PreSonus Blog

Studio One’s Percussion Part Generator

Shakers, tambourines, eggs, maracas, and the like can add life and interest to a song by complementing the drum track. But it’s not always easy to play this kind of part. It has to be consistent, but not busy; humble enough to stay in the background, but strong enough to add impact…and this sounds like a job for version 4.5’s new MIDI features.

We’ll go through the process of creating a cool, 16th-note-based percussion part, but bear in mind that this is just one approach. Although it works well, there are many ways you can modify this process (which we’ll touch on at the end).

First, Choose Your Sound

Ideally, you’ll have a couple different samples of the percussion instrument you want to use. But if you don’t, there’s a simple workaround. I use Impact for these kinds of parts, and if there’s only one sample of something like a shaker, I’ll drag it to two pads, and detune one of the pads by -1 semitone so they sound different. In the following example, we’ll call the original sample Sound 1, and detuned sample, Sound 2.

The Process

Let’s create a two-bar percussion loop to start. Grab the Draw tool, and set the Quantize value to 1/4. Drag across the two measures to create a hit at every quarter note for Sound 1 (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Having a constant series of 1/4-note hits anchors the rhythm so we can alter other hits.

Next, set the Quantize value to 1/16. Drag across the two measures to create a hit at every 16th note for Sound 2 (Fig. 2). Hit Play, so you can marvel at how totally unmusical it sounds.

Figure 2: We’ll be modifying the series of 16th notes to add interest.

Now let’s make the part sound good. The key here is not to alter the 1/4 note hits—we want them rock solid, so that the rhythm won’t get pulled too far astray when we start adding variations to the 16th notes.

Select only the 16th notes for Sound 2, and let’s use version 4.5’s new Thin Out Notes command. I’m a fan of Delete notes randomly, and we’ll delete 40% of the notes. Choose the 1/16 grid, since that matches the part. Click OK, and now the part isn’t quite so annoyingly constant (Fig. 3).

Figure 3: Dropping out the occasional random note adds interest.

But we still need to do something about the velocity, which is way too consistent—the real world doesn’t work that way. Select the string of 16th notes again, and this time, choose Humanize. Set a Velocity range and Note start range (like -40/40% and -.0015/0.0015 respectively), and then click OK (Fig. 4). Now look at the velocity strip: it’s a lot more interesting. The timing changes are also helpful, but they don’t have the “drunken percussion player” quality that you get a lot with randomized timings, because those rock-solid quarter note hits are still establishing the beat.

Figure 4: Humanizing velocity and start times for only the 16th notes adds variations that make the part more lively.

So now we have an interesting two-measure loop, but let’s not loop it—instead, we’ll create a part that lasts as long as we want, and it will still be interesting. Here’s how.

Duplicate the two measures for as long as you want. Select all the notes in the Sound B row, and choose Randomize notes. Uncheck everything except Shuffle Notes. Click on OK. All the notes will stay in the same position, and because there are no other candidate notes for shuffling, the timing won’t change. What will Shuffle is velocity. If you created a Shuffle Macro for the May 24 tip on End Boring MIDI Drum Parts, it will come in handy here—keep hitting that macro until the pattern is the way you want. After you de-select the notes, if you’ve chosen Velocity for note color, you’ll have a pretty colorful velocity strip (Fig. 5).

Figure 5: Shuffling velocity in a longer part adds more interesting dynamics.

Now you have a part that sounds pretty good, and once you become familiar with the process, you’ll find it takes less time to generate a part than it does to read this. Here are some options to this technique.

  • Instead of creating a short loop, duplicating it, and then shuffling velocity, you can start off with a much longer event using the same basic principle (a row of quarter notes and another of sixteenth notes). Then, when you drop out notes randomly, there will be more variations within the pattern compared to dropping out notes for a couple measures and duplicating them.
  • Another way to do something similar to dropping notes is with the Randomize function—set the lower end of the velocity range to 0. This can even be useful to thin out a part further after dropping random notes, for example, if there’s a lot going on with other instruments in a section.
  • Some percussion instruments have samples of multiple hits. This allows using the Shuffle function, as described in the May 24 tip, to mix up the pitches a bit.
  • A little processing can also be cool—like the Analog Delay, set for a dotted 8th-note delay, mixed in the background…or a little reverb.
  • Re-visit Humanizing, with more drastic velocity changes.

The bottom line: there are a lot of possibilities!

  • Bill Powers Wow Sean had the one and only Craig Anderton reply and doesn’t even say thanks… Did he think he had some company intern? Lol

    He probably hopped off to sign up for some anger management class! I am primarily a guitar player. I’ve learned so much from your sound/effects columns in Guitar Player since the 80’s! That means we’re both vintage experts now 😉 Cheers Craig Anderton!

    Sean….chill man….everything will be ok….

  • This is indeed not a tutorial about Impact XT; it’s about how to create Note events that produce a desired result in any instrument that responds to note events (I just happen to use Impact XT). But I’ll try to help out. 1) Open an instance of Impact XT. 2) Find a one-shot file of the sound you want to use in the Browser. Drag it to the Impact XT pad In the lower left that says C1. 3) Drag the same one-shot file from the Browser to the adjacent pad that says C#1. Now you have sounds that can be triggered by the notes C1 and C#1. 4) Click on the C#1 pad and use the Transpose knob in the Pitch section to tune it up or down a semitone. From here on, start creating a pattern to trigger these notes, as described starting with the section called “The Process.” Hope this helps.

  • SeanW

    So much missing information how to find all the stuff mentioned in this article. It talks about taking sounds from impact but no instructions how to do that. I drag “all percussion” from the list into impact. Then I try to drag a couple similar shakers to make “sound 1, sound 2, like in the photo. Totally doesn’t work. Tried about 12 other things and nothing like what you posted. I think that’s why the guy is saying to use video. You left out so many bit of information the only people that will understand your instructions are those that already know how this stuff works. what the hell use is instructions if they are made by people who don’t think like someone who doesn’t know how to do it. They teach as if you just need to be reminded what you already know. Presonus is moving so fast trying to please the market and don’t give a shit how much time it takes to figure out the most non-intuitive software in history. I used to think for over 20 years that protools was the most non-intuitive. Presonus gets the award for the least useful documentation and the worst possible software support. Good luck if you’re trying to learn Studio One quickly. I should know better than to listen to, read, or watch any support by this company. I pay a company for personal support but I stupidly thought maybe by reading this tip it might make enough sense to use. NO.

  • You click on it. Sorry, didn’t mean to imply it had anything to do with dragging.

  • Jack D. Miller

    How do you “Grab” the draw tool?

  • Mack Zorris

    Thank you. Much easier than what I’ve been doing.

  • A. Jones

    fine in firefox on my PC

  • Cory Kamerud

    Funny I have Firefox and a mac mini 2018. Sorry no help here Marty

  • Anderton

    Thank you for the comment. I know that some people prefer text and some people prefer videos, but unfortunately, it takes me a lot more time to create a video than it does to capture screen shots and write text describing them. If I did videos, these would be more like a “tip of the month” instead of a “tip of the week.” I hope at some point I can streamline the process of making videos, but I’m not there yet…

  • I would love to see a video for an example. I’m not so strong of a reader.

  • Stephen Tickner

    Its fine in Firefox on mac

  • Anderton

    I just checked in on Firefox Windows, there’s nothing wrong. Are you using a Mac?

  • Marty The C