Strategic Drum Layering

In this week’s tutorial we’ll be looking at some easy and powerful ways to bring your drums up a notch through layering. Whether you’re looking to freshen up your kicks, add power to your snares, or create more interesting percussion, we've got you covered.

Kick Attacks

The first tip is that you can change a kick’s attack by layering a small bit of a percussion sound with it. In the following example, the kick plays alone for the first two bars, then with a conga and foley sound from the Urban Heat drum kit.  Only the very first part of the extra percussion sound is added so it sounds like it’s part of the kick. This is a good trick when you want the attack of the kick to cut through the mix. The image below shows a short volume envelope.


Beefier Snares

For beefier snare and percussion sounds, a quick technique is to layer a pitched-up kick under the sound. The kick will give the snare a bigger body and it’s a creative path to those overcompressed dance and dnb snares. In the audio example, the first bar is a snare on its own, and the second bar is the snare with a pitched up kick playing at the same time. Finally, the last bar shows what the pitched-up kick sounds like on its own, to give you an idea of what sorts of sounds work well for this technique. The image shows that the kick was pitched up an octave and a half.


Here’s a very different example that features a pitched up kick added to a percussion sound, again the pitched-up kick is played without the snare at the end:


Interesting Snares

You can layer just about anything with a snare to make it more interesting. In this example, I layered a shaker with an 808 snare to give it a longer tail with a different texture. A good rule of thumb is that with smaller snares you can get away with adding more snares to the pattern. The extra early snare in this pattern wouldn’t work with big blasting dubstep snare.


Space for an Instrument

As a bonus composition tip, whenever you don’t have a snare on the traditional 2 and 4 beat, you could put something cool in the space where the traditional snare would be. It could a be a shout, a guitar chord, or an effects sound. Since it’s on that beat, the audience will notice it.

Author Bio: Sean Duncan is an electronic music producer and freelance writer from Seattle, WA.

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1 comment

I loved taking the time to read this, I really enjoyed it. the only issue is I could not for some reason hear the examples as the soundcloud player would not play for me. It would have heightened my experience even more. great work but I would look into the soundcloud issue, I know it may be my computer also but I figured I would let you know because it could be a work around you guys could implement. well have a good on and keep up the good work.


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