Tuning your percussive parts are essential to getting a great mix!
Whether we like to admit it or not, every producer has their particular process for mixing their tracks. Depending on the style of music that we produce, we have our go to traits that help define our track as that particular style. Part of what gives us a great mix is how we use the Equalizer (EQ) with particular instruments.
An EQ is essentially a tool to help producers weed out any unnecessary frequencies from our tracks. Another useful way to implement an EQ is to use it as a way to tune percussive instruments to match the key of the song.
Now you may be asking yourself, "Why would I have to tune my drum parts?" The answer is simple. Like any other instrument, the percussion parts need to be in the same key as the one the song was written in. Regardless of the sub-genre, Dance Music is inherently built on its percussive elements.
The beat is what always brings people to the dance floor and a disjointed rhythm section will ruin the track for everybody listening. With that said, I'm going to give you producers out there a few tips to help make sure your drum parts are in tune.
TIP #1: Use a note frequency chart to find specific notes
Regardless of the DAW that you're using, having a note frequency chart at your side will greatly help you find the right key for your percussion parts. For example, if you're song is in the key of C, it would be best served to boost your EQ at one of those frequency ranges that match the C note. Let's use a kick drum as our example. In this case, the C note at 130 Hz would be the best spot to boost. Another thing you could do is to boost another matching frequency to double your sound.
If you want a particular part to sound thicker and bigger, you could boost a matching frequency in another octave to help beef up that part. Let's say that we want a little more punch to the kick that you just tuned. You can go back into your EQ and boost the same note in another octave (ex. 65 Hz). That should give your kick sound another layer and have a more pronounced overall sound.
In terms of other drum parts, one thing that is common amongst producers is to tune their snare drum up a 5th from the original note in the kick. For those of you that aren't well versed in music theory, tuning a snare up to the "5th" means tuning the snare to the 5th note in the song's given scale/key. In our example, that means that we would be tuning the snare to a frequency range that matches a G note since that is 5 notes up from the original C.
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The reason for doing this would be to give your percussion parts different sounds and to help them stand out on their own. While there's nothing wrong with tuning all of your percussive parts to the same note, using other notes in the same key can give your parts more variety.
TIP #2: Use a tuner with the EQ to tune drums
Another way to tune your drums could be to use a tuner while EQ'ing your drum parts. When using a tuner on a selected track, the tuner will recognize what note your part is currently being played in. If it's not in the right key, you can adjust your EQ until the tuner matches the proper note. If you'd like, you can double the particular part like suggested in the previous tip. Regardless, using a tuner while you EQ the drum parts can quickly identify where your current drum part lays and if it needs to be fixed.
Tip #3: Use a frequency shifter to tune your drums
The final tip I have for you to tune your drums is to use a frequency shifter. If you don't want to use a tuner and know what frequency range your drum parts need to be in, a frequency shifter could be a great option to tune your drums. Instead of recognizing a specific note, a frequency shifter will recognize the parts in terms of Hz.
Let's say that you're using a kick sample for your beat. That sample may sound great but it could be in the wrong key. The sample comes in at 200 Hz but in order for it to be in key, it has to be at 130 Hz. In this case, you could add a frequency shifter to that track and lower the frequency until the sample is in key.
Using a frequency shifter effectively will help you adjust your specific part without losing any clarity or tonality.
There you have it. There's three tips to help make sure that all of your drum and other percussive parts are in tune. Having a strong beat is crucial for any dance track so making sure that everything is properly tuned will go a long ways towards the track sounding crisp and powerful. I hope you guys enjoyed this tips and use them in your every day workflow!
H/T: Drum Rack Basics