Are Your Drum Build-Ups Missing This? 

Drum build-ups are vital in creating tension, but they’re almost always centred around the snare drum, which means they all sound the same, and that’s boring! So in this video, you’ll learn how to make your drum builds stand out. But first… tea!

Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate Harmony and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory. We help you make great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! If that sounds useful to you, then subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit that bell to get notified every Thursday, when we publish our new video. Alright, let’s jump in...

London duo MODESTEP just dropped their new single “Not IRL” (on Monstercat, which is actually a local label, so big up Vancouver!). In this song, Modestep takes the art of drum build-ups to a whole new level, for three reasons: First, they extend their build way longer than you’re expecting, which creates even more tension than usual. Second, their build is centred around the toms, instead of the snare. And third, there’s a super tasty drum fill that leads into the beginning of the build, which means they’re already creating tension before their build has even started.

Now, please excuse me here while I have a quick proud teacher moment, but the drummer in Modestep, Pat Lundy, is actually a former music theory student of mine. Big up Pat! He’s an ultra mega talented drummer, so do yourself a favour and check out his channel:

Pat Lundy - Modestep drummer (YouTube channel)

Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version, and what you see on the screen right now is our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up five bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/32 notes, and your tempo set to 75 BPM. And please note that to keep this video short (because we respect your time), our build is half the length of Modestep’s, but if you want a longer build, just double each bit.

Step 1 - Fill
So, this first bar is actually gonna end up being the last bar of your verse. In other words, this bar is the transition from verse to build. So to help create a more interesting transition, and to introduce some tension, you’re gonna throw in a fill here. Right, start with a snare on beat 4, then use a combination of all three toms to play all the 1/32 notes after that, except on beat 4+. Leaving that beat open makes the tom right afterwards syncopated, which means you’re accenting an off-beat, and that adds groove!

And while we’re on the topic of transitions. If you wanna learn how to write a new section for an existing section, and then how to transition between those sections, especially when they’re in different keys, then check out our online apprenticeship course. It contains 17 hours of video, in which I literally teach you every step of the music making process, from blank screen to finished song!

Step 2 - Toms
Alright, now we’re into bar two, where the build starts. However, instead of blasting that snare, you’re gonna go all in on the toms. But first, get your kicks on all the 1/8 notes. Then, fill in the whole bar with 1/32 note toms, but don’t play any toms at the same time as a kick, cos you want space for your kick to stomp. Also, leave another 1/32 note open over each 1/4 note beat, for a more interesting pattern. And then when you’re done, repeat this bar so it plays through twice. Next, to crank up the tension even more, you’re gonna change the tom pattern halfway through your four-bar build. So, in bar four, keep the same kick pattern, but now you’re gonna play a very simple and repetitive pattern on only one tom.

Step 3 - Snare
Finally, it’s snare drum time! And yes of course, the snare is indeed the ultimate tool in a build-up, but, we don’t wanna be lazy and rely on it exclusively, cos that’s boring. So, after you’ve used the toms to get the tension to this level, it’s time to max it out! And by saving the snare until this late in the game, your build is now gonna be able to reach a height that other builds can only dream of. Alright, so in bar five, get that machine gun snare in on all those 1/32 notes. But, be sure to stop before the end of the bar, to create space, so your drop sounds extra massive!

Right, now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write more sections for it, and then, how do you transition between those sections, and turn 'em into a song? Great questions, and if this is something you need help with, then check out our cutting-edge online apprenticeship course, where you’ll literally learn every step of the music making process, and most importantly, you’ll learn how to finish your songs! You’ll also gain access to our private network, which is a safe online space (i.e. social media platform) exclusively for our 600+ apprentices from 50+ countries. Our Network is a super supportive place for you to ask theory questions, share your music, get feedback, meet like-minded music makers, and collaborate! If all this sounds useful to you, then head on over to our Online Apprenticeship page now.

Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada


How to Make Better Drums Fills (4:58)
Why Your Kick on Beat 1 Isn't Kicking (5:41)

Level 1 - Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
Level 2 - Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
Level 3 - Learn our secret art of songwhispering & finish your music

Hack Music Theory is a pioneering DAW method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé wife Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!). 

© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony