Toontrack’s EZdrummer is a VST plugin that functions as a drum machine. Anyone needing to create drum tracks in their home recording studio owe it to themselves to check it out. This tutorial gives an overview of how to use the build in groove library to get a drum track up and running very quickly.
I’m going to be using REAPER as a DAW for this tutorial but the principles will work in most all modern DAW software supporting VST plugins. You can check out my home recording basic tutorials 1, 2 and 3 if you need a primer on REAPER.
REAPER and EZdrummer set up
With your new REAPER project created and open, click the project settings button to set up the basics for your song. In this EZdrummer tutorial I am going to be setting up a mid-tempo, funky, danceable rock beat at 124 beats per minute in straight 4/4 time (Figure 1).
The Timebase for events… setting will keep your groove in time even if you later come back to this dialog to adjust the Project BPM. The next thing to do is configure the timeline to show us where our measures are. Right click the timeline and choose either Measures . Beats (M:S secondary) or Measures . Beats from the pop-up menu (Figure 2). I like using the setting with M:S secondary so I can always keep an eye on how long my song is (M:S stands for Minutes:Seconds). Use what works best for you. Turn on the grid and snap features of REAPER by clicking the corresponding buttons on the toolbar (Figure 3).
Now we are ready to add the EZdrummer plugin to our project. I named track #1 drums-stereo. Add the EZdrummer plugin to the track by clicking on the fx button of the track. I’m not sure how EZdrummer shows up in other DAW software, but in REAPER it is listed as VSTi: dfh Sampler (Toontrack) rather than EZdrummer. This confused me the first time I tried to find it and though REAPER wasn’t reading my plugin correctly. Be on the lookout! When you add the plugin, the EZdrummer interface will come up and you’ll see some numbers counting up. While the numbers are orange (Figure 4) the drum samples for the current drum kit are still loading into your computers memory. When the numbers go blue (Figure 5) the drum kit is fully loaded. It is best to wait to start playing around until the drum kit is fully loaded.
Auditioning the EZdrummer groove library
EZdrummer can be used in some very advanced ways including scratch building a drum track, playing it live with drum triggers, or just about any other drum machine application you can think of. However, I think one of its most powerful features is the built in groove library. This can help you get your groove up and running very quickly.
Click on EZdrummer’s Open Grooves button to open the groove library. Start by making one selection in each column (Figure 6). The first column shows the general groove category according to which EZdrummer kit you are using. The second column chooses the general format of the groove. You can see I have chosen Motown from the 4/4 Straight format. The third column is a list of many general flavors of the selected format. The fourth column shows many specific variations on the groove you have chosen.
Click the play button (Figure 7) and you should start hearing your selected groove playing through the EZdrummer kit. At this point you can click on other grooves and variations and you will hear EZdrummer changing to play each newly selected variation. The variation is actually what is playing so you won’t hear any change unless a variation is actually selected. In some cases you won’t hear anything at all if there is no variation highlighted. Once you have familiarized yourself with the groove library, it is time to build the groove track.
Building the groove track
Stop EZdrummer from auditioning grooves by clicking the play button again. Click on REAPER and press ‘m’ on your computer keyboard to drop a marker at the cursor position (beginning of the song). This will make it easier for us to find sections later on. Grab one of the groove variations in EZdrummer by clicking it holding down the mouse button. Drag the groove out of EZdrummer and drop hold it over your drums-stereo track in REAPER (Figure 8). As you drag it over your track you will notice it snaps to the grid lines of REAPER. Drag the groove until it snaps to the beginning of the song (position 1.1.00). Once you let go you will now have your first groove placed on the track (Figure 9). Press play in REAPER and you will hear your selected groove play back one time and stop.
I would like an eight measure intro to our sample song so we need to repeat this groove eight times. You can drag the groove out of the library another 7 times and line them up, but REAPER gives us a better way. Grab the right edge of the groove with your mouse so you see the double arrow cursor and drag this edge to the right (Figure 10). Drag the groove’s edge all the way until it takes up a full eight bars (or however long your song section is) and let go when it snaps to the beginning of measure nine. Move your REAPER cursor to measure nine and place another marker there with the ‘m’ key (Figure 11).
With my intro complete, I am going to choose a different groove for 16 measures of a verse. You can press play on EZdrummer again and audition groove variations until you find one suitable for your verse. Drag the groove out to bar nine and drop it on the track in the same way we did for the intro. Stretch the groove clip out to take up 16 measures (Figure 12).
Keep going like this, dragging, dropping and resizing grooves until you have the general structure of your song laid out.
REAPER Tip: You can double click a marker to name it
Embellishing your drum track
EZdrummer includes quite a few fills in the groove library as well. You will definitely want to check these out and use them to spice up your song. To add a two beat fill between the intro, start by creating a two beat long hole at the end of the intro (Figure 13). You can do this by grabbing the right edge of the intro groove and dragging it to make it shorter.
You can certainly drag one of the two beat long fills from the groove library but at this point that is something I’m sure you can figure out how to do on your own. Instead I’m going to show you a slightly more advanced technique. Let’s use the last two beats of a four beat fill instead. Drag a four beat fill and place it at 8.1.00, the beginning of the eight measure. The fill is now overlapping the original intro groove (Figure 14). You may or may not see the crossfade (blue curved lines) but the original groove is still underneath the first half of our fill.
Correct this by grabbing the left edge of the fill and resizing it to start half way through measure eight (Figure 15). If you play back your fill you may notice something is missing. Carefully compare figures 14 and 15 right around the middle of the bar. Can you see the missing beat? Since the EZdrummer grooves are based on human performances, hits do not fall directly on the beat. This is especially true during fills where feel is often more important than perfect timing. The snare drum hit on beat three of the fill is actually pushed to come slightly ahead of the beat. We have lost this snare hit because we edited the fill to start exactly on beat three. Correcting this in REAPER is easy enough.
Click the timeline at position 8.3.00 to place the REAPER cursor there. Zoom in on this point so you can see clearly what you are doing. Highlight both the intro groove and our fill by clicking the intro groove, then holding down the CTRL key on your keyboard and clicking the fill. Move your mouse to the dividing line between the groove and fill until you see the double arrow cursor. Click and drag the dividision between the two clips to the left until you clearly see the beat 3 snare hit return (Figure 16). It might take a couple of tries to get it right. Sometimes it is hard to grab both regions at once and only one of them gets resized. You can undo by pressing CTRL+z on your keyboard or using the edit menu. Just keep trying until you get the hang of it. Sometimes it is easier of you temporarily turn off the snap feature of REAPER so you can do precise positioning in between beats. Just don’t forget to turn it back on before placing more grooves!
That is basically all there is to it for creating a groove with EZdrummer’s groove library. You can get as complex as you want, using several different groove variations within a part, using three and a quarter beats of a fill, creating grooves by gluing together two variations, and whatever else you can dream up. You can also go barebones simple and use a single groove variation repeated for your entire song. It can also be cool to mix groove variations from different styles within the same song. Your creativity and the amount of time you want to spend in your home recording studio are your only limits.
There is currently a $50 rebate on EZdrummer available.
|EZdrummer price check
EZdrummer is a great tool for any home recording studio. You can use it to quickly build grooves from the included groove library or use it as a module to play hand created midi drum tracks. It also works as a great live drum module for something like a Roland V-Drum kit with midi output. The included drum kits sound great in a mix and require very little processing or none at all to give any song a professional sound.
|Nashville Expansion price check
The stock EZdrummer kit is already very versatile. This expansion set adds a lot more drum pieces that are usable in all modern music styles. The kit itself includes a few more cymbal slots than the standard kit. This expansion is for those who like the stylistic variety of the stock kit and are looking to augment with new drum sounds with the same stylistic variety.
|Drumkit from Hell Expansion price check
Toontrack (makers of EZdrummer) got their start with the phenomenal Drumkit from Hell product. DFH (as it is more commonly known) is aimed purely at heavy metal music. The drumkit in this expansion is a double bass kit with five toms and a ton of cymbals. Metal lovers rejoice. This kit gives you ultra modern sounds for all styles of metal from traditional thrash to extreme black metal.
|Vintage Rock Expansion price check
This expansion kit has a very traditional sound. If you can think of drum sounds from old Beatles or jazz records then you have a pretty good idea what this kit is capable of. One rack tom and one floor tom limit the scope of the kit to near the bare essentials. The kit includes each drum and cymbal played with sticks as well as brushes.
|Latin Percussion Expansion price check
This expansion is for anyone wanting to add any kind of latin or world percussion sounds to their tracks. Not only does this expansion include over two dozen individual percussion instruments, but each instrument also includes a number of varieties. For instance, one of these two dozen percussion instruments is the tambourine, but you don’t just get a tambourine. You get almost two dozen different tambourines to choose from! This is a highly customizable percussion set that should fill any percussion need. As will all EZdrummer expansions, this kit comes with its own groove library to fully take advantage of professional percussion techniques. Just drag and drop for great sounding tracks!
|Claustrophobic Expansion price check
The Clautrophobic kit is aimed at todays urban styles. If you are looking for the gritty, processed sounds of hip hop, R&B, modern pop then this kit will be right up your alley.
|Twisted Kit Expansion price check
This kit is twisted indeed. You get instruments ranging from trash cans and hubcaps to furniture and even a few actual drums. This expansion gives you the ability to add sounds of the unusual to your recording.