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Hey, Mr Tambourine Man

Such a simple thing, a tambourine line, yet it's one of the lines drum machines can't handle. The Sample Workshop's Tom McLaughlin explains how to make convincing samples.

Adding percussion sounds to a drum pattern can make the difference between a rhythmic cliche and a kicking groove, but it may be harder than it sounds - unless you know a few sampling tricks.

IF THERE'S ONE thing I can't stand it's listening to sampled tambourines. Tambourine samples tend to be nothing more than one sample of one shake which is somehow intended to convince you that it's someone actually playing a tambourine. And as you'll probably agree, it doesn't work. Sure, you can get away with samples like these, if they're mixed well back into a busy track, but they can't withstand the attention they receive if they're mixed up front or in a solo situation. Loud or soft, it's still the same sample.

Listen to a real tambourine being played and you'll find there's a lot more going on. With the more common un-skinned variety there's usually an accent played by hitting the rim on the player's palm, an "up" shake and a "down" shake, each with a distinctly different sound. Often there will be varying dynamics of these as well.

Sampling an entire pattern is certainly one way to get a more convincing result, but you'll find yourself locked into the pattern and the speed at which the take was played. You can only transpose the sample so far flat or sharp of the original pitch - to match another tempo before your tambourine starts sounding like a tray of cutlery or a swarm of gnats. Varying the sampled pattern is next to impossible.

The trick, is to sample an entire pattern and, with editing scalpel in hand, dissect that pattern into its constituent hits. With each mapped to adjacent drum pads or keys on a MIDI keyboard, you can play each hit in any order, while retaining a natural sound over a broad range of tempi.


FIRST, SAMPLE AN entire pattern and save to disk, possibly naming it Pattern to avoid confusion later. In the case of a tambourine playing a standard 4/4 or 8/8 pattern, this would include Palm, Up 1, Down, and Up 2 hits (although you could probably get away without the second up hit). For velocity-switched sample sets you will need to sample soft and loud versions of the pattern.

Next truncate the pattern so that you only hear the first hit and maybe just a little bit of the following hit. Fade the very end if you have the facility to do so. Re-name as Tamb Palm and save to disk.

Now re-load the Pattern sample from disk and repeat the above with any other hits you require. Name these as appropriate - Tamb Up 1, Tamb Down, Tamb Up 2, and save them to disk.


TO MAKE A sample map, create a "program" and within the program - a "voice" for each type of hit (Palm, Up 1 and so on. Then layer soft and loud versions upon one another for velocity switching sets. Adjust switch point velocity and sensitivity to your liking. Next assign each hit to a separate MIDI note on a keyboard or drum pad. (The Kat and Octapads are excellent for this.) Finally, tune all samples to play the recorded pitch before saving the map to disk.

All this takes a bit of effort, but once the editing and mapping are completed, you'll have a set of samples that allow you to not only "play" your tambourine at pretty much any speed you require, but additionally enable you to re-arrange the dissected hits into any patterns you require - all with a realism you've never heard coming from a drum machine.

This technique works well with a whole family of rhythm instruments that seldom sample well (for the same reasons as the tambourine) including maracas, shakers, castanets and fish. Have a go and see if it doesn't add another dimension to your music.

(c) London Sample Workshop Ltd.

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Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Jun 1991

Feature by Tom McLaughlin

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