PreSonus Blog

Hi-Hat Humanizing

Nothing is more bothersome to me than a 16th note hi-hat pattern with a constant velocity—like the following.

Audio Example 1

“Humanizing,” which usually introduces random changes, attempts to add more interest. But human drummers don’t really randomize (unless they’ve had too many beers). Even if the beats are off a little bit, there’s usually some conscious thought behind the overall timing.

So, what works for me is a mix of deliberate tweaking and what I call “successive humanization,” which applies humanization more than once, in an incremental way. With hi-hats, my goal is rock solid downbeats to maintain the timing, slightly humanized offbeats, and the most humanizing on everything that’s not the downbeat or offbeat. This adds variety without negatively impacting the rhythm.

Let’s fix that obnoxious 16th-note pattern. To start, select all the notes, and bring them down to just below 30% (fig. 1).

Figure 1: All the velocities are slightly below 30%.


Next, we’ll use Macros to select specific notes for editing. Select all the notes, click on the Macro View button (between Q and Action), click Action in the Macro Edit menu, and choose Note Selection > Select Notes Downbeat. Raise all the downbeats to just below 95% or so. Then, choose Note Selection again, but this time select Offbeat, and raise the offbeats to just below 50%. Now your notes look like fig. 2.

Figure 2: The downbeats are just below 95%, and the offbeats are just below 50%.


The part sounds like this…we’re on our way.

Audio Example 2

Close the Macro view. Now we’ll humanize the lowest-velocity notes a little bit. Select all the notes. Click on Action, and under Global, choose Select Notes. Choose Range, set Velocity from 1% to 30%, and click OK (fig. 3). This is why we wanted to set the notes slightly below 30%—to make sure we caught all of them in this step.

Figure 3: Getting ready to humanize notes with velocities under 30%.

Choose Action > Humanize. We’re going to Humanize the notes downward a bit, so set Add Velocity Range to -10% and 0% (fig. 4).

Figure 4: Humanizing has been restricted to lowering velocities somewhere between 0% and -10%, but only for notes with velocities under 30%.

Let’s introduce some successive humanization. Click on Action, and again, Select Notes. Choose Range, set Velocity from 1% to 50%, and click OK. Now we’ll humanize velocity for the notes that were originally under 50% and also those that were under 30%. Humanize again to -10%, as done in the previous step. There’s a little more variety in the following audio example.

Audio Example 3


Now let’s humanize the start times a bit, but only for the notes below 50%—we want rock-solid downbeats. Select the notes under 50% as you did in the previous step, but this time, for the Humanize menu don’t alter velocity. Just humanize the start time between -0.00.10% and 0.00.10% (fig. 5).

Figure 5: This will humanize start times for all notes currently below 50%.

Now our notes look like fig. 6. Look closely to see the changes caused by humanization.


Figure 6: The sequence now has humanized start times.








And it sounds like…
Audio Example 4

At this point, the Macros and humanization options have added some much-needed variations. Although I feel drum parts always need at least a little of the human touch, thanks to Studio One doing most of the work, at this point only a few small changes are needed. Also, a little filtering can make the harder hits brighter. (Tip: When editing the filter parameters, turning the Resonance way up temporarily makes the range that’s being covered far more obvious.) Fig. 7 shows the final sequence.

Figure 7: This adds a few manual velocity tweaks, along with filter editing to make higher-velocity sounds brighter.

The point of the filter was to give a more subdued hi-hat sound, as you’ll hear in the next audio example. If you want a more metronomic effect, you’d probably prefer the previous audio example…but of course, it all depends on context.

Audio Example 5

You can even try one final humanize on everything—a little velocity, and little start time—and see what happens. If you don’t like it…well, that’s why “undo” exists!