jazz drummer and also an EDM fanatic. Knowing acoustic drumming helps with programming beats quite a lot.

To drum programmers that aren’t acoustic drummers, a good tip is to try to air-drum along to the beat you programmed. Imagine a typical 5-piece drumset layout and air-drum on that layout.

With a 16-beat grid it’s easy to write beats that a human drummer would find extremely difficult, unnatural, or even physically impossible (without overdubbing).

Also, think of drumming as a kind of dance with four limbs and the core (torso) swinging/swaying. While air-drumming, if the beat you programmed results in jerky movements, it’s probably not as fun to groove along to (for both a human drummer and the audience). Typically, a smooth, grooving beat will allow for ample time for a human drummer to move his limbs from instrument to instrument.

You can, of course, intentionally write beats that are impossible for a human drummer to play. I like doing that too, and it’s prevalent in certain genres. But it tends to pull people out of the visceral lower-body grooving into a more cerebral, mechanical beat. That is, of course, the point of writing such beats for certain genres.


for swing settings…58 to 62 for house/dance. hip hop go a little higher 62+

I’ve had my OP-1 for a couple months and still haven’t used the pattern sequencer. I just default to the endless sequencer, just what I’m used to.

One way to think of a 16 step sequence is “1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a”. Listen to some beat; if it’s not too fast, chant “1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a” along with it. I think understanding a rhythmic pattern in this way is better than knowing that a certain beat falls on one of the steps 1-16. Maybe I just learned more traditional counting techniques, so sequencer steps don’t have so much meaning for me.

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a Great way is to buy those books which represent different drum patterns! they are laid out on 16 steps and are great for fills and different music!!
something like this:
Bardet, R: 260 Drum Machine Patterns https://www.amazon.de/dp/0881888877/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_DMPOEbR9GQJ65

Awesome stuff Squiddly - this is really, really useful, thank you for taking the time to write it all out. I’ve not used Pattern sequencer much but recently recognised its strengths for being able to add and delete notes easily and crucially, play notes whilst the sequence is playing which I don’t think you can do on other sequencers.

‘Syncopation’ is a new word for me. I know my basic harmonic and melodic theory and different ways to play with people’s expectations and the music’s tension using chords and note sequences so it totally makes sense that playing with the standard rhythms like you describe can create similar effects.

Brilliant, thanks!

That ‘play with your rhythm’ video is absolutely brilliant. A lot of overlap with squibbly’s post but delivered in a different way. It’s incredible what you can do with 16 steps and he describes it very well. I also have a much better understanding of “backbeat” and other common drum nomenclature now. I’ll be watching this video a few times I reckon. Nice one.

dchang0 - sweet, completely different take on the subject - love the idea of keeping in mind how your audience might move to the beat you create. So obvious now you’ve said.

I do often just record my drums live straight on to tape, without a sequencer, sometimes you just need that nice natural rhythm that a sequencer can’t always provide.

Woo-1 - totally true. I need to dig out my guitar theory book which goes over basic rhythm theory include the counting style you describe. I think I need to replace the “e and a” thing with something else though, I never understood why it was “e and a”. I might end up using a random three syllable word like “elephant” or something.

And finally JohnnyEgo, those books look really useful - definitely interesting exercise to visualise existing beats on a grid like that. 200 beats should keep me busy for a bit. I notice there are 1 or 2 videos online where people go through classic drum patterns and show them in their grids, you also get the benefit of hearing the beat as you’re looking at it which is super useful.

Thanks everyone, awesome mix of advice right here.

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This one’s great too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOVSOvsTXto