The hallmarks of classic disco drumming are relentless double-handed 16th-note hi-hats (with or without eighth-note open accents) and a four-to-the-floor kick drum, as heard on tracks such as Chic's pacy classic Everybody Dance (performed by drumming legend Tony Thompson), amongst countless other tracks of the era.
Step 1: Programming the kick and snare drum parts couldn't be easier: the former sits on every beat, the latter lands on beats 2 and 4 - be sure to turn snap off and manually 'un-align' them to prevent the part sounding too mechanically perfect.
Kick and snare
Step 2: The nuance in a disco groove comes from the hi-hats - it's essential that yours have that elusive human touch, with a bit of timing looseness and velocity variation. While you can draw and edit them by hand, it's easier and more effective to record a live performance on your MIDI keyboard or - better still - drum pads.
Step 3: If your live hi-hats are noticeably out of time, record them again or apply iterative quantise to pull them into line. Remember to remove any hi-hats coinciding with the snare, as that's how a real drummer would play 16th notes on the hats. Throw in an open hi-hat at the end of every two- or four-bar phrase for colour.
For more tips and tutorials on emulating classic beats and grooves, pick up the May issue of Computer Music (CM229).