Drum Advice for Mediocre Musicians

As a dedicated but mediocre musician. I like to compose my own drum parts rather than working with loops or patterns. I finger-drum them on the keyboard - thanks again and again to Dom Sigalas for his videos!

But sigh, my drum timing is quite loose. When combined with my not-great timing on the guitars/bass/keys the result is often unacceptable. Trying to tighten up the ensemble using tools like warp can make things even worse because there’s no good reference to work from, without a solid drum track.

My advice is QUANTIZE QUANTIZE QUANTIZE! First quantize the kick and snare, using the grid value that gives you the fewest hits you have to manually correct. Then quantize ride cymbals and hi-hats if they are used consistently in your pattern. You may or may not want to quantize crashes and toms - they are often used off-time, and are easier to place properly as accents by hand. Ditto triplets, slowed endings and other oddly timed sections.

Most courses I’ve taken talk up the value of human variability to the feel of music, and I’m sure that for great musicians that is true. But for those of us who struggle to make our pieces coherent, having a well-timed foundation really helps, and quantizing is the most efficient path to build it.

This advice probably seems unecessary to better musicians and obvious to many others, but it’s a lesson I’ve had to learn more than once, and I hope to save others that wasted time.

A shaky timing is a first step. Usually the answer to that is hard quantizing. But that makes songs feel lifeless fast.
The solution in Cubase can be to create your own quantization presets. Whenever you have a piece with nice timing you can convert it into a Groove Quantization Preset.
My current preset list in Cubase e.g. looks like this:

In case anybody is interested in those presets, read this topic:


Hi Johnny,

Like most things in Cubase quantization seems to be an ever-opening flower of complexity. I’ve only used it in brute-stupid mode.

Will definitely try this preset business, once I figure out how the heck it works. Right now all I know how to do is select the notes, choose a simple grid value and hit Q. Back to the manual…


One thing I did that really helped me understand drums and grooves was to take a live loop that I liked (preferably from vinyl) and then put it on the grid.

Most snares are actually delayed by anything from 3 - 15ms, and the delay is different along the bar (this will also depend on tempo).

Bass drums are sometimes before or after the beat.

It sounds pretty nerdy, but it was actually really fun and a very eye-opening experience.

I tried quantizing to a groove using one of the “loops and samples” drum loops. Definitely sounded nicer than hard quantizing.

I’m just now starting to experiment with the Cubase 5 templates. So much to learn.

Thanks again!