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Advanced Drum Editing in Kontakt

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Read Time: 11 min

I created this tutorial to serve two purposes. First off, I feel that there is a distinct lack of proper in-depth Kontakt tutorials. This tutorial teaches you everything you need to know to get started with Kontakt 3’s amazing Group editing.

Second, I find that there are plenty of threads out there where someone will ask “How do I get my drums to sound like ____?” (Usually Squarepusher). I feel that group editing is the quickest, yet most hands-on way of creating incredible, glitchy beats without relying on VST effects as a crutch (and therefore avoiding sounding like anybody who else who uses Plug-in X).

This tutorial is aimed at anybody new to Kontakt or Komplete 5, people who haven’t really explored Kontakt’s groups, or anybody looking for a new, creative approach to beat-mangling.

Republished Tutorial

Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in August of 2009.

Step 1: Loading a Drum Sample

For this tutorial, you can reasonably use any drum loop that you want. I will be using a clean loop of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” that I found online. (Just remember, even though some of these loops show up everywhere, be sure to clear copyrights on any samples in your own work.)

Loading a Drum SampleLoading a Drum SampleLoading a Drum Sample

Step 2: Creating the Sample Map

When you first drag and drop a sample into the Kontakt window, it will create a new Instrument where the sample is mapped across the entire keyboard. We need to change this for the original sample.

First, click the Wrench icon on the Instrument. This turns on Instrument Edit Mode. Next, click on the Mapping Editor. If you want an extremely in-depth lesson on mapping samples, definitely check out the Kontakt manual.

Highlight the sample zone by clicking on it. Drag and drop the borders so that the sample only plays on a certain key. I have moved it to C1. Move the Root Key to C1 as well, either by the info bar above the mapper, or by right clicking the zone and selecting Batch Tools>Move Root to Center.

Step 3: Slicing the Drum Loop

Now for the fun part. Beat-slicing in Kontakt is not nearly as automated and user-friendly as it is in other samplers, namely Guru, Battery, Maschine, etc. However, what it lacks in ease-of-use, it makes up for with depth and usefulness.

Keep the Mapping Editor open. Now, open the Wave Editor as well. Here, you see the waveform of the loop.

Click the Sync/Slice tab. Click the power button on the Grid box to turn it on. A series of blue lines should appear over the waveform. These are the slice markers. Before we continue, make sure the tempo of the loop is read appropriately. Since my ColdSweat.wav is a two bar loop, Kontakt thinks that it is an 80.59 bpm single-bar loop. Click the + button to double the tempo of the file, bringing it up to 161.18 bpm.

Now, you must decide whether you want the beatslicer to slice the loop on a fixed grid (i.e. 1/8 notes, 1/16 notes, etc.), or by transients (which detects hits based on a sensitivity slider). Usually, I prefer a fixed grid, as it makes programming with standard rhythms much easier. However, for this tutorial, we will use transients, as this particular loop’s timing suffers from slight human error. Click “Auto” to change to transients, and adjust the sensitivity slider to your liking. If you are feeling adventurous, you can manually move the slice markers. (This works in both Fix and Auto modes!)

Step 4: Mapping the Slices

Here is the unusual step (as far as most beatslicers go). We now have to map the slices into our instrument.

Drag the mapping editor back into sight, but keep part of the wave editor in focus. (If you are running Kontakt in standalone mode, you can open these editors in separate windows.) Now, select all of the slices by either shift-clicking to select a range of them, or ctrl-clicking to choose individual slices. Then, drag and drop the slices onto the mapping editor (I am choosing C2). It is important to note, the number of keys that each slice will map onto is determined by the vertical mouse position as you drag the slices. I keep the mouse towards the bottom of the mapping editor so that each slice only takes up one key.

Step 5: Setting Up the Groups

Once you have the mapping set the way you like, you can close the Wave Editor. Now, scroll back up, and re-open the Group Editor. You should now see two groups in the box: “1 samples” and “slices mapped”. You should also see a big red “Edit All Groups” button. Turn that off immediately. What you will want to do now is rename the groups to something that works for you. I prefer “Original Loop” and “Default Slices”.

Step 6: Programming a Beat (Test Run)

Here’s where you must provide a bit of your own creativity. Turn your host’s tempo up to about 160 (the tempo of the sliced loop), and program a small 1-or-2-bar loop. Remember, C1 is the original loop, and the slices begin on C2. Here is what I have programmed:

Step 7: Fixing the Slices/Turning Kontakt Into a Drum Machine

Now, if you are anything like me, you were probably driven nuts by a few things while programming your loop, namely:

  1. No velocity sensitivity! How can you program an interesting loop without dynamics?
  2. Drum samples lasting only as long as the notes in the host! What gives?
  3. Polyphonic slices? Not on my watch!

As I mentioned in the Wave Editor, Kontakt is powerful. Too powerful. It’s designed for all samples, not just drums. It is up to you, the programmer, to determine exactly how you want everything to sound.

Step 8: Volume Control

For now, close the mapping editor. You should only have the Group Editor open. Be sure that only the slice group is selected, and not the original loop - this will save you headaches when wondering why the modulators aren’t working. Now, click the “Mod” tab under Amplifier, and you should see an “Add Modulator…” drop-down box. Click on that, then External Sources>Velocity. Click it again, and select Envelope>AHDSR. Now, listen to your loop again.

