CUSTOM 909 kit in Ableton
909-style hi-hats are synonymous with many different electronic genres, and although original hardware 909s cost a small fortune these days there are other ways to get close to the sound. D16’s excellent Drumazon plugin is one option, but you can achieve similar results on a budget in your DAW. Most DAWs include a 909-style kit as a sampler preset, but learning how to build a custom kit from scratch is an essential technique, allowing you to explore some of the creative options found in your sampler. In our case we’ll be using Ableton Live’s Drum Rack and a few 909 samples, with a focus on the hi-hats.
To begin, let’s load up an instance of Drumazon to get a sense of the sound we’re after. We’ve turned off the Int Sync option so that Drumazon syncs to the host tempo, and programmed this basic drum rhythm using the bass drum, hand clap, closed hi-hat and open hi-hat. An emulation like Drumazon captures the spirit and vibe of the 909, producing slight inaccuracies from one hit to the next.
Here’s the same pattern with the bass drum and clap muted. Note how the closed hat chops off the open hat. This is an effect known as choking (sometimes also called muting, mute groups or choke groups, depending on your software).
Now we’ll create a similar hi-hat groove using some 909 samples and Ableton’s Drum Rack. Load a Drum Rack onto a MIDI channel in Ableton and add some hi-hat samples by dragging and dropping them onto the grid on the Drum Rack. We’ve sourced both open and closed 909 style hats. If you don’t have any samples like this to hand there are plenty of free 909 drum sample libraries around, or failing that at least make sure you choose open and closed hi hats, and that the open hat has a nice tail. Here are our closed and open hat samples, which we’ve dragged onto C1 & C#1 respectively:
Now insert a MIDI clip onto your Drum Rack and program a hi-hat pattern. As shown below, we’ve placed the open hat sample on the off beat, and in the first half of the bar we’ve placed a closed hat sample just after the open hat. In the second half of the bar we’ve made sure there’s a gap after the open hat.
For starters, our rhythm could do with some swing and variation in the velocity of the hits, mimicking the shuffle and accent features of the 909. In Ableton, we’ve selected the ‘Hip Hop 1.agr’ groove from the Groove Pool and committed the groove to our hi-hat part. This applied the groove settings to our MIDI clip. There’s now some nice swing to our hits and some variation in the velocity.
The next step is to make the closed hi-hat chop off the tail off the open hi-hat, as it does on a real 909. To do this, click on the Show/Hide Chain List button in the Drum Rack – this brings up some extra options below, one being a Show/Hide Input/Output Section (the symbol being ‘I-O’). Clicking this reveals some extra options for our samples in the Chain List. Under Choke, select 1 for both samples. Now both our open and closed hi-hat samples are being sent to Choke Group 1, meaning if one of the samples plays directly after the other it will chop the tail off the sample. Listening to our loop now, the tail of the open hi hat is chopped off when the closed hat sounds directly afterwards:
Finally, we’ve added a flanger to our hi-hats with the Dry/Wet control set to 15.9% for a very subtle effect, creating mild variations in the hi-hat sounds as the track plays. We’ve also added the kick and clap samples to give our loop some perspective: