Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Making a Roll Sound Realistic

This post explains how to make realistic sounding drum rolls with a drum machine. In order to sound like a drummer, you need to think like one. Firstly, I need to define, for those non-drummers, that there are two main types of rolls:

  1. The single-stroke roll: The hand pattern is Right (R), Left (L), Right, Left...and the sticks do not bounce at all. Often heard in Nirvana's songs.
  2. The multiple-bounce roll: The hand pattern is R,L,R, L...and the sticks bounce several times with each stroke. Often heard at the circus before anything "exciting"* happens. It is also often heard in songs played by any half-decent drummer.
* Exciting is in inverted commas because I don't believe much exciting happens at the circus :-)

With that in mind, we can edit the volume of each hit to mimic the movements of the drummers arms. Every drummer has a weaker arm, which will produce a quieter and different sounding hit. It produces a different sound because it has to hit the drum head at a different point to that of the other hand. The easiest way to mimic this with a drum machine is to make the each weaker hand's hit about 1/2 to 3/4 the volume of the stronger hand's. Being a right-handed drummer, I always choose the left hand to be weaker. This means that a single-strike roll will look like the figure below in Hydrogen:

For the multiple-bounce roll, one needs to make the sticks sound like they are bouncing. The first way to do this can be really painstaking and yields rather poor results. For this method, you add each bounce sound in as a snare hit but with a much quieter volume. This is seen below:

A better sounding and easier way of doing this is to use a drumkit which has a drag/ghost note prerecorded (A drag is a drum note which lets the drumstick bounce). The hydrogen kit that I made (available here) has a drag note and produces a simpler multiple-bounce roll seen below.

Here is and mp3 of each of the above rolls: Rolls.mp3 (285 kB). The first roll is a single-stroke roll followed by the two multiple-bounce rolls, the first is uses no drag/ghost hits and the second does.

These are the easiest ways of getting realistic drum rolls out of a machine. Bare in mind that a machine will never sound exactly like a drummer, there are just too many variables. Hydrogen also has a cool humanize dial which makes each beat slightly out of time randomly. This can be useful, but don't overdo it.

Other posts you might find interesting:
How to make a Hydrogen Drumkit
Pimp my Beats
Multiple Outputs for Hydrogen
My Attempt at a Hydrogen Drumkit
Hydrogen Drumkits


Post Paint Boy said...

Thank you so much for this. Man, you made my day!!

Bart said...

Hi there! Mike posted something about this blog on my website and I'm glad I followed the link, for once. OS music is not one of the most covered areas, so it's good to see a blog completely devoted to it. I've added you to my blog-roll if you don't mind.

Keep up the good work,

Brian said...

Hey Bart,

I'm glad you found my site enjoyable and thanks for the encouragement. I plan to keep writing up what I know and what I continue to learn as long as there are people reading.


Anonymous said...

hey good guide and kit, but the snare drag sound always makes a wierd clipping sound after the actual drum sound has played.

any reason for this happening?

Brian said...


When I recorded my drumkit, the sound clips were actually very long because Tama is well-known for its sustain. Hydrogen limits the length of the sound which will make it clip at the end.

The best way of getting rid of this is to play with the sustain within Hydrogen. Basically you want each sound clip to fade out at the end so it doesn't clip.

I'm sorry that it has this fault but I plan to re-record my kit sometime to correct this error.

The UltraAcoustic kit also has a drag and you can use the same technique with that kit.

Thanks for the feedback,

Kurt Zawiedek said...

Nice tutorial! I'd like to add something:

A third important roll is the Paradiddle. In short, Paradiddles are
patterns that make use of double strokes, e.g. L, R, R, L, R, R, L, R, ...

Many drumsets have two or more snare sounds. Pick one for your "left" stroke and another for the "right" stroke. Now compose your roll from those two sounds: Put beats on snares 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, ...

If you have one multi layered snare, alternate the velocity of each stroke in a paradiddle pattern.

Adding some humanizing velocity changes for a multi layer snare can further vary the snare sound. Depending on your settings, this can make the roll sound very realistic.


Brian the Lion said...

Hey Kurt,

That's a fantastic idea, thanks for the awesome input.

The rudiment you explained is actually a triplet, which is also useful.

A single-paradiddle is actually R,L,R,R,L,R,L,L,...
(You should be able to speak the rudiment, i.e. Pa(R)-Ra(L)-Did(R)-Dle(R))

A double-paradiddle is then R,L,R,L,R,R,L,R,L,R,L,L,...

Finally the triple-paradidddle is R,L,R,L,R,L,R,R,L,R,L,R,L,R,L,L,...

All of these rudiments fall under the roll category so feel free to experiment with all of them.

Another roll rudiment is the Ma-Ma,Da-Da or double-stroke roll which looks like:


Guy said...


Sorry, late to the party here, but I discovered using trackers that a good way to get authentic sounding rolls is to have more than 1 pitch - harder hits sound higher pitched. In Hydrogen you could have two differently pitched incidences of the same snare in a drumkit. Combine that with the volume changes you rightly advise & see if you like it :0)

Just discovered this site - wonderful!


Brian the Lion said...

Hey Guy,

Thanks for the sound advice - haha! Lame I know. Please note that our website has moved to www.briansbedroom.org.