29 – Synth Drums from Scratch

The subject of today’s tutorial is how to create your own standard drum sounds via synthesis. Here, I’m going to show you a few techniques to bring these drums to life, with little more than a Thor, Malstrom, or Subtractor synth, and some supporting modules. This is a great alternative to using Drum samples or relying on sample CDs for your drum sounds, though those are both great alternatives that should not be overlooked.

Often times we don’t have access to a real drum kit and it’s not feasible to get real true-to-life drum samples to use in your own work. Or you may just want the sound of a synthetic drum as opposed to the real thing. One option is to purchase some sample CDs. Another is to create your own drum sounds from scratch, using the synths provided in Reason. That’s the subject of today’s tutorial. Here, I’m going to show you a few techniques to bring some standard drums to life, with little more than a Thor, Malstrom, or Subtractor synth, and some supporting modules.

I should start by saying that with the addition of Kong in Reason 5, creating drums has never been easier. Load up a physical drum or a synth drum module and you’re more than halfway there. However, for those that don’t have Reason 5 yet, then this tutorial is for you. Everything below is created using the Reason 4 devices. This goes to show you that you don’t necessarily need Kong to create interesting drum sounds. So let’s get started.

You can download the project files here: Synth Drums from Scratch. This is a zip file that contains 3 Combinators and 1 Thor patch outlining the different drum sounds from the tutorials below. The Combinator parameters will affect the sound of each drum. I’ve tried to tailor them so that you can get a very wide variety of drum sounds out of each Combinator. Have fun with the various buttons and rotaries to get the sound you want out of them.

The Bass Drum

The first drum we’ll emulate is a Kick or Bass drum. This is probably one of the easier drums to emulate because it has that very bassy deep and punchy feel to it. The hardest part about programming this kind of drum I think is in the Compression, which most every Kick drum should have. How it is compressed is really a matter of taste, but getting just the right sound you want is probably going to rely on the way you compress it. A close second in terms of seasoning your Bass Drum is using EQ to accentuate the correct frequency or frequencies. Here’s how I would go about creating a Kick Drum using Thor.

The Tom Drum

The second drum type we’ll create is a Tom Tom drum. This time, I’ll use a Malstrom with a TubeSlap Oscillator to emulate it. This oscillator is great for sounds like these, and can produce just the formant sound that is needed with a typical Tom drum. Of course, you can emulate all of these different drums using any of the synths. This is just one way to recreate the sound. You could instead, try using a Thor oscillator with a Formant filter to get the Tom Drum sound you’re after. Be sure to explore more on your own to find the sounds that truly inspire you.

The Snare Drum

The third type of drum I’ll recreate is a Snare drum. For this, I’ll use a subtractor with two Oscillators and a Bandpass filter. Then we’ll use a Noise Oscillator in Thor to add that extra tail that a Snare drum can have. To wrap it all up, we’ll combine them both and set up a little programming to the rotaries in order to get a little more out of our Snare sounds. Using these parameters we can create a variety of Snares, instead of a single type of sound. See how it’s done:

The Hi Hat

Finally, there is the tried and true Hi Hat sound, both open and closed. To emulate this one, we’ll use a Thor FM pair and Noise oscillator going through two State Variable filters set to High Pass and Notch mode in Thor. I’ll emulate the open and closed Hi Hat and tie it to a Thor button. This way, you can access both the closed and open state of the drum with the click of a button (and from within the same Thor synth, which makes it very CPU friendly). Of course, if you want to separate them, you can duplicate the Thor device and use one Thor for the “Open” Hi Hat position and one Thor for the “Closed” Hi Hat position. It’s all up to you and very flexible.

So there you have it. Four basic drums created with the three different synths in Reason 4. If you have any other drum sounds that you would like to contribute or tips for drum creation, please feel free to share with us. Until next time, have fun working your own magic in Reason and Record!

4 thoughts on “29 – Synth Drums from Scratch”

  1. The one common drum I’ve never been able to make in Reason is the handclap. 1-5 fading noise bursts of 10-25 milliseconds each, then a long one 3-5 times the length of the small ones. A lot of permutations, and no way to do them in a single synth. So I use Stomper :-).

    Cowbells are possible though – two pulse waves, detuned to a ratio of somewhere between 1:1.3 and 1:1.5. I find 1:1.43 is the most ‘clangy’, for obvious mathematical reasons.

    1. Kronsteen,
      Thanks for posting. I actually created a somewhat halfway-handclap (not to be confused with one hand clapping), but yeah it’s a difficult trick to do in the synth world. Almost up there with trying to reproduce stringed instruments effectively. I think handclaps have so many interesting overtones that you would almost always be better off creating a sample. Certainly that’s the easier way to do it. But as a challenge, it’s fun to try working it out synthetically. I’d love to see your ideas on Cowbells, and any other sounds you’d like to share.

      In fact, if you want to create a contributing tutorial or write-up with any images or videos, I’d love to showcase them here in my “Contributor” section. Let me know if you’re interested and private message me or email me at webmaster@reason101.net

      All my best,

  2. Agree with Dave about the comparison beeewtn Roland and Behringer. I own heaps of Roland/Boss stuff and it always works. I have had a GT-5 pedal for years which has been thrown around, stomped on, dropped, spilled beer on and hauled in and out of gigs in all sorts of weather and temperature conditions always works. I have also owned lots of Behringer stuff but always end up dumping it or giving it away something always breaks after a short while.Although some of the Behringer stuff may sound OK, a lot of it tend to break down just by looking at it. Apart from a few effects/rack units, ask yourself how much Behringer stuff you see used live Why? The build quality is well, basically non-existent.If you intend to use all of this gear through a keyboard amp, then you will probably (or likely, rather) find that an electric guitar through a keyboard amp is not the best thing there is. A keyboard amp is more full range (like a PA system), while an electric guitar amp is much more focused in the mid range frequencies. Acoustic guitars on the other hand is very much at home with a keyboard amp.The drum machine and Moog will work great through a keyboard amp, but not the guitar through the Boss. The only way to find out if you can live with the compromise is to try the amps out using your own gear I’m afraid.And in case you wonder a guitar amp will not sound good if you put the drum machine through it. The Moog? Maybe.

    1. @Edna,
      Very useful information. Thanks for your post. I don’t have any Behringer or Roland gear, but based on what I’ve heard here and elsewhere, I would probably go for Roland. Again, thanks for the thoughtful post. All my best, Rob.

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