What are Drum Breaks? The 10 Best Break Beats Ever Recorded

Drum breaks are a special moment in a song.

When the band drops out and you get to hear what the drummer’s been playing all along, you can’t help but tap your feet.

What began as a helpful and interesting way to introduce a song or bring back to the final chorus, ended up changing the course of music history.

Drum breaks played a big role in the development of rap, electronic music, drum and bass, and more.

Drum breaks played a big role in the development of rap, electronic music, drum and bass, and more.

Knowing how they work and which ones producers still use today is useful if you want to make rap and electronic music.

In this article, I’ll show you everything you need to know about drum breaks and where the most famous ones came from.

What is a drum break?

A drum break–or breakbeat–is the part of a song where the band stops playing except for the drummer. During this section, the drummer continues playing the main beat without taking a solo. The drum break section is intended to put emphasis on the main beat played throughout the song.

How drum breaks became so important

Drum breaks first started popping up in Motown and soul music in the 60s.

Drum breaks first started popping up in Motown and soul music in the 60s.

Many famous tracks from artists like Al Green and James Brown featured them.

The drum break is a staple of the soul genre, but they also became very important for rap producers in the 90s.

That’s because drum breaks didn’t have anything other than the drum part in them, so producers could easily sample them and speed them up or slow them down.

With a good drum break sample in hand, it was possible for hip hop producers to layer whatever samples they wanted on top and make a whole new track.

How to use a drum break in your track

Drum breaks are inspiring. If there’s one that catches your eye, here’s how to use it in your track.

Your first step is to either use a DAW or a sampler.

If you’re going to use a DAW to sample your drum break you can just drag and drop the sample in your track timeline, or into a sampler plugin.

It will always help to know what the drum break’s original tempo is, so you can configure your DAW’s grid and clock easily. You can do this by researching online or using a tempo finder tool.

Using a drum break in a hardware sampler can be a little bit more tricky.

Your first step is to decide on the tempo you want your track to be.

Then you’ll have to load your drum break into your sampler. Usually, this requires chopping up the sample in a DAW, unless you can find a sample of your break that’s already been chopped.

Once your drum break is in your sampler, you’ll have to tune the length and pitch of the sample to make it sit properly within however many steps your sequence lasts.

Tune the length and pitch of the drum break to make it sit properly within however many steps your sequence lasts.

Most of the time it’s best to set up your drum break for a 16 bar loop, but you can always extend it to 32, 48, or 64 steps if it makes sense and your sampler allows this.

Hot Tip: Most drum break samples are not cleared, meaning that you can’t legally use them in a song without crediting and paying royalties to rights holders. The best way to avoid getting blocked by distribution services due to sample clearance is to only use drum breaks and samples from a royalty-free sample provider like LANDR.

Here’s the 10 best drum breaks ever.

1. The Amen Break

The “Amen Break” is perhaps the most famous drum break of all time.

The “Amen Break” is perhaps the most famous drum break of all time.

It was performed by Gregory Coleman in The Winstons and when it came out it was an overlooked b-side. Until rap producers in the late 80s re-discovered the track.

Since then, the “Amen Break” has been used in more than 4000 songs and even inspired drum and bass, a popular genre of electronic music.

When the drum break comes at 1:26, you’ll immediately recognize just how many songs it’s been used in.

You can hear it used in music everywhere from NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” to Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”.



2. Funky Drummer

The Amen Break is great and it deserves the number one spot on this list, but personally, Funky Drummer is my favorite breakbeat ever.

James Brown knew he had a good drum part when this song was written, it’s what inspired the track’s namesake.

Performed by the legendary Bernard Purdie, Funky Drummer is a huge drum break that’s used in many tracks.

Performed by the legendary Bernard Purdie, Funky Drummer is a huge drum break that’s used in many tracks.

You’ll hear it in “Let Me Ride” by Dr. Dre and “Mathematics” by Mos Def, among many others.



