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How to Tune Drum Samples

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When looking to create a professional mix, producers and engineers always seem to turn to compressors, multi-band compressors, EQs, dynamic EQs and limiters to handle this job.  

While these tools are certainly important in achieving a pro sounding mix, it is easy to get lost in these mixing tools and forget about one of the simpler steps in the mixing process. 

That is tuning drum samples. 

In this screencast, I'll show you how to tune your drum samples, so your track will sound more consistent, complete, and have a more impactful mix.

Screencast

Transcript

When looking to create a professional mix, producers and engineers always seem to turn to compressors, multi-band compressors, EQs, dynamic EQs and limiters to handle this job. Well these tools are certainly important in achieving a pro-sounding mix, it is easy to get lost in these mixing tools and forget about one of the simpler steps in the mixing process.

That is tuning your drum samples. But how do we tune our drums? How do we know that they are in key in helping us achieve this professional mix? My name is Daniel with Envato Tuts and in this video, I'm going to show you how to tune your drum samples so your track will sound more consistent, complete, and have a more impactful mix.

So let's get into the DAW. So before we get into the actual tuning of our drums, I want to go over a few very simple concepts about musical notes. It is important to remember that every single sound has a musical note. My voice right now is at a specific frequency, meaning it is at a specific note.

So a clap, a kick, a snare, tapping of the foot will be a specific note. Because a note or pitch is a snapshot of a specific frequency. So for example the frequency 110 Hertz, that refers to a specific note and that note is A2. Another example 262 Hertz, that would be C4.

So every specific frequency has a note. Knowing this, we can now tune our drums. But what does tuning our drums actually mean? Every song that you are working in will be in a specific key. And the goal with turning your drums is to have every single drum hit in your song play a specific note in the key that you are in.

So if you are working on a C major scale, if your song is in C major, that means all the white keys are going to be used. So that means we want all our drum hits to lie within one of these notes. So that means A sharp or C sharp would not be in key, and those drums would be out of key.

Now there are two ways we can tune our drum samples. The first way is of course to use a tuner. We can use a tuner to accomplish this. If we go ahead and solo our kick here, we have the Ableton 10 tuner loaded up, we can see what note that it is playing.

Let's have a listen. As you can see the tuner says, that it is playing an A flat. The only problem with using a tuner is that sometimes the key will not show up, as short percussive elements are often not picked up by tuners. So using a tuner won't work every single time.

So you'll have to use another method to finding the pitch of your drum hit. And this method is using a frequency analyzer. By using a frequency analyzer, we can find the key of our drum sample. Any spectrum analyzer will work here. For this example I am going to be using an Ableton 10 spectrum analyzer.

And to find the key of our drum hit, all we have to do is find the highest peak in the spectrum analyzer. That highest peak will point to a specific frequency, and that specific frequency will be a note. And that will tell us what key or what note our sample is in.

So let's go ahead and play the kick sample and find the highest peak. So we can see that the highest peak is right here, NG sharp, which is A flat at 52.4 Hertz. So this will be the note that our kick sample is playing. Now some frequency analyzers might not have a corresponding note to the specific frequency.

So to find the specific note, all we have to do is look at this chart to find the corresponding note and their frequency. I have put a link to this chart in the tutorial. Now for this example, let's say our track is going to be in C major.

Once again, that is all the white keys. And our kick here, Is playing A flat. So we want to change the pitch of our kick sample to B within the white keys. So all we have to do, is going over to the sample and change around it's pitching.

Now in tuning drum samples, you want to make as little jumps in pitch as possible. As pitching a sample up and down, many semi-tones will degrade the audio quality. So we will look to get this drum example up to A. Since the note is up at A flat now, we're going to tune up the sample one semi-tone.

Go ahead and go back to the frequency analyzer and tuner, let's have a look at what note is now playing. So we can see on the tuner, it is now playing an A, if we look at the frequency spectrum analyzer. We can also see that the highest peak right here is at A, at 56 Hertz.

Now we're going to tune our high hat and clap by looking at the frequency spectrum analyzer and bring them within of the C major scale, so they're in tune. So the highest peak in our sound is that C-sharp, making this sample slightly out of tune, so we are going to turn this sample down one semitone to see, so it's in key.

So to go into our sample, and tune it down one semi-tone. Now let's have a listen to the kicking there. Going back to the spectrum analyzer, we can have a look at its note now. As we can see, it is now at C, so our high hat is in key.

Now for the clap, let's have a look. So our clap is now at A-sharp. We're gonna go ahead and tune that down to one semi tone, so it'll be at A. So let's first have a listen to our drums cuz they are out of key, they're not in the C major scale.

So now let's have a listen to the kick high hat and clap that are in key with the C major scale. The drums now sound more complete, work well together harmonically, and sound more mixed. 

So the next time you are looking to create a more polished sound, go into your drums, and use your frequency spectrum analyzer to find the notes of your specific drum elements, and tune them to the key that you are working in.

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