Tutorial: How to make a basic synthesized drum kit (using FL Studio)

OK then, it’s been a while since I last put anything up here, but seeing as I just might be writing about sound design for the Audio Times ( www.audio-times.com ), as well as seeing as I’ve been very active in the FL Studio forum lately. I thought I’d do a fairly basic introduction to creating percussion instruments using subtractive synthesis.


This time I’ll be using the 3XOSC that comes with FL Studio as it’s one of my favourites and really the «Swiss Army Knife» of Image-Line to make a basic Roland 808 style drumkit.


It should be noted that I will be using a proprietary piece of software known as FL Studio (earlier known as Fruity Loops before they changed their name). FL Studio is one of the leading Digital Audio Workstation applications in addition to being the most affordable and versatile. I have nothing to do with this piece of software other than being an enthusiastic user, but I still think it’s worth mentioning as it’s one of those big ”bang for the buck” applications (while Ableton, Cubase, Nuendo and Samplitude are great pieces of software, none can match the price and versatility of the Image-Line line of production tools). You can download the (fully functional) demo HERE.

If you’re an open source enthusiast, I might suggest LMMS, which is today one of the most interesting and powerful pieces of open source production software. LMMS is made for Linux, but could be run alongside Windows either as part of a virtual machine, or using the Wubi (Ubuntu installed as a software application) installation available on the Ubuntu website. LMMS is not only interesting as it’s free and powerful and comes with some very interesting Game Boy synth and SID emulation synthesizers, but also because it very closely resembles FL Studio, and also features a clone of the 3XOSC I will be talking about here.

The  audio demo and tutorial demo .flp file can be found here:


      1. SynthDrums

      2. Click here for download (if you're having problems with flash).

Click here for .flp file


Finally, before we start, I’ve also uploaded this tutorial as a .pdf document if you’re not a big fan of white text on black to be found here: SynthDrumKitHowTo


Part one – The Bass Drum.


Step one:


Start up FL Studio and load the 3XOSC (well duh!).

Step two:

Set all the Oscillators to a sine wave and set the course tuning (crs) knob to the same pitch for all three. You could also use just one oscillator and set the volume of osc two and three to zero, but using all three gives you the option to combine waveforms, which is something we’ll want if we want a more «distorted» bass drum sound.

To set all the crs knobs to zero, simply hold down the alt key while clicking on the buttons, either that or try and turn all the crs buttons to zero, but it takes less time by just defaulting it (which is what you do when you alt click in FL Studio).

Step three:

Click on the instrument property tab of the 3XOSC channel settings.

Step four:

Set the attack (att), release (rel), hold and sustain (sus) knobs to zero. Then right click on the delay (del) knob and set it to «2 steps».

Step five:

Click on the pitch tab and set the attack, release, hold and sustain knobs to zero as well, and set the delay knob to «1 step». In addition to all this – set the amount (amt – the little knob at the far right) to maximum.

Step six:

You now have a basic bass drum patch, but to get the bass drum sound, you will probably have to play somewhere between four or five octaves lower – so to change this, you might want to change the master pitch of the instruments four or five octaves down (that is right click four or five octaves higher up than where the orange light is to make it lower).

I find setting it five and a half octave lower often does the trick (notice I set it to G rather than C).

And there’s your bass drum.

Now to change the timbre of the drum you could:


1. Change the waveform of one of the second or third oscillators to triangle or square to make the drum a bit more distorted.

2. Add a weak distortion to the drum using the Fruity Fast Dist, Hardcore, or using a bitcrusher like dBlue Crusher (freeware vst)

3. Put it through a compressor such as Fruity Compressor, Fruity Limiter, Maximus or Soundgoodizer (Soundgoodizer is great for adding a bit of «color» to the sound).

4. Equalize it (which is fairly obvious – equalizing the sound is particularly useful when designing any sort of percussive sound).


Part two – The Tom-Toms.


To create tom toms, simply experiment with the delay of the pitch and volume envelope and make it slightly longer – then change the master pitch of the instrument or just simply play notes higher up on the keyboard.


If you want a 70s lazer sound, all you need to do is experiment with the delay again and play even higher notes than that of the tom-toms.


Part three – The Snare Drum and Hi Hat.


If you followed the steps for creating the bass drum part one to four, all you really need to do is change the waveforms to white noise (the waveform right next to the question mark ( ? ) waveform). Then experiment with the delay.


The rule of thumb is basically that the delay of the snare should be slightly longer than the hi-hat.


To add colour to the hi-hat sound you might experiment with filtering it and/or equalizing it. You could use the resonance button (also known as modulator y within the 3XOSC) to make it slightly more metallic.


Putting it all together.


To make a beat you could simply use the step sequencer interface or you could set up a layer, set all the different 3XOSCs as children, then click «split children» in the layer properties and you now have a drumkit ready to use within the Piano Roll.


The drums in this tutorial will sound rather synthetic, which is why they’re perfect for any kind of lo-fi music. All you need to do to make it sound like a «Game Boy» drumkit is to set all the synths through a bitcrusher and there you go.



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