Layering Kicks using a Tone Generator and Noise Gate

Learn how to create epic new kick drums using noise gates and tone generators. The noise gate shapes the tone generator which is then layered with a kick drum.

Drum Design

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Layering Kicks using a Tone Generator and Noise Gate is an advanced video tutorial that explains how to layer kick drums using a noise gate and a tone generator.

As technology moves forward we are seeing more and more home studio based producers releasing commercial content into the marketplace. These producers are having to multitask as they are expected to fill every role that a commercial studio would have provided. From tracking to mastering home studio owners are having to wear many hats and one area that is garnering interest is that of sound design. Producers love to have their own signature colour when producing. It is this that distinguishes one producer from another. Tony Visconti productions sound very different to Trevor Horn productions. Sound designers are exactly the same. In modern music the role of the sound designer has blurred into the role of the producer and vice versa. In essence, producers are becoming sound designers and they are doing this simply because they want to create their own custom sounds to be used in their productions.

The technique I am going to share with you here is a little advanced in that you would have to wear both the sound designer and producer hats. However, once you have watched the video and started to use this technique in your productions you will be amazed at how simple yet powerful it is.

The process involves using a noise gate to shape a tone that is generated by a tone module. This tone is then used as a layer with a kick drum sound. The noise gate is triggered via its side-chain by the kick drum sound that is being layered. This ensures both the kick drum and the tone are played in sync. The tones that are selected for layering with the kick drum are sine waves and brown noise. The tone generator is used to output the noise/sine wave and this is shaped with the noise gate’s parameters. The frequency range of the kick sound is isolated using the noise gate’s side-chain filtering so only a specific range of the kick drum’s frequencies trigger the noise gate. This ensures that you do not get frequency clashing and masking between the kick drum sound and the noise or sine wave being used.


Layering Kicks using a Tone Generator and Noise Gate also covers all the various colours of noise.

In essence, noise is a randomly changing, chaotic signal, containing an endless number of sine waves of all possible frequencies with different amplitudes. However, randomness will always have specific statistical properties. These will give the noise its specific character or timbre.

If the sine waves’ amplitude is uniform, which means every frequency has the same volume, the noise sounds very bright. This type of noise is called white noise.

White noise is a signal with the property of having constant energy per Hz bandwidth (an amplitude-frequency distribution of 1) and so has a flat frequency response and because of these properties, white noise is well suited to test audio equipment. The human hearing system’s frequency response is not linear but logarithmic. In other words, we judge pitch increases by octaves, not by equal increments of frequency; each successive octave spans twice as many Hertz as the previous one down the scale. And this means that when we listen to white noise, it appears to us to increase in level by 3dB per octave.

If the amplitude of the sine waves decreases with a curve of about -6 dB per octave when their frequencies rise, the noise sounds much warmer. This is called pink noise.

Pink noise contains equal energy per octave (or per 1/3 octave). The amplitude follows the function 1/f, which corresponds to the level falling by 3dB per octave. These attributes lend themselves perfectly for use in acoustic measurements.

If it decreases with a curve of about -12 dB per octave we call it brown noise.

Brown noise, whose name is actually derived from Brownian motion, is similar to pink noise except that the frequency function is 1/(f squared). This produces a 6dB-per-octave attenuation.

Blue noise is essentially the inverse of pink noise, with its amplitude increasing by 3dB per octave (the amplitude is proportional to f).

Violet noise is the inverse of brown noise, with a rising response of 6dB per octave (amplitude is proportional to f squared).

So we have all these funky names for noise, even though you need to understand their characteristics, but what are they used for?

White noise is used in the synthesizing of hi-hats, crashes, cymbals etc, and is even used to test certain generators.

Pink noise is great for synthesizing ocean waves and the warmer type of ethereal pads.

Brown noise is cool for synthesizing thunderous sounds and deep and bursting claps. Of course, they can all be used in varying ways for attaining different textures and results, but the idea is simply for you to get an idea of what they ‘sound’ like.

Although it sounds complex it is actually quite simple to execute once you know what each component does – a tone generator to generate noise and a sine wave and a noise gate to trigger the tone and shape it. The rest comes down to triggering and patching and that is explained in detail. The reason I am using both brown noise and a sine wave is that I want to show you different ways to add colour and vibrancy to a staid drum sound by the process of layering. The brown noise allows for a reverb type of colour whereas the sine wave allows for a sub-layer to beef up the kick drum.

Layering Kicks using a Tone Generator and Noise Gate video I show you how to use a noise gate and how to set it up for external triggering. I show you how to generate tones using the DAW’s built-in tone generator and explain why certain tones are better suited to drum sound layering that others. I explain how to set up the noise gate for side-chain filtering and show you how to shape the sound running through the gate. I show you how to extract the drum sound from an existing drum beat and use it for triggering the noise gate. I show you how to use a delay effect processor to create a crackle effect for the tone layer. I end by showing you how each tone affects the layer for the kick drum sound.

Plugins used in this video:

FabFilter Pro G

Steinberg TestGenerator

Waves F6 Dynamic EQ

Softube Tube Leveling Amp TLA-100A

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Setting up the Signal Path
  • Gates and S/C Triggering
  • Concepts and Practices of Layering Low Frequencies
  • Frequency Matching for Kicks
  • Filtering Frequencies for S/C the Body
  • Tone Generators
  • Using the various Colours of Noise
  • Changing Order of Processing
  • Understanding Low-End Concepts

If you found this tutorial of help then maybe these will also be of benefit:

Shaping Drum Sounds for Layering

Layering Drum Sounds using Multiple Layers

Drum Layering Basics

Create Epic Drums Sounds using the ‘Flip and Nudge’ Technique

Low End Compilation

The Art of Drum Layering (second edition)

The Art of Drum Layering – Advanced