Beat Building: How to Create a Classic House Beat
In our Beat Building series, we show you how to produce beats, grooves and drum patterns in a variety of styles and genres, touching on different production eras, to help you understand the key rhythmic elements behind many of the greatest pieces of today.
House music comes in many shapes and sizes, but it’s underpinned by a driving four-stage groove between 115 and 130 bpm that has remained fairly consistent since its first appearance in Chicago in the mid-1980s.
There’s an abundance of DJs, labels and artists to reference and multiple subgenres to align with. Here we stay mainstream and look at the kind of groove you’ll get on UK labels like Defected or Toolroom and backed by DJs like Dennis Ferrer.
House started out using the classic drum machine sounds of the time, particularly the kicks, hats and snares of the Roland 909. However, over time more blended sounds became the norm.
To produce compelling house beats, you’ll want to use sounds that are currently popular, so in addition to referencing current releases, you may want to listen to the latest house-specific sample packs. Alternatively, you can check out SampleRadar, our ever-growing collection of over 75,000 free music samples.
In general terms, you want to look for short, heavy kicks without too much height, a selection of hats that include longer, looser open hi-hats, and tight snares and claps. 909 snares and claps can be especially handy for fills and builds and additional percussion such as congas and shakers can be added to taste.
Building the rhythm…
Start with a quantified KICK pattern on all quarter notes then add an offbeat CHARLESTON OPEN on all eighth notes between kicks. The length of the open hi-hat influences the overall feel, and here we’ve opted for a longer hi-hat sound and this is reflected in the note length. Add a closed hat on all quarter notes. This helps to add presence to the bass drum.
Despite a stiff kick pattern, a traditional house beat has a bouncing feel. This can be achieved by using additional hats and here we have labeled ours FEEL THE HAT 1 and 2. These should be quieter than the main open hi-hat and you can do it with velocity. Feel Hat 1 is found at 8/16 and 10/16 of each bar and is slightly behind the beat.
You can use swing quantization in 16ths to adjust this or do it manually by ear. Feel Hat 2 is on 3/16 and 16/16 of bar one and 2/16 and 16/16 of bar two. This time the 2/16 beat in bar 2 is slightly behind the beat.
Until now, all sounds were dry, but now we add a clap with reverb to quarter notes 2 and 4 of each bar. This can be further embellished with a REVERSE CLAPand here we programmed that until the clapperboard on beat 4 of each measure.
Bars 3 and 4 are essentially the same as bars 1 and 2, however, on bar 4, beat 16/16, we have placed a silent snare drum to mark the end of the cycle. Again, this is behind the beat and we manually adjusted it to taste. Finally, bar 1 is marked with a long CRASH with additional time.
Your basic house groove can be greatly refined with quantized effects, noise sweeps and snare fills. Again, pre-made sounds from sample packs are great for this. Use down swipes or effects to mark the beginnings of 2 or 4 bar sections and up swipes and builds at the end of those sections.
Check out how this beat should sound in our sample audio below.