Drum breaks are the very essence of rhythm and groove, setting the tone and driving the pace.
They make people feel compelled to really stop and listen.
These moments of percussive brilliance have the ability to completely transform a track from basic to show-stopping.
So, as a music producer, it’s important to know all about drum breaks in order to utilize this legendary technique and understand its essence.
You’ll be able to connect with your audience on a much deeper level (particularly regarding hip-hop and EDM).
In today’s article, we’ll be breaking down:
- What drum breaks are ✓
- The history and impact of drum breaks ✓
- Techniques for creating your own drum breaks ✓
- The 9 most sampled drum breaks in music history ✓
- Tips for sampling and manipulating breaks ✓
- The role of drum breaks in hip-hop & electronic music ✓
- Advanced production techniques like time-stretching and pitch shifting ✓
- Much more ✓
After reading this article, you’ll know everything about drum breaks so you can creatively integrate them into your tracks to create irresistible moments of intrigue.
Whether you’re creating the next hip-hop anthem or an EDM masterpiece, you’ll have the knowledge and skills to use drum breaks effectively.
It will help you add depth, rhythm, and a personal touch to your music and takeover dancefloors worldwide.
So, let’s dive in…
Table of Contents
- What are Drum Breaks?
- The 9 Best (Most Sampled) Drum Breaks EVER
- #1. Amen Break from “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons
- #2. Funky Drummer by James Brown
- #3. Impeach the President by The Honey Drippers
- #4. Apache by Incredible Bongo Band
- #5. Synthetic Substitution by Melvin Bliss
- #6. The Big Beat by Billy Squier
- #7. Funky President by James Brown
- #8. It’s a New Day by Skull Snaps
- #9. When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin
- 2 Bonus Techniques For Creating Your Own Drum Breaks
- Drum Breaks: Final Thoughts
What are Drum Breaks?
Drum breaks (aka break beats) are those standout moments in a song where everything but the drums drops out, leaving a clear, unaccompanied rhythm.
It’s a crucial element in music, especially genres like hip-hop, electronic music, and drum and bass, because it adds an epic burst of energy and rhythm that can:
- Instantly captivate listeners
- Add an extra layer of intrigue/depth
- Elevate your entire track
- Create some tension
Think of drum breaks as the ultimate drum solo, but with a purpose beyond just showing off drumming skills.
They serve as a foundational element for creating new music.
For instance, the “Amen Break” from The Winstons’ “Amen, Brother” or the “Funky Drummer” break by James Brown are some of the most famous examples.
You can sample these breaks, and tweak them in creative and innovative ways (which we’ll break down later).
Understanding drum breaks is key for music producers because they’re more than just a rhythmic highlight 一 they’re a tool for innovation and creativity.
They demonstrate how a compelling drum pattern can inspire new songs, trends, and even genres.
By mastering the use of drum breaks, you’re not just learning to create a moment of percussive brilliance; you’re learning to give your tracks life.
The 9 Best (Most Sampled) Drum Breaks EVER
Now that we’ve broken down what drum breaks are, let’s dive into the 9 most iconic ones that have left an indelible mark on music history. These drum breaks not only shaped the sound of their own era but continue to influence producers, artists, and songwriters across the most popular genres of today.
#1. Amen Break from “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons
The Amen break, sourced from “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons, is the most famous example of drum breaks in music history.
This break’s rapid-fire snare and hi-hats have become a cornerstone in hip-hop, drum and bass, and electronic music.
It’s a piece so integral that its rhythm has shaped entire genres 一 making it a go-to for hip-hop and electronic music producers alike.
The Amen break’s influence extends beyond its original genre, which shows how a single drum break can inspire endless sampled tracks regardless of style.
Electronic music production (Drum and Bass) and hip-hop have heavily sampled this break for its versatility and dynamic energy.
NOTE: It’s been sampled hundreds of times, even by legends like Ice Cube, Grandmaster Flash, Mos Def, Method Man, Beastie Boys, Al Green, Alicia Keys, the Fresh Prince himself, the Aphex Twins, and many more.
The Amen break serves as a fundamental building block in the world of break beats, illustrating the transformative power they possess.
From old school hip-hop to the latest drum and bass tracks, the Amen break continues to influence music of all kinds.
#2. Funky Drummer by James Brown
James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” delivers one of the best drum breaks, played by the legendary Clyde Stubblefield.
This break’s distinctive rhythm has made it a staple in hip-hop history, being sampled by countless artists from LL Cool J to Kanye West.
The Funky Drummer break is renowned for its snappy snares and rhythmic precision.
It radiated the essence of break beats, providing a solid foundation for sampled tracks across various genres and styles.