3. Apache

“Apache” is full of drum break sample worthy moments. From the opening breakbeat to the bongo break down in the middle.

This great soul track was used by hundreds of producers, including in Sugar Hill Gang’s hit “Apache” which paid homage to the track.

But Apache has been used in many genres beyond old school hip hop. You can hear it in Aphex Twin’s “Heliosphan” and modern rap tracks like “100 Miles and Running” by Logic.

For a dancey upbeat breakbeat, “Apache” is definitely a go-to.

For a dancey upbeat breakbeat, Apache is definite go-to.



4. Impeach the President

Another classic sample that’s found its way into hundreds of tracks is “Impeach the President” by the Honey Drippers.

While the drum break is seemingly laid back, it’s full of attitude and it drives the beat along. It’s no surprise given the context and message of the song.

This drum break has been used many times.

It’s famous for its appearance in tracks like Notorious B.I.G.’s “Unbelievable” but even today producers still use it in tracks like J. Cole’s “Wet Dreamz”.



5. I’m Glad You’re Mine

Al Green was one of the best soul music writers the world has ever known.

He relied on a great backing band to help him write his tracks, so it’s no surprise that many of his works live on from being sampled by other producers.

“I’m Glad You’re Mine” is a particularly famous cut because it was used in several Notorious B.I.G. tracks.

The cross-stick sound in the drum break is what sets it apart from other breaks, it adds a different sound texture and has a hard-hitting quality.

The cross-stick sound in the drum break is what sets it apart from other breaks



6. Take Me to the Mardi Gras

Instantly recognizable as the sample that was used in Run DMC’s “Peter Piper”, this sample uses some interesting percussive elements.

The pitched agogo bells that ping throughout are what make this drum break particularly interesting.

This is a great example of how one drum break can be used to inspire an entire track.



7. Synthetic Substitution

Another well-known sample that’s been used in hundreds of track is “Synthetic Substitution” from Melvin Bliss.

The hard-hitting drum groove combined with its vintage sound are what characterized this drum break and made it useful in many sounding gritty tracks.

For example, you’ll hear as the main beat throughout Wu-Tang Clan’s “Bring Da’ Ruckus” and Rob Dougan’s “Clubbed to Death”.



8. Funky Mule

“Funky Mule” is an often overlooked drum break that brings a lot of funk and punch to any track it’s used in.

You’ll find a lot of electronic producers gravitate towards this sample given its rhythmic qualities. It works very well for electronic genres like jungle and drum and bass.

For example, you’ll hear it in “Soul Surfing” by Fatboy Slim, it’s often used by jungle producers like Photek or Goldie.



9. Squib Cakes

Another lesser-known drum break that electronic and rap producers gravitate towards alike is “Squib Cakes” from Tower of Power.

This is a heavy, groove-laden sample that fits perfectly into both jungle and hip hop styles.

This is a heavy, groove-laden sample that fits perfectly into both jungle and hip hop styles.

Squarepusher makes use of it in his track “Fat Controller”,  hear how the funky groove fits into a drum and bass style context and still bring a ton of funk.

In Cypress Hill’s “Checkmate”, you can hear how it works in hip hop context.



10. UFO

“UFO” from ESG is a great example of how a drum break can be combined with a melodic sample to create something really interesting.

Throughout “UFO” you’ll hear a dissonant droning string part that’s played over the top of the drum break.

Playing with the pitch of the sample allowed producers like J Dilla to create an entirely new composition in his track “Geek Down”.

The same concept was at play when the break was used in Notorious B.I.G.’s hit “Party and Bullshit”.



Break the mould

There’s so many famous drum breaks out there, it’s almost overwhelming to get into.

This list is a good place to start but with a little bit of research you can find inspiring breaks all over the internet.

The real fun starts when you dive into making tracks with breaks yourself.

So get out there, pick a couple breaks to chop up in your DAW or sampler and have fun making something of your own!

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