Rhythm Creation - Music Production and Sound Reocording

Many musicians who make music with a computer make drum tracks using software and recorded samples of drums, but all too often they find that their drums just don’t seem to sound like a real drummer could be playing them and sound too electronic (unless of course electronic sounding is what you are after). These are my tips for getting a drum track to sound more realistic and hopefully they will help some of you to create some amazing human sounding drum tracks and give a whole new feeling to your music.

Firstly we need to realise that a real drummer isn't a robot, a real drummer doesn’t hit every drum with exactly the same force every time he hits it and neither does he hit it on the exact same millisecond of a bar of music every time. So the main aim is to basically make your drum track less perfect because drummers aren't perfect.

If you are using the mouse to input notes on the screen you may find that by switching to a MIDI input device you can use it to play each part of your drum track in and it will start to sound more human (Making sure you don’t set it to quantize your notes too harshly). You will find that you will hit each drum with a slightly different force and at a slightly different time, if you make any big mistakes or any notes that just sound off you can always retake or start editing those notes with the mouse. If you don’t want to use a MIDI input device you can use these two methods of editing individual drum hits to effectively do exactly the same thing.
  • Change each drum hits volume slightly (Effectively changing the force that the drum is hit).
  • Change the time a drum hit is hit back or forward very slightly by small amounts.
Snare Drum - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:sonofwil With both of these don’t do it overly excessively, we are just looking for a very slight variation. This should improve the feel of your drum track slightly. Try experimenting with it, sometimes just changing these two aspects can really change the feel and groove of a rhythm.

There is another thing we can change which is the tone of the drum hit. As a drummer varies the force with which he hits a drum, the tone of the sound produced changes. On most drum machines such as the Redrum in Propellerheads Reason there is a tone feature, by varying this slightly with each drum hit (especially on the snare drum) we can give it more of a human feel. Try making the tone reduce when the volume reduces gives a nice combined effect.

We can take this further now by making our drums act like real drums. If you use snare rolls a lot, this is a nice way of making them sound much better. Drummers hit drums slightly differently with each hand. So set up two keys on your MIDI input device with the same snare sample on, but vary one ever so slightly in tone, pitch, volume or whatever other properties you want to experiment with and then play the snare hits one after the other on the keyboard creating a snare roll. This drastically improves the sound of our snare rolls. You could even have three or four variations of the same hit and change between them on each snare hit during the snare roll.

With the hi-hats, we often hear a drummer hit the hi-hat with it open and then quickly close it which cuts the sound off and gives a nice effect. So with your hi-hats you will want to make it so that when a hi-hat closed sample plays it stops the open hi-hat sample. Some drum machines have this feature built in, so use it effectively. If it isn’t built in try varying a hi-hat open sounds length so when the close hi-hat sound plays the open hi-hat sound stops.

This next way is the Ultimate way of getting that real drummer sound, but it is not always practical with samples. If you are recording your own drum samples make sure that you record differing volumes of each drum. Some software allows us to change the sample used depending on the volume of the note. So for example when a MIDI volume message says a note is played at a loudness of 100 to 127 it will play sample 1 (A full whack drum hit), if the MIDI volume message is below say 100 it will play sample 2 (a softer recorded drum hit). We can line these up with as many samples as we wanted at carying levels and that would create an extremely realistic sounding kit. Often though this is not practical for many people as many drum hits are electronically produced or the hit we want to use only has one recorded sample.

Hopefully this has taught you some great ways in which you can make your sound less computer sounding and more realistic. These methods certainly improved the realism of my tracks and hopefully it will with your music too.

Tutorial Written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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