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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Synthesizing a Basic Kick Drum (Includes a Free Ableton Instrument Rack)

Finding and tuning drum samples to the correct key can be a pain. When you pitch samples up and down sometimes they loose their character, the very thing that made you choose the sample in the first place. One solution is to make your own drum samples, and today we're going to be looking at how to synthesize a basic kick drum sound using a sine wave and some envelope shaping.

I'm going to be doing this in one of Ableton's bundled instruments, Operator, but you can apply the same principles in your synthesizer of choice.

Step 1

Once you've opened Ableton and put a copy of Operator on a MIDI track, pencil in some quarter notes and loop these so that you can hear the sound being outputted as you change it. Now the first step is to turn off oscillators C and D, we will be using a total of 2 oscillators to make this sound.

Also, make sure all the oscillators are summing together by hitting the highlighted option in the picture below.

Step 2

Next, set oscillators A and B to a fixed frequency value by checking the "fixed" box. This is where you can tune the drum sound to whatever key you like. I'm going to work in the key of F for this example, so i'm going to tune one oscillator to 87.31Hz which is F in the second octave (or F2) and the other to 43.65Hz (F1) and go from there. Turn up the level of the two oscillators you are using so that they are both at 0dB.

Step 3

Next we want to set the envelope values. Below is a good starting point, but play around with these values so that you get the sound you want and the sound that fits the context of your track.

Oscilator A (43.7Hz):
Attack @ 0ms;
Decay @ 1000ms;
Sustain value should be as low as possible; and
Release @ 25ms or long enough to avoid a click at the end of the sound.

Oscillator B (87.3Hz):
Attack @ 0ms;
Decay @ 25ms;
Sustain value should be as low as possible; and
Release @ 25ms or long enough to avoid a click at the end of the sound.

Note: Raising the sustain values can yield interesting results and change the timbre of the drum sound.

Step 4

Now we are going to add a pitch envelope. This will mean that the drum sound starts an octave or two avobe the oscillator frequency and quickly drops, as a real acoustic kick drum does. Check on the box to activate the pitch envelope. turn up the value to around 50% wet, but dont be afraid to play with how much of the sound is going through the pitch envelope.

Next we need to set the parameters. It's important to stay chromatically accurate here so that you stay in the chosen or a related key, so at first you should type in an initial / peak value of +12 or +24 semitones. If you dont like that sound, play with using a 3rd or a 5th. You could have your initial / peak value at +3, +5, +15 or even +17 semitones. Next repeat the process for your sustain and release values, but using negative amounts. This will change how deep the kick goes, and you should test a range of related chromatically accurate values as stated above, until you hit on something that you like.

Play with the decay and release lengths. The decay length will alter quite the sound quite dramatically. This controls how fast the sound decays down to the sustain pitch value.

Last but not least as drum sounds should be monophonic, go back to the global tab and select "1" as the number of voices being used.

Now you have a reasonably realistic, pitchable and fat drum sound that you can add EQing, compression, and other FX (like distortion) to. You can go back and change the timbre at any point.

I've even made a saved rack version of what i've described above for readers to download, grab it here.

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