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How To Synthesize Drum Sounds?

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  • How To Synthesize Drum Sounds?

    Anyone have experience creating drum sounds from synthesizers? I have experience programming my own synthesizer which is good for pads and some sound effects, but now I would like to incorporate drums and beats. I am less familiar with emulating percussion so although I have some guesses, I am not sure if they are on the right path. Does it help to know or find resources (if they exist) on the physics of drums, like mathematical modelling? Here are some notes/ideas:

    - Since I programmed my own synthesizer I have a huge amount of control in it, so this could be used as a base to layer up a drum sound
    - I think that standing waves on a circular membrane of a drum surface are bessel functions, but does this have any relation to the frequencies heard?
    - It seems to me that retro synths use noise to mimic cymbals

    Let me know if you have any ideas on my overly-technical topic!
    Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
    Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.

  • #2
    I can recommend pulling up drum patches in Synth1 then looking at how the parameters are set for various drum sounds.
    "The dumbest of people are the first to tell you."annodeMy Music
    Check out my ambient radio show list @ recommended listening


    • #3
      Well... A massive topic for sure.

      Barry's suggestion is a good one if it is subtractive synthesis techniques you are using.

      Also, there are many types of "drum," as we know, and each requires a different approach.

      I investigated last year how to create an "authentic" kick sound with my Eurorack modular system. I thought it was going to be easy but it can actually be quite a complex process. I found this video very helpful:-

      Snare drums a probably even more complex given the sound of the snares, which I suppose you would use white noise to help with that. Again, would be worth looking at some VSTi patch examples.

      Originally posted by Immorpher View Post
      - I think that standing waves on a circular membrane of a drum surface are bessel functions, but does this have any relation to the frequencies heard?
      This line makes me think you are delving into physical modelling. I have no idea where to start with that one...

      And what sort of sounds are you after? Real kits? Electronic kits? Mad Industrial Metal kits?

      Hats off to you for tackling this but for the most part, on the odd occasion that I use drums (or percussion) I either reach for a VSTi like Drumaxx, a sample based VSTi like Battery or create my own "off the wall" percussive sounds.

      I'd love to hear how you get on with this task


      I may not post anything useful, but at least I do it often

      Latest release - Main Sequence available on Bandcamp

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      • #4
        Concerning the modelling Synkrotron pointed out, xoxos has plenty of that plus various free drum synths.
        EDIT - I can't seem to find the dloads yet...still looking... OK, HERE they are!
        Oh well...HERE are many free drum synths. No 64bit I'll expect.
        Last edited by annode; 10-29-2018, 10:05 AM.
        "The dumbest of people are the first to tell you."annodeMy Music
        Check out my ambient radio show list @ recommended listening


        • #5
          I am not dead-set on a particular technique (as long as I can program it) but put out physical modelling as an option if anyone had insight. I imagine getting it sounding acoustic would be much more difficult, so I am fine with synth sounding drums. If I got it sounding like that analog kick, then I would be more than happy with the kick drum part. The only two other bare minimum drums I would need are snare and hats. If I wanted more variety I probably use those three as a base.

          Looking at existing synths and how they generate a drum sound might be the quickest way for me to start so thanks for that suggestion as well! I will start tinkering around.
          Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
          Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.


          • #6
            Just bumped into this... Bit of an old thread, but posting some drum synthesis basics, in case it still helps anyone...

            In order to synthesise drum sounds you need a synth with a noise source, and a couple of envelopes.
            You need also a sine oscillator, two is better. A triangle osc might work in a pinch, if your synth cannot spit our a sine waveform. More complex waves such as square and sawtooth are no good for drums.
            Fast decaying envelopes are needed to create convincing percussion sounds.
            I cover below the techniques for subtractive synthesis. It is also possible to use FM synthesis (and others), but these are more complicated. Besides, the techniques below work very well for 'standard' drums. I tend to use FM when I am looking for 'unusual' drum and percussive sounds.

            There are several techniques.
            1) The most basic takes a low frequency sine wave and applies a decaying volume envelope, adjust length to taste. This is very basic...
            2) A variation of the above is to use a sine wave and apply the decaying envelope also to the pitch. Adjusting the amount of pitch modulation will already provide some different drum sounds. If you have 2 envelopes, assign one to volume and one to pitch. exponential envelopes work better than linear. A very short envelope creating large amount of very fast pitch decay will create the illusion of the "click" at the start of a kick drum. With this simple technique and some experimentation, some surprisingly natural kick drum sounds can be obtained.
            The same setup, with longer decay for the pitch envelope and ending at a higher pitch can be used to simulate tom drums.
            3) Another technique would be to make use of a short burst of noise to create the "click" of the kickdrum. You can do this by using a fast decaying envelope for the volume of the noise osc and a longer decaying envelope for the volume of the low frequency sine osc. But a usually better technique is to apply the fast envelope to a low-pass filter. This can be applied to the noise only or to both the sine and noise combined.
            4) A variation of the technique above is to use a triangle osc instead, and apply the low-pass filter to the noise osc + triangle osc.

            1) In a pinch, it is usually possible to create a sound vaguely resembling a snare simply by using a white noise source and applying a decaying envelope to a low-pass filter. Adjust the speed of the envelope.The envelope should not decay too fast, since snares have a noisy decay tail. If you can apply room reverb this will help. Sometimes a relatively high resonance setting on the filter can help create a more realistic sound. If you can apply the decay envelope in reverse to the filter resonance (so it increases as the filter frequency decreases), it might be worth experimenting with this.
            2) A much more convincing snare can be obtained by using a sine oscillator and a noise oscillator combined, and, as above. Same as above, the decay should not be too fast, if you can raise the resonance of the filter with the same envelope (so it increases as the filter frequency drops, it is worth trying to see if you can get more realistic sounds). If you can, apply room reverb .
            3) If you have 2 available oscillators, you can try setting these to 2 different sine frequencies. Make the lower frequency one higher in volume than the higher frequency. Then apply same techniques as suggested above in relation to the filter and room reverb.
            The 2 oscillators can be set to harmonics (i.e. 1 or 2 octaves apart) or to other frequencies. Experiment. Having the higher oscillator set to 1.5x the frequency of the lower, or 7 semi-tones up, can produce interesting sounds. Other frequency relationships should be tried too.
            This technique can produce very interesting snare sounds. Some can be surprisingly convincing.
            4) Once you have tried these techniques, you can also try 1 triangle wave + 1 noise source. But this typically is inferior to techniques 2) and 3).

            1) Basic hihat sounds ca be created by a noise source with a fast decaying envelope for volume.
            2) You can try the above with a static low-pass or band-pass filter (typically pure white noise is too bright and sounds unrealistic). Or maybe your synth allows you to control the 'colour' of the noise generator.
            3) You can also apply a low-pass or band-pass filter with a quick decaying envelope. If you only have 1 envelope you can use it for the volume and filter, if you have 2 you can assign separate ones to volume and filter which will give you more control. Often a band-pass filter works better than a low pass to create more realistic hihat sounds. Experiment with the resonance setting too.
            4) room / hall reverb and or a bit of chorus can help create a more realistic hihat sound.

            1) Cymbals are very difficult to recreate using simple subtractive techniques. You can use technique 4) from hihats above and just make the decay and filter envelopes longer, but this still usually sounds very artificial.
            2) The problem with cymbals is that you need an underlying 'metallic' sound in addition to the noise source to create a realistic sound. FM synthesis is good at creating dissonant metallic timbres (if the carrier and modulator frequencies are not multiples of each other), so can form a good basis for a cymbal sound. Overlay a noise source and then apply decaying envelopes for filter and volume. Try both a low-pass and band-pass to see which one gives best results. Experiment with the relative volumes of the FM and noise source.
            3) Another technique that I have used successfully is to use a 'multi-oscillator' or an oscillator that creates multiple detuned waves. Some synths have 'supersaw' oscillator or a detune setting to fatten up the sound. The oscillator must have a controllable detune setting and this must go far enough to allow the creation of dissonant sounds. So keep turning that detune knob and listen. Some synths also allow you to set how many waves will be overlapped (2,3,4...) and some also have different algorithms for how the frequencies are spread out. Try them out and see if you can produce dissonant sounds.
            If you can, then overlap a noise source on top and apply the same technique for the volume and filter as suggested in 1) above. You can also try using an envelope to reduce the amount of detune as the sound progresses, if your synth allows this.

            1) Generally the same techniques used to create kickdrums can work to create toms, is the oscillator frequency is higher. Toms tend also to have a longer decay.
            2) In particular technique #2 for kickdrums tends to work very well for toms, if the decay envelopes for volume and pitch are made longer.
            3) technique #3 for snares also works well to create toms. Make the decay envelope longer. Make the filter envelope shorter OR remove the filter and the noise source altogether.
            4) It is worth also experimenting with a triangle wave and even a triangle wave for the lower freq + a sine for the higher freq, as this may produce interesting results.

            Other techniques are possible and variations on the above are certainly possible, depending on the amount of oscillators, filters, envelopes and other modulations sources available to you.
            In addition to the effects I have already mentioned, snare and hihat sounds can sometimes benefit from a bitcrusher (place before the reverb).

            If there is interest I can post some examples of sounds created using these techniques...
            Last edited by AlienXXX; 12-15-2018, 05:47 PM.


            • #7
              I haven't got too far in my drum synthesis yet so this will help a ton! My synthesizer is capable of frequency modulation so this info is great!
              Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
              Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.


              • #8
                I would recommend trying the additive techniques first, as they are easier to get to grips with.
                FM can be useful for cymbals, as I hinted above, but can be difficult to get right. You will also need chorus and reverb for a proper 'splash' cymbal sound.

                FM is very good for gongs, bells and generic metal clangorous metallic percussion.
                also good for bongos, xylophones and some 'ethnic' or 'unusual' percussion.

                Would be interesting if you share some of your experiments. I am happy to do the same.


                • #9
                  Here are some kick drum examples, illustrating the techniques I have suggested.
                  If you want to download them you will need to create an account at Freesound (it is free). If you just want to listen to the samples and read the descriptions no account is required.


                  • #10
                    Nice work there! This is what I have so far using a frequency drop and noise (and some harmonics which quickly decay). I haven't incorporated an exact low pass filter to the noise yet.

                    Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
                    Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.


                    • #11
                      Hello Immorpher

                      Thank you for sharing.

                      The good news is that I think it sounds 'natural'. However, it is sounding to me more like the fall of a heavy object rather than a kickdrum.
                      Initially I could not figure out why. I loaded your samples and my samples onto audacity and looked at the spectrogram. Yours have a lot more noise mixed in.

                      I guess your intention by mixing noise in was to create a more natural sound (which you have achieved)
                      Experiment with a lower mix of noise and/or a faster decay for the noise. I think you will find a sweet spot where it still sounds natural (i.e. not like an obvious synth drum sound) but has a more 'kickdrum feel' to it

                      By the way. If you are creating a specific kind of drum, you will probably go through a lot of adjustment and will create quite a few variations of each sound until you get to one you are happy with.
                      Of course, save samples and synth patches, etc. But, at that point, I suggest you reset and start again. Maybe even try another technique, or the same technique with a different synth.
                      If using the same technique, try and make a variation (add a second osc, a new modulation source, change the filter type,...). As you go through the adjustment process again, you should end up with a sound that you are happy with and which is fundamentally different from the first one you created. - rather than ending up with 50 drum samples that all sound very similar...

                      And be patient, sometimes you get to a dead end... at that point take a little break, cup of coffee/tea/cocoa and reset and start again
                      And there will be some happy accidents. While creating the kickdrum sounds for this example I accidentally created some interesting tom sounds and a decent bass sound...

                      I will upload some snare sounds. (link here soon)
                      Also starting another thread - see if someone has helpful hints for drone sounds. I find creating those difficult...


                      • #12
                        Indeed, I will work on it some more! I want eventually to get more of a "basketball" type sound to it. I found a part of my synthesizer that I need to improve with a bit more programming once I come back from vacation.
                        Dark ambient horror utilizing a completely-original synthesizer on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and Facebook.
                        Also join me on the Dark Ambient Discord Server.


                        • #13
                          To anyone interested,

                          Here are a few examples of the Snare synthesis techniques.

                          The simplest technique (just a burst of noise through a low-pass filter with decay envelope) produces sounds more akin to a gunshot than a snaredrum. Still, in the right setting, these can be used effectively. Some of my first synth snares used this technique.

                          Better results are obtained with 1 sine osc + noise + filter or 2 sine osc + noise + filter.
                          'More' does not necessarily mean 'better'. If using 2 sine oscillators, not all frequency and mix ratio combinations will sound natural. You will need to experiment. Sometimes it is easier and more effective to just stick to 1 sine oscillator.

                          Whatever your choice of setup for a snare sound, always consider and experiment if it could benefit from some room reverb. Almost invariably this results in a much more natural sound.
                          You can also experiment with the reverb itself (longer or shorter, brighter or duller). You can allways still save a dry version of your sound, in case you decide to use a different reverb later.

                          Some further tips if you really want to get into snare sounds...

                          Great results can be obtained by blending synth snares with actual acoustic snares. Or even sometimes 2 synth snare sounds together.
                          For a fatter, more full and satisfying sound, typically look for sounds that complement each other. For example, blend thin snare with a bottom heavy snare. Or blend a 'attack heavy' snare (with a lot of 'snap' or 'crack') with a more body-heavy or smoother snare.

                          Snares are my favourite drum sound, because there are so many variants / variations, both in synth and in acoustic snares. Place a filter after the snare and experiment. A notch filter can radically change the 'flavour' of a snare. Experiment! If you find something you like, re-sample it and save onto your collection.