Midi drums are great. You get the power and flexibility of using midi for your drums. Buuuut, it only gets you so far. There's a bit more you have to do to get that realistic feel of drums from using midi.
Here's a few ways you can make your midi drums sound real.
Adjust The Velocity Of Your Midi Drums
Using the same velocity for all your notes will make a robotic sounds. If you want to capture the realness and essence of a drummer, those velocities have to vary. Nothing crazy, but small changes and variations will do the trick.
Example Of Varying Velocities of Your MIDI Drums
Let's take a listen. We have a base pattern with all the notes at the same velocity and the same pattern with varied velocities.
|Pattern With Varied Velocities
So some subtle changes there but you can start to hear the human feel to it. Certain parts are a bit more emphasized than others. Just like a human drummer would do.
Remember to keep those changes subtle. It doesn't have to be drastic, small changes can have a big impact on midi drums.
Get Off The Grid
No not like get off wifi. I mean get a few of those notes off the midi grid. By default most DAWs stick your notes to the grid. This sounds good and it's not bad per se.
But when a real human plays drums, they won't always play perfect timing. They'll be a little ahead, or a little late at times.
You want to move some of your midi drum notes slightly off the grid to tap into that human feel.
Slightly off grid is the key. Subtle offsets is what you're looking for. Subtlety is key.
let's listen to an example. First we'll go back to the base pattern. And then we'l listen to the same pattern with swing and velocity changes applied
|Pattern With Swing & Varied Velocity
So we're starting to hear more of the human feel make its way in
Randomly Add and Remove Notes
We're humans, we're not perfect. We're flawed. We don't always play every single note. I may get a little too excited and add an extra note. Or distracted and miss a note.
Your midi drums should reflect that.
Copy/Paste is great. Saves a lot of time. But you don't want to copy/paste the same pattern over and over. Or if you do, you want to make slight tweaks to a couple of those patterns by adding or removing random midi drums.
Maybe an extra kick gets added here. Or a snare doesn't get played here. Just a few times in your track, no need to go overboard.
Examples Of Removing Notes
|Swing, Varied Velocity, Notes Removed
Sounding more and more human.
Add In Ghost Notes 👻
Add in ghost notes is a great way to get a real human feel from midi drums. These are low velocity/volume notes that get added in.
Sometimes you can barely hear them, but you can definitely feel them and the impact of the groove.
Get Slightly Off Tempo
When you lock in your bpm, everything is always played at that tempo. Humans aren't perfect and may get a little off tempo at times.
An easy way to replicate this is to occasionally play one pattern at one to two bpms faster or slower.
This means the notes are either slightly ahead of the grid (faster) or slightly behind the grid (slower).
Throw this in once or twice in your track.
Play Midi Drums Yourself
The easiest way to get a human feel with your midi drums. Plug in your midi controller and knock out that beat.
Once you have a programmed drum pattern, play it back with your midi keyboard
The best thing about it is you don't have to play all drum sounds all at once.
Record the midi kick drums.
Then record the midi snare drums.
Then the hats, so on and so on.
You'll see all the imperfections mentioned above show up in your midi drums.
Add In Drum Fills
Most drummers like to throw in fills. You heard them before and drum fills add a nice touch to your midi drum track.
They can be tricky to do with midi however since so many notes get clumped together. It's hard to get the timing right.
Check out the Fill Drum Guide to add in fills. It comes complete with midi drum notes all stemmed out. Drag and drop them into your DAW to get instant midi drum fills for your tracks
Examples of Adding In Fills
|Swing, Varied Velocity, Notes Removed, and Fills
Start With Solid Patterns
This one might seem obvious, but you want to make sure you're starting with a solid drum pattern. If you have a drum pattern that doesn't even sound realistic to begin with, no amount of swing, quantization, volume adjusting, "humanzing" is going to work.
Use a solid drum pattern to start. Start with any of the drum patterns for any of the drum guides and MIDI drums.
Use The Right Samples
Think about what genre you are producing for and make sure the drum samples match. If you're making jazzy lofi beats, don't use trap drums. It won't sound right at all.
Add In The Right Effects To Your Drum Mix
Once you did all the above and you're getting close to being finished with your track, it's time to dial in the right effects.
Reverb, saturation, and parallel compression are all a solid go to to get your drums sounding great and human like.
Human Feeling Midi Drums
those are some simply tips to get realistic drums. If you're looking for midi drums to get started, all our drum guides come with midi drums. They're even stemmed out for ultimate flexibility and control.