PreSonus Blog

Friday Tip: Percussion Part Generator

Just as we can use plug-ins to process audio, Studio One’s Note FX are plug-ins for MIDI data. They tend to be overshadowed by our shiny audio plug-ins, but have a lot of uses…like generating cool percussion parts.

This may sound like a stretch (“c’mon, can it really generate a musical percussion part?”), but the audio example will convince you. The first four measures are a percussion part created by the Arpeggiator NoteFX, the second four measures combine the percussion part with a house drum loop, and the final four measures are the house drum loop by itself—so you can hear how boring the loop sounds without the added percussion part.


This part was created with three conga and two bongo samples, each assigned to its own MIDI note. The initial “part” was just those five notes, each with a duration of four measures. It doesn’t really matter how long the notes are, you just want them to be continuous for the duration of the drum part. I then added the Note FX Arpeggiator plug-in to arpeggiate the notes (Fig. 1).


Figure 1: The Note FX Arpeggiator, set up to play different drums at different velocities.

By themselves, the standard up/down and down/up patterns tend to sound overly repetitive. The Random option (outlined in red above) helps, but then you have a random percussion part, which doesn’t relate to the music. So let’s introduce the secret sauce: automation (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The automation lanes control Note FX parameters.

The key here is automating the Play Mode and Rate. The Play Mode automation starts with up/down for a measure, then down/up, then random for a bit more than a measure, and then down/up again. This adds variety to the part, and when it repeats, the random section creates additional variations so that all the parts don’t sound the same.

But what really adds the human element is varying the Rate. It starts off as 1/16th, but then just before the third measure starts, does one beat that starts with 1/32nd notes and ramps down over the beat to 16th-note triplets. The last three beats of the four measures uses a 32nd-note Rate so that the “robot percussion” adds some tasty, faster fills to lead into the next measure. I used down/up during these faster parts, but random can sound good too.

The final touch is Swing, which is set to around 70% in the audio example. Note how even though the drum loop is metronomically correct, adding swing to the percussion part lets it “dance” on top of the drums.

Now, here’s a very important consideration: You may look at the above and think “this sounds too easy,” or maybe “but what are the exact settings I should use?” The answers are yes, it really is that easy; and the exact settings really don’t matter all that much—feel free to experiment. Studio One’s little robot percussionist is full of surprises, and the way to uncover those is to play around with the settings, and automate them to create variations.

Finally, I’d like to mention that I have a new eBook out! At 258 pages, “How to Create Compelling Mixes in Studio One” is considerably longer than my two previous Studio One books. I’ve been working on it for the past year, and it’s finally available in the eBook section of the PreSonus shop. Check it out—I sincerely hope it helps you make better mixes.






  • SuperJay2222

    thanks craig!

  • Jimmy Botella

    Brilliant!!!! Thanks a lot!!!

  • Check out the section about Control Link in the help. This is a brilliant Studio One feature. Basically, you click on the control you want to automate, and look in the Control Link window for a little hand. Drag the hand down into the track if you want the automation in the track, or into an empty space in the track column to create a new automation track. Control Link is incredible, after you read about how it works and try it, you’ll use it all the time to automate just about any parameter. You can even use it to automate parameters for programs rewired into Studio One!

  • Jimmy Botella

    Hi Craig, Absolutely love the tip and have started experimenting with it BUT I couldn’t find how to set up the animation tracks to control the Play mode and Play rate in the arpeggiator. I am pretty familiar with automation and use it frequently in for volume but never used it before to control parameters such as the Play mode. Tried everything that came to mind. Googles automation of arpeggiator and automation of note FX but could not find a way to do that, Any help? or a site where I can read some more?

  • <>

    You can use any instrument where you can assign a sample to a key, or which has samples you want to use already assigned to keys. I tested this initially with Cakewalk’s ancient TTS-1 because it has a general MIDI preset with conga sounds. Then I tried it with Impact XT and Kontakt with some different sounds.

    It really is as simple as it sounds – load sounds on pads or keys, or use a preset…whatever puts the sounds you want to use, on keys you can trigger with the NoteFX. Give it a try – load a kit into Impact XT, set up the Note FX, and play around with the Mode and Rate controls, as well as hitting different keys. I hope that after a few minutes of experimenting, this will all make sense.

    But also bear in mind that these are intended to be shorts tips, and the question is always how far to take things. I try to provide a balance of simpler and more advanced tips, and for techniques involving FX Chains, include downloads so people don’t have to actually know anything about FX Chains. Unfortunately after a cursory look I didn’t find an Impact XT preset with only percussion, or I could have referenced that.

    Finally, if you don’t have any percussion sounds, you can create them in Presence XT, as described in the September 20 tip.

  • Zen Kos

    I agree

  • Program

    Love the idea, but here’s the issue… as a relatively new user, there aren’t enough details about how to set this up included here. While I generally understand and have used the NoteFX components, the following isn’t clear: “This part was created with three conga and two bongo samples, each assigned to its own MIDI note.” Say what? Tell us how to do this in clear terms. What instrument is holding the samples? Kontackt is seen in the screen shots, does that mean we might use Impact if we don’t use contact? It just isn’t clear how the various components tie together to create the array you describe. Cool concept for certain but this article didn’t give me enough to go on, so instead of learning something new, I just sort of felt dumb because there’s clearly more to it than is described. Thanks.