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Making a Snare Drum in Ableton's Operator

Rather than use the same old snare samples that everyone else is using, why not create your own snare drum from scratch? Not only will this make your drums completely unique, it will also give you much more control over the sounds themselves and teach you more about sound design.

In this article we will be creating a simple TR-808 style snare from scratch using Ableton’s Operator synth, however, don’t worry if you don’t use Ableton, as the techniques are fully transferrable to other DAWs.

Let's start! Grab the Operator device and place in on your track. You may want to first create a midi pattern for your snare track and loop it.

Firstly, in the bottom right panel, change the oscillator algorithm to the square shaped formation. These algorithms govern the interaction between the various oscillators. In this case we will want Oscillator B to module Oscillator A.

How to change the oscillator algorithm in Ableton's Operator device.

Select Oscillator A, switch on Fixed Frequency, and set the Loop mode to Trigger. Keep the waveform as a Sine Wave, setting the frequency to around 90Hz and the level around -10dB. Adjust the envelope to have zero attack, a decay of around 320ms, a release time of around 50ms, and zero sustain.

How to adjust the waveform frequency in Ableton's Operator device.

Next, select Oscillator B, and set the Looped Noise option for the waveform. This will add some randomness into our sound. Set the level to around -15dB, again select the fixed frequency option and tune the frequency to 2 kHz. Bring the sustain right down again, with a decay of around a second. Once again set to Loop to Trigger Mode.

How to change the waveform envelope in Ableton's Operator device.

Next, select Oscillator C, right click, and copy from Oscillator A. Adjust the frequency to around 100Hz, and shorten the decay to around 20ms. Adjust the level to taste.

How to adjust the second waveform frequency in Ableton's Operator device.

Now we’re going to add a pitch envelope. Select the Pitch envelope option of the right-hand side and set it to around 60%. Set the decay to 20ms, and the peak to +48 semi-tones.

How to set the pitch envelope in Ableton's Operator device.

By now you should start to get a recognisable snare sound. Have a play with all the parameters above to adjust the sound to your tastes. The next step is to add some processing.

Firstly, grab a Saturator and increase the drive to around 10-12dB. Next add a Vocoder with the noise carrier selected and set the dry/wet to around 25%. I've also added a glue compressor with soft clipping enabled. Lastly, I've added a high-pass EQ to remove the lower frequencies. This can also be used to accentuate specific frequencies within the sound to shape the snare further.

Ableton session view

And there you have it ! A decent snare sound that you can now experiment with and tailor to fit into your productions.

Here's the result:

I hope you enjoyed this quick tutorial on how to make a TR-808 style snare.

If you're interested in making your own drums, then you may enjoy the following article where I attempt to make a Kick Drum from a sample of my daughter's guinea-pig!

If you're serious about creating great sounding drums, then make sure you also check out my ultimate guide to drum programming:

Have a great day and happy producing!


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