Your loop may now be lower in volume. Why? Well, most hosts have drum hits at velocity 100, whereas 127 is maximum velocity. Now that you have added a velocity modulator to your slices, they no longer auto-play at full-impact. Feel free to tweak your loop’s velocity levels to your tastes.

Also, do you see that downward arrow button next to the Envelope Modulator? Clicking that will automatically scroll to the bottom of the instrument, where your envelope resides. Since we are working with percussion envelopes, we should select “AHD Only”. That way, we are left with a three-stage envelope, perfect for percussion. Keep the Attack around 1 ms, so that there aren’t noticeable pops at the beginning of a slice. Tweak the Hold (How long the sample stays at max volume) and Decay to your liking.

Step 9: Your First Automation

Now would be a perfect time to set-up an automation for the envelope’s decay setting. Tweaking a drum loop’s decay is a classic IDM effect (it often sounds like Trance-Gating). First, if it’s not already open, open Kontakt’s browser by clicking the big folder button on the top of the plug-in. In the browser, click the “Auto” tab, and make sure that it is set to “Host Automation”. Drag-and-Drop #000 onto your envelope’s decay knob. It should now say “Assigned to: Decay” next to #000.

Before we go any farther, have fun with this. Let your loop play, and tweak the decay knob to hear this effect.

Step 10: Setting Up a Voice Group

At this point, you probably want the slices to mute each other, to give that hard, edited sound. Go back to your Group Editor, and again, make sure only the slice-group is selected. Right under the Group box, you should see a little drop-down box that says “voice grp. <off>”. Click that, and select “v01″.

This will place all of the slices into one voice group. The default settings (next to the drop-down box) show that the voice group defaults to only one voice-per-group, and the oldest sounds are killed off by newer sounds. Play back your loop to hear that nice hard-edit sound. If you had long decay settings, you will now hear that decay get chopped off.

Step 11: Let the Duplications Begin

Remember how I said the slicing was the fun part? I lied. Here is where Kontakt really begins to show off. Before we get into it, I’ve expanded my loop into a two-bar loop with some velocity changes:

Okay, deep breath. Go to your Group Editor, and select only your slice group. Right under your Group box, select “Group Start Options”. This open a new tab full of group switching options. Select Group Starts>On Key. For the boxes, select “if key is between” C4 and C4. Play your loop. If you hear nothing, click (or play) a C4, and you should hear sound again.

What just happened? When you changed the “Group Starts On Key” setting, you changed the condition that must be met before the group gives off voices. By hitting the conditional key, you turned the Group back on.

Now, making sure that only the slice group is selected, right-click on it, and select “Duplicate Group(s)”.

Whoa! A couple of things just happened that you should be aware of. A new group was created and selected, with the same name of “Default Slices”. The “Original Loop” group now has a check on it (I don’t know why this happens), and the C4 key on the Kontakt keyboard should turn red (indicating that the C4 key is in charge of a group).

Uncheck the “Original Loop” group, and rename the new, duplicated group to “Default Slices +2″. Select ONLY “Default Slices +2,” and change the Group Start settings to Group Starts On Key C#4-C#4. Under Source, bring the Tune knob up to 2.00. Play your loop, and hit your C4 and C#4 keys. Your loop should change pitch accordingly.

Step 12: AWESOME! But First, a Rookie Mistake

So, a quick anecdote. The first time I used this technique, I sat in front of my computer and created new groups for about three hours, building this ridiculously complex loop-gnasher. I opened my project the next day and hit play. No sound! What went wrong?

Well, I will show you. Scroll back up to the top of your Kontakt Instrument and click “Instrument Options”. Select the Instrument tab, and look at the options. See “Key Switch Default Key”? That’s the key that Kontakt activates when it first boots (By default, C0). Change this to C4, or whatever your default Group’s key is.

There. I saved you some hair.

Step 13: Go Forth and Multiply

Before we finish, let’s add one more group. Using the same process as before, duplicate the “Default Slices +2″ Group, and change the start key to D4. Turn the tuning knob back to zero. Now, go to your “Group Insert FX” tab (right under the Source tab where the Volume controls are), and add a “Lo-Fi” effect. Play your loop, and key-switch your Groups to hear the effect.

That pretty much concludes the tutorial. From here, it’s up to you to decide on more groups. Keep duplicating your groups, changing the Group Start keys, and changing parameters/effects. Experiment to your heart’s content.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • Create tons of pitches, and play melodies with your drum loops.
  • Create an additional group of only pitched snares. Also, place this onto a separate voice-group so that you can compliment another loop.
  • Create a group where the tuning knob is modified by an LFO, creating a sea-sick effect.
  • Create a group that uses Kontakt’s TimeMachine, to get those awesome Squarepusher-style stretched, granular hi-hats.
  • Read-up on how to set-up multiple outputs (a whole tutorial unto itself). Route your groups to separate outputs, and work with them from there.
  • Finally, last but not least, don’t forget your automations! Half of the fun is in the performance.

I hope that you have found this technique to be useful!

Download the Play Pack for this tutorial (3.3MB)


  • Native Instrument File
  • Instrument Sample
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