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How to do mpc pad finger drumming from Brandon Murphy on Vimeo.

Composer, musician, and drummer Brandon Murphy has put together a how-to video on playing and programming beats with a 4×4 grid. One reason to pay attention: he’s a real drummer, and had been just as skeptical about the value of all this as you probably are:

I’ve been using an MPC longer than I’ve owned a computer and something that never appealed to me was “finger drumming”. It evoked thoughts of s***ty 80’s outdoor music festival wankery, dudes with offensive looking devices strapped around their necks and lots of synthetic “tom tom” fills. Even recently speaking, “live MPC” usually implied super played out “battle” routine style stuff. Fortunately, a new generation of talented producers and performers decided to reclaim the drum machine’s potential as a realtime performance instrument (right around the time MPC’s were kind of running out of steam I’ll add).

What changed his mind? Artists doing things drummers can’t, and making production more productive in the process. (Check out the video and his full blog post for more.)

The resulting technique he uses isn’t so much about the MPC or even his tool of choice, Ableton Live, as it is finding a comfortable mapping that makes composing and performing beats more ergonomic. After sharing various tips at the Chicago Ableton Users Group, Brandon has put together the technique above.

To me, it suggests ideas not only about making quick drum breaks, but also assembling pitch generally into arrangements that help you play. Coming from a piano background, I do believe that arrangement and layout of keys can be important, and that even a simple (12-tone equal temperament? black and white?) configuration can turn out to have incredible potential. Of course, this does also reveal why a 4×4 grid is valuable, even as 8×8 or larger monome-style arrays catch on.

Got tips or techniques of your own? Find you can play Javanese slendro a whole lot faster on your custom hexagonal keypad on your dodec-o-phone? Let us know in comments. (Comments currently under moderation, but they’ll appear after a short delay.)