Ghost notes are musical notes occurring in a rhythmic figure which are purposely deemphasized, often nearly to the point of silence. You will often find that ghost notes are used in almost all styles but predominantly in any style that uses acoustic instruments. However, it is also a well tried and successful technique for adding life and body to a drum pattern. The fact that the ghost note is almost silent means that the listener ‘feels’ it as opposed to hearing it. Bearing in mind that music is all about perception, this technique is perfect for what we are aiming for. In terms of percussive programming it can make all the difference.
You create ghost notes by either drawing in notes in the key editor, or by playing them in while auditioning back the recorded data. You then need to change the gains of the ghost notes to almost silence. Positioning is crucial here as the ghost notes need to be placed correctly for them to have any effect. However, as with all my advice, try to experiment until you find the right combination of both position and velocity.
In the example below, I have created ghost notes before and after certain notes. I have also adjusted their velocities dramatically.
The ghost notes are all in black and you can see what I have done to their velocities by looking at the velocity lines below. If you listen to the accompanying audio file you will notice that the notes (non-ghosted) sound both fuller and with tiny echoes. When you apply ghost notes in the right places within a pattern, it can add fullness and artificial swing.
Here is another straight 4/4 hi hat pattern that I have added ghost notes to.
Hi Hat Ghost Notes
hi hat ghost notes.wav
In the above example I have created the ghost notes to give a fuller sound to the hi hats but the important ghost note here is the last one just before bar 2.
This is what I call a drop down ghost note. It allows the loop to go back into itself without sounding as if it is syncopated. Note that the positioning of this ghost note is different to the others. I have also adjusted the velocities of all the ghost notes so that they are barely audible.
The trick to applying ghost notes to any given pattern is that of quantise and placement. With a high tempo track, I will use the 16 quantise to bring all the notes in place, and then apply the ghost notes using 128th quantise. This allows me to move the ghost notes where I want and by small tiny amounts. Trust me; this makes all the difference when creating more fluid drum patterns.
It is important to bear in mind that tiny little changes can have a huge impact on an overall patter, so start off by making small changes and then auditioning the results and then making further changes if needed.