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Doctor Jurgenbuster's Casebook

How To Obtain Extra Drum Sounds For Free!

Bored with the sounds your drum machine makes? Martin Russ provides a bunch of tips to help you perk up your percussion.

Editing facilites for PCM sampled drum sounds have only just begun to appear - for example, the Kawai K4 synthesizer offers superb scope for producing a wide range of percussion sounds based on the factory samples provided. For most other drum machines, you might think that you are stuck with the sounds provided, or perhaps you are hoping for additional ROM sounds to be released by the manufacturer. Well, here is a quick and simple way to extend the sound potential of most drum machines...

All you need is a drum machine and a sequencer (hardware or software variety). The basic technique exploits an often overlooked feature of sequencers and drum machines - namely, the fact that you can generate musical events that are extremely close together with a sequencer, and the drum machine you are triggering will still attempt to play them!

For the examples which follow I used Intelligent Music's RealTime sequencer on the Atari ST, but any other sequencer with a timing resolution of about 1/768 note will do. I tested the ideas on a Kawai R50 drum machine and on the percussion sounds from a Roland MT32 expander, but most modern drum machines should behave in much the same way.

Here are a few of the things I have been experimenting with. Remember that 'close together' here means somewhere between 1/768 and 1/128 note, approximately.


If two drum strikes with the same velocity occur very close together in time, it will still sound like one drum being struck but with a different tone. Because the same drum is playing you should hear a sort of flanging sound added to the original drum sound. As you gradually increase the time gap between the two strikes, you will find that after a critical spacing you can begin to hear two separate drum strikes - so keep the timing less than that and you should be able to create all sorts of interesting flanged drum sounds. Experimentation is the order of the day here.

The Kawai R50 and R100 already enable you to create this sort of tonal modification, but the technique described lets you generate the same effects with other makes of drum machine.


This is an extension of the doubling effect described above. This time give the second strike a lower velocity value than the first. You should find that the second strike dampens or even stops the first one, so that the drum or cymbal sound dies away very rapidly as if dampened by hand. The lower the velocity value of the second strike, and the shorter the time gap between the first and second strike, the more quickly the sound will appear to be dampened. Try experimenting but remember that your choice of velocity value will be dependant upon the tempo of the music and the type of effect you are looking to create.

Some drum machines have a polyphonic play mode which will prevent this technique from happening, so you may need to set your machine to monophonic operation to obtain the desired effect.


This is another extension of the doubling idea. Place clusters of three or more drum strikes very close together but without any regular pattern. This can produce a sort of stuttering effect to the sound (and even pseudo repeat echoes, if you reduce the velocity of each strike relative to the previous one) which can prove very effective at disguising drum sounds that have a characteristic or undesirably abrupt decay.


By using the note velocity parameter to increase and then decrease the strength of the strike, you can produce some very unusual metallic and buzzy sounds from otherwise perfectly banal sounds. The MT32's rather pedestrian-sounding Cowbell, Kick Drum, and Clave sounds can be altered out of all recognition with this little trick!

In RealTime, events which are squashed together like this take on a distinctive appearance on the screen - they look like they sound, with a sort of 'smeared' look. Those of you trying this with a hardware sequencer lose out here, since there is no means by which to see such smear effects on a two-line LCD. If you have a computer-based sequencers, however, you should become familiar with the way in which your sequencer copes with and displays such special sets of events, because they can sometimes be difficult to locate when you come back to editing them at a later date.


Just spending a short time playing around with the spacing and velocity of notes in this way can greatly extend your repertoire of drum sounds, and also help stamp your own personality on your music. You could even incorporate some of the more unusual effects into useful 'intro' sounds.

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A Beginner's Guide to Korg's AI Synthesis

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Software Support

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Apr 1990

Donated by: Bert Jansch / Adam Jansch

Feature by Martin Russ

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