Rethinking Snare Rolls

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Good drum programming needs a mix of tension and release. One of the easiest ways to achieve this mix is through snare rolls.

Snare rolls add an important variation to your beats as you transition from one section to another, for example, the buildup from an intro to a drop or chorus. 

In this article, I'll run through the three different ways to program snares for Trap, Pop and Electronic music. 

Velocity Controlled

Drawing in notes and adjusting their velocities manually may seem old fashioned to some, but it is still the most reliable way to achieve the snare roll sound you want. 

For inspiration, listen to what's happening during the snare rolls in your favourite tracks. Pick out a few examples you want to replicate. Grab a snare sample and load it into a DAW sequencer. We're using Ableton's drum rack. Turn on the triplet grid and draw out a snare pattern that sounds good to you. 

Here is the basic snare roll. I actually used a sample that sounds more like a tom.  

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For more volume variation I edited the velocity of each sample. Slight changes in volume will add more groove. 

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In the context of a full beat, you get a better idea of how the snare roll provides the rhythmic backbone of the beat.


Pitch Shifting

Pitch shifting snare rolls is an effective technique for quickly ramping up the energy of your track. Grab a powerful snare and load it into a sampler. It should map to your DAW's internal MIDI keyboard. Draw out a snare roll. 

Here is the original loop:

On its own it's a bit basic and lacks punch. You can change that using pitch automation. In Ableton, hit the E button next to notes in arrangement view, then select pitch bend underneath envelopes.

Experiment by drawing out drastic peaks and dips—they will control the pitch of your snare sample (up for high pitch, down for low pitch). You'll notice these changes in the example below: 

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And now in the context of a beat. The snare roll has been edited to serve as a base for a breakdown or buildup. This type of snare roll works best in beat-oriented music like Trap, Jersey Club or Ghetto House. 


Automation Arpeggiating

For who prefer more automated processes—this one's for you. Load up a snare into a sampler and draw out a single note at the start of every bar. 

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Add an arpeggiator to the track. You snare should repeat like a arpeggiated synth. Increase the rate—the speed notes play back at—from the lowest to highest setting and you should hear a classic buildup effect.  


This method is particularly effective for high octane drops in EDM or Pop. For a more experimental sound, tweak the steps knob on the arpeggiator, which will trigger a 'melodic' pattern using the snare sample. 


Snaring up

In loop-based production, snare rolls help to breakup monotony by adding new energy and an element of surprise. There are many ways to achieve the snare rolls you hear in modern music, so let your imagination run wild and develop a technique that works for you.

How do you use snare rolls in your music? Let us know in the comments. 


Daniel DixonComment