Learn a method of writing drums for your heavy metal songs.
Perfect for song-writers who do not play the drums.
Listen to this very simple and fun palm-muted metal riff:
Heavy Palm-Muted Riff.MP3
It is very repetitive and the perfect type of riff to sing or play a guitar solo over. In my case, I wrote this riff to have death vocals sung over. There are tons of possibilities but whatever you do, you will probably want an awesome drum beat to accompany it. Am I right? Since you are such a great guitarist and composer, you have probably got a ton of these kinds of sweet, bouncy riffs lying around all over the place. If you do not have a drummer to write beats for you, your next best option is to use drum samples to write the beats yourself. As a guitarist there is always the possibility that you have no idea how to write a drum beat. I know I did not when I first started. I wrote crazy nonsense for drum beats back in the day. When I finally got a drummer and let him listen to my songs, he told me that he would need five arms and unbelievable penile control to play those beats. I have been playing in my current band (Zoltan
) for many years now and I often hear people tell my drummer how impressive his drum work is. Since I write all the drum parts for my band, I feel like they are actually complimenting me and now I want you to get the same results. So let us get to it!
The first thing that I like to do when writing a beat for this type of riff is have the bass drum (also known as a kick drum) play along with all of the palm-muted guitar notes. A riff like this is really all about the rhythm. Having the kick drum in perfect synchronization with the guitars is an excellent way to accentuate that rhythm. Here is the result:
The sweet thing about having the kick drum play in sync with the guitars is that it makes it easier to hear what the guitars are playing. In other words you are getting heaviness and clarity at the same time. You cannot beat that!
Now let us add in some snare and hi-hat. It is common for the hi-hat to play once on every beat and the snare on whichever beats you want to accent. An example would be to hit the snare on every second and fourth beat. This would sound like "tss-pah-tss-pah." You could do this and it would sound just fine with the riff we are using but I personally want to make it into a slow brutal riff, so instead I am going to play the hi-hat on only half of the beats (the first and third beats only) and have the snare hit only once per bar on the third beat.
Hihat & Snare.MP3
The x-shaped notes at the top are the hi-hats. The snare is the note on the third space (counting from the bottom, as is the usual practice in music theory). The hi-hat and snare usually work together to create the overall feeling of the drum beat, which is why I add them together instead of one at a time. If you do not feel that you are ready to think of two things at once, then think about just using the snare on the spots you want to accent and then add in the hi-hat in a very straight pattern. You will definitely get the hang of it over time.
So now we actually have a complete beat but it is far from sounding soul-destroying. Everything else you might do from here onward could be considered simple tweaking. There are countless ways you could go about tweaking this very basic beat to sound the way you want it to. I will show you how I went about it but remember that there is no wrong way to write a drum beat. This is just one method that I like to use when it comes to these types of heavily muted riffs. The first thing I would like to do is make it sound heavier overall. The hi-hat is just not doing it for me so let us replace it with crash cymbals.
You can see at the top that the old hi-hats are gone. Those new x-shaped notes you see are both crash cymbals.
Next, I am thinking of adding variety by completely changing up the feeling in the second half. Instead of continuing on with the crash cymbals I am going to revert back to the hi-hat and I am going to have it and the snare play twice as fast. So there will be hi-hats on every beat and snares on every second and fourth beat. Below is what the second half of the beat looks like in notation. The old hats are back but there are twice as many of them now and twice as many snares now accompany them.
Latter Half Variation.MP3
Nice. There is still one problem with this beat. Where there are no muted heavy chords, the drum beat just kind of stops. We can fill that in with some simple snare and cymbal hits. There they are at the end of every fourth bar.
Sustained Note Hits.MP3
The beat actually sounds quite complete now but even with the second half changed up, it still sounds boring to me. The last step to make your beat really rock is to add decorations. It is up to you how and where to add decorations. It will vary for each person and each song. Decorations are a completely free-style process but they often contain well-known structures such as drum rolls and fills. This is the time to go crazy with your imagination and write stuff that makes you say, "That's insane!" Before going too crazy, here are a few guidelines to help make sure your beat is actually playable by a human drummer.
1. Most drummers are limited to the use of one drum stick per arm and only two arms. Make certain your beat never requires more than two drums (not including the kick drum) or cymbals being hit simultaneously.
2. Do not write a machine-gun kick drum beat that is any faster than the speed you can drum your palms on your lap.
3. If you want to have an opening and closing hi-hat, you will only have one foot available for the kick drum.
Here are the additions I made.
The top staff is the slow first part of the drum beat while the bottom staff is the faster second part. During the slow section, the first addition I made was a bunch of ride cymbal hits played at the same time as the kick drum. Right after that I threw in a quick hi-hat. That's all that is contained in the first red circle in the fourth bar. Right after the first red circle comes the snare and cymbal hits that accompany the sustained guitar notes. You can see that there is a single kick drum note in between the two hits. In the faster section, the changes occur right before the snare and cymbal hits where I placed a kick drum to lead into them. The first hit after that is usually a snare and a crash. Look closely and you will notice that the cymbal has moved to the third space above the staff. That is not a crash cymbal but a china cymbal. It is a small change but it goes a long way in eliminating a repetitive sound. Before the second snare hit are three rapid kick drums and then another kick at the very end.
You are now ready to create soul-destroying drum beats for most heavy palm-muted riffs such as this one. I hope you found this article of great use. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
About the Author:
Jahan Zoltan Honma is a recording artist and freelance composer based in Niigata City, Japan. You can learn more about Jahan at TheLegendaryZoltan.com and listen to some free music at Zoltan's SoundCloud.