Synth Quickie: Programming Drums


Have you ever thought to yourself “Man, it would be awesome if I had an 8-minute video that shows me how to synthesize a kick, snare and hi-hat beat from scratch”?
Well today’s your lucky day! Also, that’s a very specific thought you had. Weirdo.

If you are overcome with an urge to create and share your new drum track, join us in the land of forum posts.


Drums. So we got a kick snare and a hi-hat all synthesized in this case using Primer. But you can really use any pretty much any synth.

We’re gonna start with our kick drum. Sounds like this. Now, I’m gonna reset this so we can design it from scratch. So here’s what it sounds like just as a plain saw. So it’s a really, really low pitch C negative one. In fact, it’s the pitch I’m playing. We’re gonna switch over to a sine wave.

Now you not gonna to really be able to hear it at all. Barely hear it. To get that kick sound, what we’re doing is we’re just starting our pitch up really high and dropping it really fast with a mod envelope or in this case, a pitch envelope. So I’m gonna crank it. And with a really long decay, here’s what we get.

I’m playing kinda short note so, Here is what sounds like if I hold the key down. Now, when we do that really quickly, I’m gonna set to about four or five milliseconds, that drop in pitch starts to sound percussive. For whatever reason, that quickly dropping pitch gives a percussive sound. This is essentially our basic kick.

Now I’m gonna add a little distortion to it. Kinda beef it up a bit. Now, if I hold the key down. You get that note at the end. We don’t want that. So we gonna take envelope and make it real short. Just like that, we can match it with the release. Now, we had that little ‘T’ at the front of our sound, we can get rid of that if we don’t want it by increasing our attack a little bit. But you might want that.

Now I use the sine wave, but you could use other wave forms, if you want a bit more of open, brighter sound like here’s a pulse sounds like we gonna filter it. Almost kind of flabby but it’s just a different tone. Saw, try triangle But sine will give you the cleanest. So that’s our kick drum.

Now let’s move on to our hi hat. This is a combination of white noise and a really, really high, medium pulse wave. So I’m gonna reset this. Here’s what we have. So I’m playing a really high note C7. And, we’re going to start by switching to a medium pulse wave. Not a huge difference, but it’s a little bit more So a little bit more of a metallic vibe. So what we’re getting from this oscillator is the kind of just like the metallic tone you get when you hit an actual hi hat because they’re made out of metal.

Next, we need to shorten big time. So that gives us a little bit of that metallic attack and then we can high pass it. We’re taking as much of that bottom off as we can. We’re just up at this very tiny top. And then we crank our noise. I turn off the oscillator. There’s just the noise. So you see how they combine to create this sort of metallic tone and the actual shh-shh we get that we really want in the hi hat.

Now I kinda like to dial this down a bit so that the metallic little pitch isn’t as noticeable. To do that in Primer, I’m gonna turn off oscillator two and start to turn the mix away from oscillator one. So it’s all white noise. It’s up to you. How much of that metallic do you want in there? I like to be pretty subtle.

One more detail I want to mention about the hi hats is the volume. Right now it’s very stiff. Every hi hat is the same volume. But it’s more common to have the volume changing so that some of the notes are louder than others. This creates some bounce in our feel.

We could do this by routing our velocity to volume. We’re gonna do max amount. And now when I recorded this hi hat, I hit some of the notes harder than others. So here’s what it sounds like. There’s a bit more bounce to it. Compared to when there’s no All loud now. It’s subtle, but you can really feel it. And that’s an important aspect of the hi hat.

Now, snare. Snare actually consists of two different sounds. You have the drum kind of like a kick, and then you have the wash. You combine those two to create our snares. Let’s start with the drum. For this all by itself, sounds like this. And to do this, I literally just took our kick drum, which is this And just played it at a higher pitch.

So if the kick I was playing at C negative one, now I’m playing the same exact preset at C zero. And then dial the decay down a little bit to make it shorter. Yeah. That’s the drum part of our snare. Almost identical to the kick. Now I’m gonna bring in the wash.

The snare and this It’s just white noise that’s been band passed. So if I reset this first I’m gonna turn off our saw turn up our white noise to about here. And then we want to shape it. Maybe a little longer And then… And I like a little distortion in this too just make it more aggressive. Now I bring the drum back in There they are together. Here’s just the drum. Now, the wash. Now, the whole kick. Drums!