Tutorial: Synthesizing a Kickdrum
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Old 06-28-2008, 01:02 PM   #1
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Tutorial: Synthesizing a Kickdrum

In this tutorial, I am going to describe how to synthesize a usable kick drum sound from scratch. I've attached a zip file containing five variations on my own rendition of this sound, recorded as 24-bit WAV files. The variations are simply kicks of different lengths, and they are named, from longest to shortest: long, medium, short, razor, and micro. You will need a fairly sophisticated synthesizer to follow the tutorial; I used Sytrus. Included in the ZIP file are the FL Studio Sytrus presets for each variation of the sound.

This sound has three components: the click, the pop, and the body. The click and the pop, sounding together, give the attack its character, with the click providing the treble of the sound, and the pop providing the midrange. The body is the longest-lived part of the sound, and it provides the bass. The only difference between the included variations is the amplitude curve of the body (e.g., "micro" has a shorter amplitude curve than "short"). We will now examine how to synthesize each component of the kick drum sound.

The Body

The body is a pure sine oscillator which changes in pitch throughout its life. It starts with a fairly rapid fall from a pitch in the low mid-range, down to a low bass pitch. From there, it will continue to more slowly fall in pitch for the remainder of the life of the sound, possibly dipping into the sub-bass range. Getting a good frequency curve is essential to making a good bass drum sound.

Having considered the body's pattern of frequency change, we must now consider its pattern of amplitude change. The 'traditional' choice for the amplitude envelope of a bass drum body would be a simple exponential decay, because this is what analog drum machines use. However, this choice would not be maximizing our bass drum's potential: we can give the bass drum a much greater amount of energy, with the same maximum amplitude, by giving it a more extreme amplitude envelope. For the bodies of all of the kicks except for the long kick, I used an envelope which simply stayed at maximum amplitude for most of its duration, then dropped off fairly rapidly at the end. The observant will note that this is essentially the same sort of envelope one would get by applying extreme compression to a bass drum with an exponential decay; using a nonstandard envelope is simply a much cleaner and simpler way to get the same result.

For the long kick, however, I didn't use this sort of envelope; I wanted a bass drum that decayed gradually. Even so, I still didn't want to use an exponential envelope; instead, I used a linear envelope, thus giving me a sound which decayed gradually while still having a high level of energy, relative to its amplitude.

It's quite possible that your synthesizer does not give you this level of control over its envelopes. If that's the case, it's probably giving you plain old exponential envelopes, and I'm afraid that you will have no recourse other than to compress your kicks.

The Pop

The pop is a sine oscillator with a very short decay time that performs a rapid, wide descent in pitch over its lifetime. It should sweep across the mid-range, in order to fill out those frequencies.

The Click

The click is made by a sine oscillator with a high frequency, frequency modulated by another sine oscillator, to create a rich spectrum of enharmonic frequencies. To find acceptable values for the two frequencies, just experiment until you find a sound that fits well with your pop and your bass. My kick uses a carrier oscillator with quite a high frequency, and a modulator with a lower frequency.

For the amplitude, I chose to use a linear decay envelope. The decay must be extremely short; you're aiming to get just a simple 'click' sound, and nothing else.

Blending

Now that you have your three sounds, you need to mix them together. I found that having the click and the pop at about equal levels, with the body about twice as loud, gave satisfactory results. However, you are certainly not restricted in this way, and choosing a different balance, particularly between click and pop, will give your kick a different character.

Fine-Tuning

After making my bass drum sound and looking at its waveform in an audio editor, I found that the initial amplitude was much higher than the amplitude throughout the sound, due to the summing of the click, the pop, and the body all together. Deeming this extra amplitude unacceptable, I added an imperceptibly short attack time to the body, so that it was at a low amplitude at the start of the sound. This fixed the amplitude problem with a negligible effect on the sound.

I also decided that my pop and my click had some undesirable low frequencies. The pop had them simply because it decayed, over the course of its life, to a lower pitch than I had intended; the click had them because of the nature of the FM algorithm. To remove the low frequencies from both of these sounds, I ran them through a high-pass filter.

This sound will work better if you have a synthesizer that resets its oscillators on each note trigger, rather than having free-running oscillators; that way, you get a completely consistent sound on each hit. If your synth has free-running oscillators, I recommend that, once you've finished your sound, you bounce a number of hits to audio, pick the best-sounding one, and trigger it as a sample.

Expansion

You can take this sound in lots of different directions. Play with the different frequencies and envelope curves. Experiment with different methods of synthesizing the attack. Layer other kick samples over the synthesized kick. Process it with some effects. Et cetera. The point of this tutorial was not to give you a prescriptive method of synthesizing kicks, but just to give you somewhere to start, and something to elaborate on. The real point of the tutorial is this: if you're anything like me, then the idea of tweaking your own kick drum sound to perfection in a synthesizer just appeals to you more than trying to do the same thing with samples.

Does anyone have anything to add, or anything I could do better?
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Last edited by nhomas; 06-28-2008 at 01:31 PM..

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Old 06-28-2008, 02:16 PM   #2
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhomas View Post

Does anyone have anything to add, or anything I could do better?
Yeah clipping, overdriving, EQ, filtering also the effect of different decay times and depth of the pitch modulation.
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Old 06-28-2008, 02:32 PM   #3
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

I have to ask why you would want to spend so long doing things the hard/laborious way?
If you want to synthesise drums why don`t you buy a drum synth?
I`m suprised Soundwave didn`t scream Machinedrum at you already tbh.

Also, i was suprised by the distinct lack of kick in your latest production...?
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Old 06-28-2008, 02:37 PM   #4
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Shhh Sveldt...be nice he is obviously still making the kickdrum.

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Old 06-28-2008, 02:38 PM   #5
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

On a serious note kickdrums can come frmo anywhere and have infinite possibilitys and tone and its worth exploring and really thinking about the sound of your kick as it REALLY can change the tone of everything else in your song...for better or worse.

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Old 06-28-2008, 05:00 PM   #6
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

I still make kick drums

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Old 06-28-2008, 07:24 PM   #7
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Quote:
I have to ask why you would want to spend so long doing things the hard/laborious way?
Short answer:

* I'm broke.

Long answer:

* To learn more about the nature of the kick drum sound.
* To have total control over every aspect of the sound.
* Because a drum synthesizer is just a special case of a synthesizer, and any analog drum sound can be made with a sufficiently sophisticated general synthesizer.
* Because the Machinedrum almost certainly uses an algorithm very similar to this to produce its analog kicks.
* Because I don't think that spending a long time on your kicks is a bad thing.
* And, in my opinion, this method produces some pretty kickin' kicks.

Quote:
but good effort nhomas...........how do you pronounce that?
Thanks! I never really thought about pronunciation when I came up with it; I figured it wouldn't be a big issue, since it's just an Internet handle, and therefore it isn't going to come up much in spoken conversation. I haven't come up with a satisfactory way to say it, though, which can be a bit frustrating at times.

Snare drums next week!

Last edited by nhomas; 06-28-2008 at 07:30 PM..
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Old 06-28-2008, 07:38 PM   #8
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Trying to get that perfect kick sound, eh?

That is the blackest of black arts. You are damned eternal.

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Old 06-28-2008, 10:02 PM   #9
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

I just use Drumatic 3 when I want a deep, techy kick. Using the pogo function in FL's sampler makes any kickdrum a psykick

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Old 06-29-2008, 01:39 AM   #10
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Quote:
Originally Posted by nhomas View Post
Short answer:

* I'm broke.


* Because the Machinedrum almost certainly uses an algorithm very similar to this to produce its analog kicks.
You've got a similar idea for the sample E12 kit but not even close with the analogue kit but then again I've done a few kits for Reason using my mates analogue synths but Elektron have really gone further than I imagined you'd ever need to.

You can download the manual for free if you google it to give you an idea!

Get an ER1 or one of the freebie VSt's like the Drumatic dude as you need to get your head around the delights of synth style modulation instead of this mix n' match sample mentality that too may laptop noobs take as the norm.

Last edited by soundwave; 06-29-2008 at 11:38 AM..
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Old 06-23-2009, 04:33 AM   #11
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Very nice tutorial, been looking for this everywhere!
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Old 06-23-2009, 04:54 AM   #12
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

I run kicks I've made through an avalon 737, crank the input drive, slam the compressor, eq to taste..... perfection

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Old 06-23-2009, 05:08 AM   #13
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

thanks alot for this mate, i've been meaning to get into synthesizing drums for a while. Is there an easy way to make the high part if your synth doesnt have fm?

is there any place i can read more of your tutorials, or should i just search the forum?
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Old 06-23-2009, 06:29 AM   #14
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Wonderful guide. And that's a massive kick you programmed.

I'd kill for a good snare tutorial *wink*
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Old 06-23-2009, 07:29 AM   #15
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Good post nhomas
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Old 06-23-2009, 09:02 AM   #16
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

ok but synthesising a kick is pretty easy - i want to know how to do a ride cymbal

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Old 06-23-2009, 02:46 PM   #17
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

i used to make kicks out of single sinewave using dbd (decay-break-decay) envelope on its pitch, layere with some noise or hihat and than further process it.
but how to make a snare, hat, cymbal? that is the question.

anyway thanks for sharing your method nhomas

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Old 06-24-2009, 10:53 AM   #18
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

[Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]


Not just a manual for the attack, explains how sounds are synthesized in the 808 and 909 ao.

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Old 06-25-2009, 06:03 PM   #19
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Interesting, I made a couple of kits from scratch a couple of years ago, but after a month or so I realised that I had forgotten to make any music... there is a bad ass tutorial on the Ableton forums on how to make all manner of hits. Alas I have lost the link.

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Old 06-25-2009, 06:20 PM   #20
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Re: Synthesizing a Kick

Quote:
Originally Posted by alteredtensions View Post
I run kicks I've made through an avalon 737, crank the input drive, slam the compressor, eq to taste..... perfection
Wow.. the faceplate alone on [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
is $200.. Pricey!

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