Programming and Producing Drum Beats


Authored by Erik "Hawk" Hawkins


Course Code: OMPRD-386

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Knowing how to write, record, arrange, mix, and program killer drumbeats is critical, whether you're into hip-hop, urban, rock, alternative, dance, electronic, jazz, blues, or country. The beats in these styles of music serve as the rhythmic focus around which all of the other instruments play. Without a great drum beat, even the best song can fall short of its full potential and lack the impact, excitement, and energy necessary to make it a bona fide hit.

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Programming and Producing Drum Beats teaches the steps involved in writing and producing amazing drum beats for any style of popular music. You will learn every aspect of producing a drum beat—from understanding each drum in a traditional rock drum kit and the role it plays in a beat, to mixing and editing a multi-track drum session, and applying the advanced beat-making strategies and techniques available in professional DAW software programs. The course explores how drums are most commonly played, MIDI drum sequencing tricks used by the pros, and the proper use of compression, EQ, and parallel effects when mixing drums. It also explores how to think like a drummer, so that writing style- and song-appropriate drum grooves becomes second nature.

The material is taught through careful analysis of what goes into making a great sounding drum beat, from studying the drums themselves, to the tools and techniques employed by top producers to get that bigger-than-life drum sound. Artists studied include Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Digital Underground, NWA, Jack Johnson, Deee-Lite, Prince, Gloria Estefan, NIN, Beastie Boys, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, De La Soul, and Soul 2 Soul. In addition, the course textbook, Producing Beats: Writing and Mixing Killer Drum Grooves, includes a CD-R with demonstration tracks and free MIDI and audio samples from Big Fish Audio, KEYFAX, Multi-loops, and Smart Loops.

Throughout the course, you will be responsible for producing a variety of drum beats in different styles, using different types of production techniques, and culminating in a final production project due in the last week of class. Armed with the production skills and knowledge acquired in this course, you will be able to compose and produce polished, professional-sounding drumbeats.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Identify the different components of a drumbeats used in popular music, including drums, cymbals, percussion, and electronic samples and loops
  • Apply the mechanics of playing real drums to writing realistic MIDI beats
  • Create drum beats using different types of MIDI controllers and techniques, including real-time and programmed beats
  • Compose drum patterns and fills that work well with the rest of the groove and support your song structure
  • Identify common rhythms and tempos of popular music styles
  • Employ cutting edge production techniques to produce beats in a variety of styles
  • Mix drums for maximum punch and presence, using time-tested EQ, compression, and parallel effects techniques
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Building Blocks

  • Drum Beat Building Blocks
  • You and Your DAW
  • Virtual Drum Instruments
  • NN-XT Sampler Virtual Drum Instrument
  • Mixing Basics
  • Tools Checklist

Lesson 2: Writing Real-Time MIDI Beats

  • MIDI Controllers
  • Strategies for Recording Real-Time MIDI Drumbeats
  • Using Quantize and Input Quantize Effectively
  • Real-Time MIDI Drumbeat Recording
  • Real-Time Sequencing Tips

Lesson 3: Anatomy of a Drum Kit

  • One Drum at a Time
  • Playing the Drums
  • Sticks, Brushes, and Mallets
  • Finding Drum Sounds
  • Introducing Drum Notation

Lesson 4: Programming Beats

  • Analog Drum Machine Sounds
  • Digital Drum Machine Sounds
  • Step Sequencers
  • DAW Step Sequencer
  • Tips for Programming Step Sequencer Beats

Lesson 5: Percussion

  • Percussion Parts in Popular Music
  • Identifying Percussion Instruments
  • Playing Percussion Instruments
  • Orchestral and Marching Band Percussion
  • Finding Percussion Sounds

Lesson 6: MIDI Samples

  • What's a MIDI Sample?
  • Setting Up MIDI Sample Drums
  • Finding and Making MIDI Samples
  • Tricks for Working with MIDI Samples

Lesson 7: Working with Loops

  • Beat Matching
  • Beat Matching Methods: Tuning, Recycling, and Warping
  • Finding Loops
  • Tips for Choosing Compatible Loops

Lesson 8: Grooves and Groove Quantize

  • Definition of Groove
  • Straight Quantize
  • Groove Quantize
  • Applying Groove Quantize
  • Tips for Using Groove Quantize

Lesson 9: Enhancing Live Recorded Drums

  • Adding to Live Multitrack Drums
  • Synchronizing The Elements
  • Tips for Enhancing Live Drums

Lesson 10: Rhythm Section Considerations

  • Dissecting the Rhythm Section
  • Copycat Cool
  • Copy Beat Checklist

Lesson 11: Song Structure

  • Good Drum Song Structure
  • Drum Fill Tricks
  • Production Techniques Review
  • Final Checklist

Lesson 12: Mixing

  • Essential Drum Mixing Techniques
  • Advanced Drum Mixing Techniques
  • Mixing Tips
  • Mastering in Brief


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Students should have a basic working knowledge of their Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice. They need to know how to import audio and MIDI files and sequence MIDI performances, in addition to understanding the basics of their program's audio mixer section (such as panning, setting fader levels, and how to insert a plug-in). To meet the DAW proficiency requirements, you may benefit from taking any of the following courses: Pro Tools 101Pro Tools 110Producing Music with LogicProducing Music with ReasonProducing Music with CubaseAbleton Live Fundamentals.



  • Full-featured Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), such as Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton Live (Suite or Standard), Reaper, Reason, or FL Studio (Producer or Signature). Note that GarageBand is not acceptable.
  • Virtual drum instrument (included in most DAWs)


  • MIDI controller (velocity-sensitive pads recommended)
  • One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
    • Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as an audio interface and necessary cables
    • Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Erik "Hawk" Hawkins

Author & Instructor

Erik "Hawk" Hawkins is an EDM artist, producer, composer, remixer, label owner, and author. His music has been used by major television networks and film studios, including ABC, CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, and New Line Cinema.

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Dozens of his articles have appeared in the Industry's top publications, including Electronic Musician, Mix, Remix, and Keyboard. He has authored several books, including Complete Guide to Remixing and Producing Drum Beats. His Berklee Online course, Programming and Producing Drum Beats, won the 2012 UPCEA Award. He also manages his own busy YouTube channels and has collected way too many vintage synths. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Programming and Producing Drum Beats can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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