Sunday, January 31, 2010

A little finger drumming tutorial

I've been using an MPC longer than I've owned a computer and something that never appealed to me was "finger drumming". It evoked thoughts of shitty 80's outdoor music festival wankery, dudes with offensive looking devices strapped around their necks (see above) and lots of synthetic "tom tom" fills. Even recently speaking, "live MPC" usually implied super played out "battle" routine style stuff. Fortunately, a new generation of talented producers and performers decided to reclaim the drum machine's potential as a realtime performance instrument (right around the time MPC's were kind of running out of steam I'll add).

After seeing cats like Jeremy Ellis, Jel, Exile (shout to Aarab Muzik) and others do their thing with my own eyes, I finally got it. The point is not to replace the drummer, it's to do shit they can't. It's also a great way to speed up drum programming (1 take, vs clicking in a piano roll for 20 minutes).

After some trial and error, I came up a little mapping system for myself that was ergonomic, versatile and most of all, natural (my thing was I wanted to be able to play anything I could already play on the real drum kit, plus stuff I couldn't) and practice it constantly.

I noticed people don't seem to share too much when it comes to their methods and technique, so I made a little video and a mapping chart for anyone interested in how to get started.

If you have any questions, criticisms, whatever, please let me know.

Till next time...


  1. Nice! Very helpful, thank you.

  2. I like the approach of one hand doing the whole set with the second hand doing fills on similar kit parts. Very clever. Just need to re-learn how I use my Kord PadKontrol now.

  3. Just saw this on CDM!
    Really dope. Have a M-Audio Trigger Finger that I'm promptly going to re-map. Hehe. Cheers for this.

  4. Same Here just saw on CDM, thnx a lot i will test it with Maschine :D

  5. Dude- I disagree- I think that guy in the photo is pretty awesome. What is that he's wearing. I totally want one now. :) No, but seriously, what is it?

  6. Keats: dude's wearing a ZENDRUM. I imagine they're nice if you can pony up the dough...

  7. Thanks very much, you've inspired me.

  8. thanks for the tips

  9. Many thanks for sharing, cool computer drumming in the video! Will have to wipe off the dust on my padkontrol and practice a few years, lol!

  10. Good vid thanks. This will make me use more than 2 pads at a time :)

  11. B. this is so great. Of course it took me about 5 minutes of fumbling with it to realize, oh, he's left handed. Doh.

    I've had an MPC1000 for a couple of years but could never really get into the swing with it. I mean, I could manage the occasional industrial type martial beat, but anything with any sort of funk just baffled me. Then a couple of months ago I did the pad fix (2500 style pads) and it's like a whole new machine. Wasn't really getting any decent beats but it isn't like drumming on a cinder block. This is totally helpful.

  12. the zendrum pads are so much more serponsive than those rubber mpcpads. Its more like drumming your fingers on the table...

  13. A Drum sets is a groups of drums, cymbals and frequently other drumming instruments, such as cowbells, wood blocks, triangles, chimes, or tambourines, organized for suitable playing by a individual (drummer). The term "drum kit" first developed used in the 1700’s. The terms "drum set", and "trap set" were more dominant historically.

  14. I've always used fairly deliberate mappings, but I feel like an idiot after seeing your mapping. My maps were my for MIDI interchangeability and less to enhance the playing. I thank you and so do my MPC2000XL,MPD24,MPD32,padKONTROL,nanoPAD,Trigger Finger, and Maschine.(haha)
    Drugs and Drums...Indeed

  15. if you add tom and floor where you gonna mapp it?
    please make a tutorial
    tom and floor is important to give lil bit live feels

  16. Great post .
    Thanks for sharing

    ... Mark

  17. Thanks a lot for this tutorial! this layout makes so much sense. It totally motivated me to practise this.

  18. i had an application that functions like a drums at my iPhone. the thing is, i don't know how to use it.

  19. Hey hey , I yust was looking to your blog and your vimeo, nice work man. this stuff is growing if u wanne check the stuf Im doing with the MPD24 and Ableton, I m doing full concerts with it. greethings from Belgium

  20. This is sick! Ive never seen anything like this before. Keep this up, its awesome!

  21. good article!thank you for sharing!

  22. Thanks man, super helpful!

  23. nice work. i like the kit. great finger drumming too.