The break’s widespread use further underscores its importance in music production (and the best part is, you don’t need a hardware sampler anymore).
Whether it’s in hip-hop classics or electronic music anthems, the Funky Drummer break adds a layer of rhythmic complexity that boosts the musical texture.
James Brown’s influence on music history is profound, with this drum break serving as a testament to his legacy and the creativity of hip-hop producers in reimagining these rhythms for new generations.
#3. Impeach the President by The Honey Drippers
“Impeach the President” by The Honey Drippers is home to one of the most heavily sampled drum breaks, revered for its crisp snare and infectious groove.
Some of the most talented musicians in the world have chopped and looped this particular drum break 一 implanting it into the DNA of hip-hop and electronic music.
This drum break’s versatility makes it a powerful tool in music production, enabling artists to produce beats that resonate with listeners across the globe.
The drum break in “Impeach the President” has influenced famous tracks and has been a key component in hip-hop storytelling.
It’s a shining example of how a great drum break can transcend its original context to become a staple in music production.
This break’s enduring popularity highlights the creative potential of sampling, allowing you to connect the past and present in truly innovative ways.
#4. Apache by Incredible Bongo Band
The “Apache” drum break by the Incredible Bongo Band is another cornerstone of hip-hop and breakdance culture.
The Incredible Bongo Band, though not initially mainstream, found fame through this break’s widespread use in hip-hop, sampled by giants like DJ Kool Herc and the Sugarhill Gang.
The “Apache” break is a perfect example of how drum breaks can transcend their original genre.
Electronic music producers have also found inspiration in the “Apache” break utilizing its pulsating energy to fuel tracks that light up dance floors worldwide.
The versatility of this drum break demonstrates its unique appeal.
It shows that the right break can influence entire genres and become a staple for producers looking for that perfect beat.
The “Apache” break’s legacy in music history is a testament to the Incredible Bongo Band’s impact on modern music.
#5. Synthetic Substitution by Melvin Bliss
Melvin Bliss’s “Synthetic Substitution” features a drum break that has been heavily sampled in hip-hop and electronic music.
The break, played by session drummer Bernard Purdie, is celebrated for its crisp snare and smooth, laid-back groove.
It’s enchanting, versatile and has been used throughout the music industry for decades.
Hip-hop producers have been some of the biggest fans of this break 一 utilizing its structure and format in tracks that have become pillars of the genre.
From Ultramagnetic MCs to Public Enemy, “Synthetic Substitution” has left an indelible mark on hip-hop history.
The influence of “Synthetic Substitution” extends to electronic music production, where its drum break has been:
These techniques have helped create new textures and rhythms from this OG break.
This process illustrates the creative potential of drum breaks in music production, enabling you to create unique sounds that stand out in a crowded field.
Melvin Bliss’s contribution to music history is epic, with this drum break serving as the perfect example of how a single moment in an original track can inspire generations.
#6. The Big Beat by Billy Squier
Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” offers one of the most iconic drum breaks, instantly recognizable and extensively sampled throughout the music world.
The drum break’s raw power and simplicity make it a favorite among producers, used in tracks by artists ranging from Run DMC to Jay-Z.
The Big Beat’s influence on music production is undeniable, displaying how rock music drum breaks can find a brand new life.
The sampling of “The Big Beat” in famous tracks underscores the drum break’s significance in music history.
Its ability to inject energy and drive into an original track makes it a go-to for producers looking to add an impactful rhythm to their songs.
Billy Squier’s drum break has become a bridge between rock and hip-hop 一 illustrating the unifying power of music and the creative possibilities that sampling offers.
The Big Beat continues to be a foundational element in the toolkit of music producers, cementing its place as one of the best drum breaks in the depths of music history.
I mean, nobody played drums like this legend, am I right?… Maybe session drummer Allan Schwarzberg and James Brown, respectively.
#7. Funky President by James Brown
James Brown’s “Funky President” is a goldmine for hip-hop producers, featuring one of the most sampled drum breaks in music history.
This break’s tight, funky groove has been manipulated and tweaked countless times, sampled by artists from Kanye West to Public Enemy.
The genius of James Brown and his ability to create breaks that resonate across decades is on full display right here.
It’s the rhythmic blueprint that has fueled countless tracks, explaining why it’s been sampled hundreds of times.
The “Funky President” break is not just about the rhythm; it’s a piece of music history, encapsulating the essence of funk and its influence on genres like drum and bass.
Electronic music producers have also found value in this break, manipulating its grooves to fit into electronic tracks beautifully.
The “Funky President” break demonstrates the power of a great drum break to cross genre boundaries.
