If you’re looking for the secret to making banging UK drill melodies in FL Studio, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this short guide, we’re going to take you through just about everything you need to know to craft memorable drill melodies, including writing techniques, scales, and effects you can make use of to get the eerie, dark, and modern feel of UK drill
Sit back and pump those subs. Let’s dive in.
A Short History of Drill Music
Before we get too deep, let’s get into a short history of drill music.
How did this genre spring from the underground and become a worldwide phenomenon?
The UK drill scene has been on the rise for the past decade, stemming from the drill scene in Chicago, where heavy-hitters like Chief Keef grabbed hold of this hip-hop sub-genre and brought it to the main stage.
UK drill, however, is different from Chicago-style drill in many ways.
Though most people might think it, drill music is much more than spooky piano melodies and 808 slides. It’s a street life culture which rose out of the conflict and controversy in the criminal justice system and into the recording studio.
The sound has origins in the Brixton district of South London, and many say that 150 (currently known as GBG) pioneered the UK Drill sound. Some other members, including Stizzy Stickz, M Dargg, and Grizzy, were also proponents of the early style.
However, big UK drill fans note it was 67 who shifted the sound away from the Chicago drill style, forming a more homegrown sound.
While the history of UK drill goes much deeper, laced with tension, backlash, and perseverance, it’s something we must leave for another article.
Of course, you came here to learn how to make UK drill, so that’s what we’re going to do!
Using The Right Sounds
Before anything, it’s important that you find the right sounds to work with!
The best UK drill melodies have the right sounds. After all, the sound of an eerie piano is far from the sound of a country banjo, even if the melodies are exactly the same.
To find the right sounds for your productions, study the UK drill music you love and take note of the sounds they are using.
How do the drums sound?
What kinds of instruments are used for rhythmic and melodic parts?
How do the instruments make you feel?
If you know anything about UK drill music, then you know how important the sound of the piano is. However, you can’t just use any old grand piano or honky tonk sound.
The pianos tend to have darker, scarier sonic characteristics.
It’s important to have the right effects and patterns to define the mood of your track. It’s okay if you can’t afford to purchase third-party piano plugins. Your stock piano should be just fine as long as you spice it up with a few effects!
However, if you do have the funds to purchase third-party plugins, we highly recommend checking out Omnisphere’s Keyscape.
Beyond piano, some other popular instruments include pads, leads, and strings. It’s often a good idea to use wider sounds, which can act as a stereo bed for the piano melody to sit on top of.
Of course, you’ll also have to find the right drum sounds, though, again, this is an article about melodies, so we can discuss that another time!
Using The Right Scales
It’s alright if you don’t have any knowledge of music theory.
Of course, if you want to learn more about writing amazing chords without any music theory knowledge, you can check out our video here.
However, if the idea of learning music theory sounds like an arduous process, FL Studio has a scale option where you can select the scale you want to use and limit the notes on your keyboard to that scale.
For those totally new to music theory, scales are groupings of notes that humankind has developed because of the way they sound together.
The most fundamental rule of thumb is that major scales provide a happy sound while minor scales provide a sad sound. So, as you may have guessed, minor scales are what you should be using for UK drill music!
While there aren’t any rules here, we would suggest you start by picking a scale, such as A minor, and manipulating it from there. Once your melody is finished, you can always shift the scale up or down in pitch.
We also recommend starting with the natural minor or Aeolian settings, then switching to Harmonic or Melodic to see if you vibe with either of those!
Crafting The Perfect Melody
When crafting the melody, try to start with the bass note or fundamental note.
For example, let’s say you’re working in the key of A minor. The note A would be your fundamental note (the note that the scale resolves on).
You can use this note and extend it for a bar, repeating this for another few bars until you have four bars covered. Next, you’ll want to draw a few notes on top of those to form a few chords. If you have your scale set, you should be able to experiment with these topper notes without getting anything that sounds weird or out of key.
Once you have your chords set up the way you want them, you can choose the counter melody.
Remember, there are no rules in music! However, we find that following certain guidelines can be helpful, especially if the thought of having infinite options is overwhelming.
If you need some inspiration, listen to some of your favorite UK Drill music and write down what you notice about the melodies.
Do they start on the downbeat?
Are they simple or complex?
Do the notes rise, fall, or both?
Put your newly created chords on loop and hum out a counter melody for them. Then, imagine how you would position those notes in your piano roll. Once you get a basic groove down, you can begin drawing your notes in so that it sounds like the melody you were just humming.
Soon enough, it should come together!
Not only will this help in crafting a cool drill melody, but it is also great practice for crafting melodies down the road! Each time you do this, you’ll get faster and faster at it!
PRO TIP - Once you have your melody ready, it’s a good idea to make it sound more realistic. It should sound as if it was played by a human, not snapped to a grid by clicking a mouse. You can “humanize” your melody by slightly pushing the notes off the grid and adjusting the velocity or volume of some of the notes so that only some of them are accentuated.
Consider the way a professional pianist would perform your melody. There’s a pretty slim chance that a pianist would hit all of the notes at the exact same volume. Not only is it unrealistic, but it’s also unexpressive. Humanizing your melodies is a great way to add a natural, dynamic, and expressive feel to an otherwise sterile and digital track.
Here is a video we made about making great Drill Melodies - Check our Full Melodic Drill Course if you want to learn more!
Having Fun With Effects
This is where the fun part comes in!
We typically like to start with the ADSR envelope. If you’re using a stock piano, you can adjust the Attack of your notes in the plugin so that the notes don’t hit so hard. Having a slower attack will give your piano an eerier feeling, which, as we’ve probably drilled into your head by now, is a necessary element in UK drill music.
You really want the hardest element in your track to be your kick, not the attack of your melody.
One cool way to enhance the sound of your melody is to print your MIDI to audio and time-stretch or pitch it down. Transposing everything a few steps down can give you a uniquely eerie, vintage sound that works wonderfully against a bed of hard-hitting drums and 808s.
Next, you’ll want to add a bit of reverb to get a wetter, more ambient sound. Remember, the more reverb you apply to your sound, the further you’ll push it into the background. While you’ll want to be pretty generous with the amount of reverb you use, try and make use of the pre-delay setting on your reverb so that you can get the space you desire without drowning your melody.
Pre-delay is essentially the amount of time it takes for your reverb effect to begin.
At this point, you might feel like your melody is taking up a lot of space in your mix. To make room for your kick and bass, it’s a good idea to high-pass some of the sub frequencies. Start by cutting the lows with a high-pass filter under 100 Hz
If you test that out and feel like you’ve cut too much out of the sound, you can also try a low-shelf around 150 Hz, cut by around 6 dB or so. The best way to approach this is to slowly reduce your EQ until you’ve cut out too much low-end, then back it off a bit.
Every track will be different depending on the timbre, melody, and effects, so make sure to ask yourself what your melody needs in the context of the mix.
Of course, when all is said and done, there isn’t a “formula” for making UK drill music. It's all about experimenting with what YOU think sounds good. After all, what’s the point of making music if you sound like everyone else?
Of course, we hope that laying out a few “guidelines” has given you a good place to start. As a little review, try using:
- Minor scales
- Eerie sounds (pianos, strings, pads)
- Subtractive EQ
The great thing is, if you’re serious about making UK drill music and taking your production sensibilities to the next level, make sure to check out our Melodic Drill Start to Finish FL Course.
In this four-hour course, we go through every step of making industry-standard melodic drill tracks. Learn formulas for crafting catchy melodies, secrets for starting tracks, and processing tricks to stand out in the crowd of other producers.