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Using the Alternating Pitch Technique on Drum Sounds

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Technique Adds Unique Dimension to Your Drum Frameworks

By AMIR SAID (SA’ID)

Even though “the drums” are fundamental in beatmaking, many beatmakers overlook the various ways to get the most out of their existing drum sounds. One way to get more out of your drums sounds is to alternate the pitch of each drum sound within various measures—if not all measures—of a beat.

Changing the pitch of drum sounds is something that I often do in the creation of my beats. For snares, I typically have the same snare sound landing in a beat at three different pitch speeds (degrees). That is to say, I’ll have one snare sound set at its original pitch level, the same sound set at a faster or slower pitch speed (usually one eighth or quarter note faster or slower), and the same sound again set at a faster or slower pitch speed (usually one eighth or quarter note faster or slower). Sometimes I determine the right pitch-degree of each snare-hit in real time usually by assigning the same snare sound—at three different pitch-speeds—to three different pads on my MPC, and playing the snares while the rest of the beat is in play/record mode. Still, there are other times (perhaps more often) where I simply play each snare-hit at the same pitch, then I later go back in and program the pitch changes at the points that feel right to me.

For hi-hats, rides, and tambourines, I use the same alternating-pitch technique for; however, for hi-hats, I usually only alternate the pitch of hi-hits at specific points within a beat. And when it comes to kick sounds, I use the alternating-pitch technique even more sparingly. With kicks, I only slightly change the pitch of the kick at certain times within the drum pattern.

Finally, I should point out that not only does alternating the pitch of your drum sounds allow you to get much more out of your existing drum sounds, such a technique also helps you create drum frameworks that really come alive. In other words, in addition to creating unique textures and sonic impressions, using the alternating pitch technique allows you to make your drums come off more natural, and it helps decrease the mechanical feel that often occurs with electronic drum sounds. Moreover, used in the right way—that is, for feel and sound, NOT just for the sake of using a technique—the alternating pitch technique also helps with the tightening up of the rhythm of your beats.


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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual