When it comes to drums, percussion, and other audio samples – many producers forget they can tune them. Despite the noisy nature of most percussion, it is essential to pay some attention to their pitches. They often make or break the mix. Sometimes, no matter how precisely you cut and boost frequencies or use compression, a kick drum can still come out sounding totally wrong in context. Use of tuning is most obvious on synthetic drums like an 808 kick because they are typically made with a single sine wave (See Blog: Why Waveforms). However, tuning is also effective on just about any drum. For example, a snare drum with a lot of high-frequency content may sit better in the mix after tuning it to a diatonic note (See Blog: Scales, Intervals).
Spectrum analysis is one way to determine the fundamental range of the sample you wish to tune. Also, it will show you where the prominent energy in the signal is concentrated. Advanced equalizers offer spectrum analysis within their graphic section. Furthermore, some analyzers will even convert frequency ranges to musical notes, which leads me to the next tool.
PITCH DETECTION COMES IN HANDY
Perhaps a quicker way to determine the root note or key of your sample is to use a pitch detection or tuner plugin. They use an algorithm similar to the famous Mixed in Key algorithm. You can scan all your drum samples by merely feeding them through the pitch detector or tuner one after another and rename them to something that includes their root note or key. This way, they will appear in SounndBridge’s file browser with the root note displayed. One pitch detector I use is called KeyFinder. It is free and does a great job. Sometimes we use some post-EQ and compression as well for polish.
I must disclose – the notes you see on these plugins are not always 100 % accurate. Don’t forget to use your ears.
TUNING IN 3 SIMPLE STEPS
Below we will show you a way to tune a kick drum. In this case, we have chosen Battery 4 sampler by Native Instruments to demonstrate.
First, we will load a kick drum sample of our choice into the first cell of Battery 4. Raw kicks like these don’t sound so great when played with the short bass line that we made. Let’s listen to it.
Raw Kick and Bass
Next, we will make a copy of the first sample and paste it into the next cell. This way, we will always have a reference. The first will be mapped to C1 and the second to C#1 on the piano roll.
The second step would be to move the global tune to the left or right until we hear the kick sub energy closely correspond to the sub of the bass. Let’s listen to it now with the global tune set to -11.00 semitones.
Kick -11 semitones, and Bass
The third -and possibly most crucial – step of the process is to deal with ADSR and pitch envelope settings in Battery 4. While listening to the kick drum with the bass, we will cut the unnecessary mud in the kick that interferes with the bass and modify the pitch of the punch and body of it using the pitch envelope parameters. Let’s hear it now – with these settings applied.
Kick 2 with Envelopes
We can still hear that the kick needs more energy in the low-frequency domain. So, we will boost it a bit with an EQ. Finally, we will use the Transient Master (TM) to retrieve the punch we lost during processing.
Kick with tuning, EQ, Envelopes, and TM
Once more, let’s listen to the mix of raw & tuned kicks with the bass and some rhythmic accompaniment.
Mix – first Raw Kick, then Processed Kick.