The classic Roland TR-909 drum machine has found favour with many house and techno producers over the years. It also provides a reasonable amount of flexibility when it comes to adjusting the toms (of which there are three – each with their own controls, including tuning). Even if you are using a VST recreation or just samples, its sounds have the ability to be the centrepiece of a tom-led rhythm track. Here we’ll use D16’s Drumazon plugin to create a classic TR-909-inspired house beat.
Roll With It
One of the most flexible approaches to experimenting with tuned drums in an electronic music context is to use a subtractive (analogue-style) synth to generate the sound. Many plugins in fact have ‘Syn Tom’ or ‘Syn Snare’ presets or something similar, which should make a good starting point.
Here we’ve dialled in a classic synth tom sound in Steinberg Retrologue:
From this it’s then possible to pick and choose notes that fit the track, or even create new musical elements:
Synthesised toms are also great for adding movement to a track. You can even use automation to retune them whilst the track plays:
And why not adjust other drum synth parameters using automation as well? Here we’ve automated the filter cutoff on the synth tom track:
Retuning of drum hits isn’t just the preserve of toms and kicks. Try experimenting with all the elements. Claps, snares and hi-hats, for example, don’t usually have such a discernible fundamental frequency as kicks and toms but adjusting their pitch can help them to cut through a busy mix more easily.
Drum tuning is a frequently overlooked technique which can make all the difference to your production. A quick play with the tuning controls can have a huge impact. Give it a try and you might just unlock one of the secrets to cleaner mixes and more cohesive tracks.