It has become a go-to for producers looking to inject a classic groove into their tracks.
From De-La-Sol and Kanye West to more recent drum and bass artists, this song’s drum break goes down as one of the most groundbreaking in music history.
#8. It’s a New Day by Skull Snaps
The Skull Snaps’ “It’s a New Day” presents one of the most compelling and flexible drum breaks in hip-hop history.
This break’s sharp snare and captivating rhythm have made it a favorite sample among hip-hop producers 一 contributing significantly to the genre’s evolution.
The Skull Snaps changed the game with this break…
It proved that a few seconds of drumming could influence countless famous tracks and became a staple in EDM.
This drum break’s raw energy and timeless groove have cemented its place as a go-to for adding that classic, nostalgic touch.
This drum break’s versatility is evident in its use across hip-hop, from old school classics to modern anthems, it’s got lasting appeal.
Electronic music producers have also found value in “It’s a New Day,” sampling its breaks to create dynamic and engaging rhythms.
The Skull Snaps’ contribution to music history through this drum break cannot be emphasized enough.
#9. When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” offers a drum break that’s legendary, timeless, and undeniably catchy.
It’s perfect for adding weight and depth to your tracks.
This break’s echoing, powerful groove has the intensity to be shaped into something entirely new and groundbreaking.
The “Levee breaks” segment showcases the seamless crossover of drum breaks from rock into hip-hop and electronic genres.
It demonstrates the universal language of rhythm.
This drum break’s influence extends across music history, sampled in tracks that span genres, from Emo to drum and bass and everything in between.
The ability of “When the Levee Breaks” to inspire artists across the spectrum is a testament to the enduring appeal of a great drum break.
I mean, that is why it’s been sampled hundreds and hundreds of times.
Led Zeppelin’s monumental contribution through this drum break illustrates how a moment of musical brilliance can transcend, inspire, and evolve.
2 Bonus Techniques For Creating Your Own Drum Breaks
To close things out, here are two bonus techniques for creating your own drum breaks. It will help you make sure they’re implemented right and help your music shine like never before.
Time-stretching and Pitch-shifting
These techniques allow you to manipulate the tempo and pitch of your drum samples without altering their fundamental qualities.
It creates a world of dynamic possibilities.
- When you time-stretch, 一 It can help you match a break to the tempo of your track seamlessly.
- Pitch shifting 一 Can add a unique character to the drums, making them fit better with the harmonic content of your music.
Experiment with stretching a break slightly beyond its original tempo to create a laid-back feel, or compress it for a tighter, more energetic groove.
When applying pitch shifting, consider the mood and tone of your track; even a slight adjustment can make a drum break feel more cohesive.
If you don’t know how to time-stretch or pitch-shift, you make sure to check out these music production essentials.
Utilize Dynamics and Variation
Dynamics play a crucial role in making your drum break engaging.
Varying the velocity of your drum hits can add emotion and intensity to your break, making it more dynamic.
Incorporate drum fills, rolls, and variations in your break to maintain interest and anticipation.
Even subtle changes in dynamics or adding a drum fill every few bars can significantly impact the energy and feel of your break.
NOTE: When crafting your drum breaks, consider listening to how DJ Jazzy Jeff layers rhythms to ensure each track kicks with energy, much like the unforgettable beats in “Bring Da Ruckus,” “Fuck tha Police,” and “Straight Outta Compton.”
Or, think of Wu Tang Clan and their creative drum breaks 一 it’s all about getting creative and thinking of ways to resonate with your target audience.
Drum Breaks: Final Thoughts
Understanding the unique dynamics of drum breaks can completely revolutionize your approach to music production.
As we’ve explored today, drum breaks can inject your tracks with legendary rhythm and energy, opening the door to boundless creative possibilities.
They can help you blend genres, make impacts, and produce sounds that truly stand out above all the rest.
In line with the spirit of the innovation that drum breaks bring and the EDM genre discussed, this highly-renowned Free EDM Drum Kit offers unmatched drum sounds for elevating your tracks.
This meticulously curated collection features 45 individual drum samples, loops, and MIDIs 一 each designed to bring clarity, crispness, and polish to your EDM projects.
Crafted by expert sound designers and producers, every sound in this kit is clean, polished, and perfectly processed.
It ensures that incorporating these samples into your tracks makes an immediate (and blatant) difference.
Plus, with the included MIDI files, you’ll be able to tweak, manipulate, and get creative all you want.
Remember the key to music production greatness is constant learning and evolution, and drum breaks can be super beneficial to add to your toolkit.
So, go and show the world that you can create show-stopping music with unforgettable drum breaks like a professional.
Until next time…