  24. Good info, but was difficult to understand in parts, so I transcribed it for others.

    Hey guys, I'm Brandon Murphy
    Sorry about the poofy? video quality
    I'm out at a remote right now

    I presented at the Ableton User Group in Chicago
    last week and we were talking about beat making
    specifically with drum racks in Ableton and a pad controller
    and, there was a bunch of stuff I kind of glazed over
    and forgot to mention, so I thought I'd take the opportunity
    and do a video just for everybody.

    The main thing I want to talk about is fingerdrumming
    how to map it, where to put your sounds, technique,
    hand technique, that will allow you to play the mpc
    or pad controller, mpd or whatever, like an instrument
    so we're talking about single hit drums, and playing it like a kit
    and playing breaks and stuff like that.

    so, I looked long and hard for methods on how to do this
    watching a lot of youtube videos and stuff like that
    you know watching the greats like Jeramy Ellis, Exile,
    Jump, cats like that and there wasn't really a good style
    that I could discern from it that allowed me just play straight up riffs
    so I just spent a day and toyed with it and came up with
    a really cool system that I haven't really seen anywhere else
    I'm sure other people use it, but I sort of stumbled upon it
    and wanted to share it with you guys if you're interested in
    playing the mpc or mpd like an instrument. It's a lot of fun
    and it's really cool so

    Basically what I have here is, I have all my single hits mapped out
    they're just loaded into the mpc, this is just a single hit drum kit
    that I made and there's some kicks, snares, hats, open hats
    and a couple other miscellaneous sounds that like a flam roll,
    rim shot and some mid and floor toms so

    the technique of this really is, it's all personal preference, but
    you just want to come up with a system, obviously, that works
    for you and that you can use every time so it becomes an instrument
    An instrument never changes or transposes or shifts, it always stays
    the same and you develop a muscle memory for it and that's kind of what I
    wanted to do here.

    My system system is pretty simple. I play bass, obviously, and I use
    to play a lot of like slap bass when I was a little kid, you know, and the thumb
    to me always kind of equated to the kick and the index always equated to the snare
    That's how it works in slap bass, like basically your emulating is as a percussive
    you know kind of drummer, so I just gone ahead and transposed that to the mpc


  25. Transcription continued…

    That's the biggest deal, really is like how to deal with kicks, and trying to play
    realistic drums because you don't have a foot pedal, and like wise with opening
    and closing hats and stuff like that, so, you have not feet, you just have hands
    but you have lots and lots of fingers. It works out really well. and the most natural
    way I've found to do this is to put my kicks on the bottom with my thumbs, I play
    them with my thumbs, and notice there's doubles of each of these right down the center
    so I hope you can see it the pads 2 and 3 are kicks, move right up, pads 6 and 7 are snares,
    move right up, pads 10 and 11 are hats, and that's it and you know, you start by like just basically
    playing simple patterns and you can even do it one handed. [3:40 plays example beat] stuff like that

    and you can do that with just one hand which is really really cool. You can do other things
    like you know if we can keyboard or something like that, but for this we're going to also bring
    in the right hand, I'm left handed, so this will be your left hand, and these are all kind of analogous
    to playing a real drum kit, so with your dominant hand you usually play the hats right? and
    your non-dominant hand usually plays snare, so you know what I'm saying. Also, another thing
    to note on that is that kicks tend to fall on hats you know. They don't always, of course, but
    [4:29 plays example beat] right. So it's easier, to keep the kick I think and the hat in one hand
    and just sort of use this other one for mainly for snare, but also for like accents, which I'll show
    you in a minute, so I'm just going to play some breaks [4:49 plays example breaks] stuff like that

    You develop this really really quickly I think and the system is really cool so I'm gonna put a little a
    like chart up to show you, like how I map everything out and it's a really cool starting point I think,
    so basically you know get every pad like. So right down this middle row here are pads, you know
    there's a kick, two kicks, one up is two snares, one up is two high hats, and then off to either side
    of the high hat row, the third row or whatever, you can have, you know, open hats or like a pedal hat sound. Another import thing, obviously, is you know, the setup like beat groups, the choke groups or
    whatever you want to call them. And that just emulates a real drummer, obviously, you couldn't play
    an open hat and a closed hat at the same time, so the closed hat group would group that out, so
    we set those up in advance.

    Yes, so, I'm going to throw that chart up and if you guys have any questions at all, feel free to
    hit me up. I think it's a really good starting point, like I said and feel free to make it your own
    and deviate from it, but for those who have had some trouble discovering a method to do this,
    this is a really cool one, so cheers. [6:24 play example beats]