In this tutorial we will create hand drum sound.
We will try to achieve natural timbre and also natural dynamics with the techniques covered in previous Drum Synthesis in FM8 tutorial series. I strongly suggest you go trough this tutorial first in order to understand the basic underlaying principle behind this tutorial.

Creating the sound

This time we will also use X and Z modules to further shape our sound.

Here is simple MIDI sequence I am using in Ableton Live to sequence the sound.


Also we should add a bit of reverb in FM8 effect section which will greatly improve our sound:

Activate operator F.

This will act as our main carrier for the sound.

We want the frequency of operator F to be fully determined by the frequency of the note played, so set operator’s F ratio to 1.

Set the envelope to very short percussive shape like in the picture below. Set velocity sensitivity of the envelope to 50.

Enable operator E, this will be our second carrier and it will act as our initial and also shortest part of the drum sound.

Set it’s ratio to 1.510

It’s envelope should be shorter than the one we have set for the operator F, also set the velocity sensitivity to 50.

Route the output of operator E to filter module Z with full amount.

We will use filter to add some resonating quality and thump to our hand drum sound.

Set the Z module parameters like in the picture below. Note that these are just rough guidelines and you should tweak the filter to your liking later on since it has great impact on the overall sound.

You have noticed I have set very high resonance and since the amplitude envelope of the operator E is so short this just add some bite to the sound rather than anything else.

Creating initial stage of the sound

Now we have to create some enharmonic frequency content for the initial stage of our drum. In the previous tutorial I explained in detail why we must do that in order to achieve convincingly sounding drums.

Enable operator D and set it’s envelope to be even shorter than the other two before.

Set it’s ratio to 0.

We do this in order to fully determine operator’s E frequency only with modulation signal which we will set in a moment.

It also means that operator E frequency is not directly affected by the note we play on our keyboard.

Set envelope like in the picture below and velocity sensitivity of the envelope to -38.

Now set operator D to modulate operator E with the amount of 100.

Set the operator E to modulate operator D with the amount of 85.

This introduces some enharmonic frequency content in the waveform and since we routed the output of operator F to filter module Z which is set to lowpass filter with high resonance this gives the sound very subtle but important natural resonating quality.

Now we have created the initial stage of the drum sound rich with enharmonic frequency content. But we still need a bit of high frequency noisy snap in the beginning of our sound just to add some sharpness to the very first stage of our drum sound.

Creating noise component of the sound

We will use noise module X for this.

Route the output of operator F to module X with the amount of 20.

Also route the output of operator E to module X with the amount of 10.

Set the X module envelope like in the picture below, velocity sensitivity to 80.

Set the Noise and saturator section of the module X like this. Note that with changing the resonance and cutoff value settings you can get some very useful variations in the sound.

Finishing touches

Now as the last thing we should add another operator to introduce even more enharmonic content and also this operator should modulate both of our carriers so we get some kind of interaction between the operators (and modulators) which will introduce even more complexly related harmonics in our signal.

Enable operator C.

Set it’s ratio to 0.700.

Set it’s self-modulation amount to 23.

Operator D should be modulating operator C with the amount of 16.

In turn operator C should be modulating operator F with the amount of 21.

Also set operator F to modulate operator E with the value of 14.

So now every carrier and modulator is effecting and modulating each other. This way we have established very complex frequency content in our sound.

Velocity and Key Scaling of the envelopes

The other very important thing to consider is assigning the Key and Velocity Scaling for any envelope or envelopes.

By this you can change the timbre in very subtle and interesting ways.

Also note that Velocity Scaling in any envelope can be also set to negative amount and in combination with Key Scaling you can get some really interesting articulations just with changing the picth and velocity of the notes.

I highly recommend you explore this technique since it will greatly improve the realism of any drum sounds synthesized with FM8.

Creating variations

Now from this sound you can develop a wide range of other percussive sounds.

Try to change:

Modulation amounts between operators and also carrier output volumes.
Shape of the various envelopes, mainly the slope parameters and velocity sensitivity.
Ratio and offset parameters of any operator.
Key and Velocity Scaling inside envelopes.

Here are few examples. Each variations lasts for four bars:

Hope you have learned something new from this tutorial. Next time we will look into sequencing the drum sounds from within the FM8 with arpeggiator.

Have fun and if you have any questions or comments please leave them below.

Drum Synthesis with FM8: Creating Hand Drum

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  • Angel José

    This tutorial was fantastic! These hand drums sound pretty close to the “panderos” we use in Puerto Rico to play “Bomba y Plena”. Thank you!