Ghost kicks & ghost snares fall into the larger category of ghost notes. They are the little hits in between the main drum hits. When a real drummer plays, they don’t usually play a simple kick snare pattern. They add nuances and embellishments. These added bits give the drum beat part an organic and human feel. When we program beats in a computer program, we tend to forget this. You can make your track sound more like a commercial track instead of just a demo beat just by adding ghost notes in the right places.
Adding ghost kicks to your track makes your kick pattern sound SUPER natural! Here’s few simple techniques that you can easily apply to your beatmaking today. Add them as another weapon to your arsenal.
The above pattern isn’t overly complicated and is great basis for boom bap drums. But all we do is add a second kick, the ghost kick, in the next midi clip and we have recreated one of the most sampled breakbeats of all time. Drummer Allan Schwartzberg played it on The Funky President by James Brown!
The ghost kick is slightly different from the main kick. You want to give your beat some depth, make it more organic. Drummers don’t hit the kick with the same intensity each time. Having all the kicks at same volume makes drum break sound flat and artifical. A ghost kick is often played at a lower volume. It’s like a back up kick. If you place it just before the hihat and after kick, its a bit like a drum roll effect and this gives the beat more swing.
Sometimes it’s slightly different sound. Simply copy your main kick, then shorten it and filter out high end with EQ or low pass filter. The aim is to not give it the same presence as your main kick. There needs to be a audible difference. You can even tune it up or down one semitone to differentiate it.
For snares the same principles apply. My advice is simply to vary the velocity even more, so not even all the ghost snares sound the same. The reason is, that snares are often more pronounced and easier to tell apart. If you vary velocity in the different ghost snares, you’ll get an even more natural drum beat.
Some sample packs have prepackaged drum rolls. They might be from a completely different drum break, but with a little EQing they can sound good as long as you try to match it to the overall feel of the track.
So, where do you place the ghost snares then? Thats really more artistic and depends on your taste and what feels right. Check out this other James Brown break called Funky Drummer played by drummer Clyde Stubblefield:
Let’s listen to the same beat when we take the ghost snares out and hear how stiff it becomes:
Drummers would know good places by heart, but if you don’t have a drummer friend, who can stop by and help out, just go by ear. Listen to classic drum breaks and learn where they position the ghost snares.
I usually play the kick pattern on my Ableton Push 2 midi controller by hand and then go in and edit the velocity afterwards. I don’t have specific values for the ghost kicks and ghost snares, because it depends what you feel the beat you’re working on needs. You don’t want them to be too loud in most cases though, because once you go into mixing stage and run a compressor on the drum track, they’ll sound louder than you expect.
My last bit of advice is this. Get to know a real life drum kit and consider how a drummer would play. You would quickly find out that playing a snare roll would involve two arms. You wouldn’t be able to play the hat at the same time. Try to avoid these pitfalls. While software can be great at overcoming these physical limits of drummers sometimes, it makes the track unrealistic. If you go for a realistic, organic drum feel, work within the limitations of the drummer and use the tools he would use.