How to Layer Ableton Samples to Achieve Depth

Posted on October 07, 2014 by Samples From Mars

Layering Ableton samples is a great way to add stereo imaging, loudness (while maintaining headroom), and space for your drum samples without using external plugins such as reverbs and delays. While many people (myself once included) may think that layering samples is as straightforward as putting two samples on top of each other, this is far from the truth, (and often this can actually create unwanted phasing issues).

While the above technique may sometimes work for adding high and low kicks together, the purpose of this tutorial is not intended for kick drums, but for claps, snares, hi hats, and percussive drum samples. It is based on the general concept that you do not want all of your transients hitting at the same time (more on this later). In fact, with the below technique, you technically are not even layering your drums, as the sounds never play at the exact same time!

Use the Same Drum Sample at Various Pitches

The first process will show you how to create various "rooms" for your drums, without resorting to reverbs, which can often take up too much space in a mix, or make your drum sounds too soft. Below is a great technique to keep your drums dry, but make them hit a bit harder and find a space within your mix.

1. Create a new sampler instrument and drag your Ableton samples (use a clap for this example) into the zone area.

2. Change the number of voices to 1 in the bottom right section of the drum sampler. Shown below are my default drum sampler settings.

3. Create a one bar midi clip. We will be drawing in our clap - place a midi note exactly on the 2nd and 4th 1/4 notes of the bar, at the root key of your sampler (meaning your sample will be unpitched here). Mine is set at C3.

4. Now the trick. Exit "Snap to Grid" mode by pressing command + 4. Draw another midi note slightly after and 4 steps above the note at 1.2. Do the same for the note at 1.4, but try a note two steps below, and slightly later. The purpose of removing the grid is so that you can create smaller delay times between your samples.

5. Press play and take a listen - it should sound great! Try experimenting with the distance in between each of the two notes, and the second note's pitch. The second note's pitch and timing has a huge affect on the overall tone, and "room" of the clap, and because the number of voices is set to "1", it cuts off that first note, so there are no phasing issues. The transient is happening again, but at a different time, and in place of the decay of that first ableton sample. Try turning voices to 2 and see what that sounds like - not so nice to my ears. Listen to the phasing!

6. Once you've heard how altering the timings and pitches of the notes sound like, try adding a third note, but this time slightly before the 1.2 mark. In fact, you can move that original note so that it does not hit exactly on the 2nd and 4th beats at all (if, for instance, your kick drum sample is exactly on beat, this may be preferable, as the sounds will cut through more since they will not be hitting at the same time). Or, try adding an additional note even later.

You can drastically change your claps, hi hats, and percussion this way. Keep experimenting!

Use Different Drum Samples With Drum Racks

If you've downloaded any of the Samples From Mars samples, such as the Linn Samples Library or CR-78 pack, we've given you many different pitches of drums so that you don't have to re-pitch the samples within Ableton. The reason we've done this is because we have re-pitched the sounds in the analog world, using either a tape machine, SP-1200, or both. Often this sound is preferable than pitching something digitally in Ableton.

With Drum Racks, you can also use different samples entirely, using the above concepts to create radically different Ableton samples. With drum racks, you additionally have the ability to pan each of the chains / notes, so you can create great stereo image drums which won't collapse in mono.

1. Create a new Drum Racks instrument and drag 2 - 3 different claps and/or snares into the corresponding zone area of 2 - 3 different drum pads.

2. Set each of these drum pads to the same "Choke" group.

3. Repeat steps 3 - 6 as listed above.

Posted in Ableton, Layering Drums