How to Make Drum Kits • Sound Design Series

How to Make Kick Drums

Kick drums are all about low frequencies. Kicks are punchy and boomy in your beats.

To get punch in the kick, you want to create a pitch envelope with a short decay, this creates the punchy/clicky part of the kick drum.

The body of the kick is usually a simple Sine Wave at a low frequency like 50-90Hz. Sine Waves are used because they are so smooth and rich in low end, whereas other waveforms create too much buzz and harmonic content which takes away from the star of the show, the bass.

Kicks usually have a short amp envelope decay unless you're making club kicks for EDM.

How to Make Snare Drums

Snare drum sound design can be tricky because making snares from scratch is a multi-stage process.

Think of the snare in three zones: Click/transient, the body, and the tail of the snare.

Each of these sections can be completely different in their character.

For the click/transient portion of the snare, think about FM synthesis and noise. Noise will give you the most frequency content to work with, but FM Synthesis can help you achieve a "wood-like" tone, which can't be done with simple waveform selection.

The body of the snare is usually a simple tone you can generate with a sine wave. This tone will be the tuning of the snare.

Depending on the genre, most snares can be exaggerated by slamming them through a tape saturation plugin or a soft clipper. You would want to intentionally clip the input and shape the harmonics of the snare going to the output.

If your genre requires a long snare, the tail of the snare will have a longer release time in the amp envelope or effects like reverb on the snare which help it ring out.

Snares are pretty complicated to make because of how many separate processes there are to make snares.

Also, don't forget about layering sounds with your snare like a clav, a clap, or a hi hat sound.

How to Make Claps

Claps are a mystery in sound design because it is hard to differentiate between the organic samples and synth samples.

If you're synthesizing a clap, you want to add an amp envelope with multiple decay points in the envelope. 

I like to start with three decay points shaped in a downward saw shape. This will create a quick stutter effect which will help separate the sound into segments.

You can use white noise as your source sound and run it through a simple amp envelope with multiple downward saw shapes and you can shape the tail of the clap.

Think of a clap as a quick stutter of noise and a long tail release.

You can apply the same processing as the snare on your clap which will give it that full sound - by running it through a soft clipper plugin.

The last trick to claps is to grab an EQ and boost different frequency ranges until you get the tone you want. Don't be afraid to boost at high levels!

How to Make Hi Hats

Hi hats are the most simple to make for your drum kit, outside of kicks.

Hi hats start with a noise waveform. From here, you shape the amp envelope with a short decay if you're making closed hi hats, and a longer decay if you're making cymbals or open hi hats.

Hi hats run through a hipass filter and use a high resonance to create tone. You can sweep the resonance point of the filter to tap into different tones for your hi hats.

You can also run these through a soft clipper to create a more full sound. Don't be afraid to crank the volume going into a soft clipper!

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