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Adding random variations to a drumbeat in Cubase

Just wanted to show you a simple, but interesting way to add random variations to a drum beat: The example is done in Cubase, but I bet it works in most DAWs.

I started out with a basic kick-snare drumbeat as shown below (I’m not using a drum map for this particular track. But you could – it won’t make any difference):

The basic drumbeat

Then I wanted to add – occasionally – a few more hits in between – two on the kick, and one on the snare.
Below is the basic beat with the variations added:

Beat with variations

But like I said, I wanted the variations to appear randomly, sort of like a live (and not too disciplined) drummer would do.

First, I keep the basic beat exactly as it is, and instead make two tracks for the variation beats: One for the kick – which looks like this:

Extra kick beats

And one for the snare – which looks even more empty – just one single hit on the last eighth of the two-bar figure.

The two tracks are rooted to the same VST drum machine as the basic beat (Note: This trick works with external hardware drum machines as well).

Playing them now will mean that the variations will play constantly – which is not what I wanted.

So now for the trick: It relies on Cubase’s MIDI randomisation settings.

I set each variation track to randomize pitch from one semitone below to the exact note. Of course, I made sure there was no sound triggered one semitone below the kick drum note. Thus, every note played will be either the kick drum or nothing:

If you are using the MIDI note one semitone below on your drum machine, you can perhaps use one semitone above. Or you can copy the same drum sound to a MIDI note out of the range you are using.

Played back, the beat now sounds like this:

Of course, with a bit of imagination, this trick can be used for all sorts of other fun stuff: Eg. instead of switching between hit or no hit, it could be used for randomly switching between two (or more) drum sounds.

Have fun.