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John D. Leon

Music Composer

How to Make a Drum Kit in Kontakt

Introduction

Native Instrument’s Kontakt 7 is a great platform for making playable drum kits from samples. After making my own, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks. Here is my process for creating a drum kit in Kontakt.

For full official documentation of all Kontakt features, refer to the Kontakt Manual. For scripting in Kontakt, refer to the KSP Reference Manual.

Turn off key tracking

With a brand new instrument, the first thing I’d do is disable key tracking so the sample pitches are not modified by which key is pressed.

Disable key tracking to always play the original sample without pitch modification

Switch to sampler mode

By default, the instrument is set to DFD mode (direct from disk). This mode only loads a portion of samples into memory and then reads the rest from disk when needed. This saves memory, but increases disk reads. If you really need to save RAM, you can leave it in DFD mode, and even do Purge -> Purge all samples, which will free up all RAM and then only load back notes as needed when played.

Because drum kit samples are already short and do not take up a ton of space, I prefer to switch DFD to Sampler. This will load all the samples into memory once and use them from there. This uses more RAM but is faster and reduces disk operations.

The main display of an instrument also shows Memory. Switch between modes and see how your kit does on RAM. Choose the mode that works best for you and your computer. In the case of a simple drum kit, it’s the difference between 1.99MB of RAM and 6.64MB of RAM being used.

Change DFD mode to Sampler mode to keep all samples loaded in RAM

Map samples to keys

Drag the samples into the Mapping Editor. To map one sample per key, drop the samples into the lowest portion of the grid. Drag individual samples around to get them exactly where you want on the piano. I like C3 as a starting place for drums.

Try switching into List View to get another perspective.

Drag samples on the lowest portion of the grid to map single keys per sample

Link velocity to gain

By default, in the Amplifier section, there is a Mod linking Velocity to Volume. So you don’t need to create the modulation on a new instrument, you only need to adjust the slider.

The intensity slider controls the minimum volume floor. With intensity at 100%, volume is completely controlled by velocity. With low intensity, the dynamic range is reduced, and the velocity has little impact on the volume, and the sample is played closer to normal normal volume. Adjust this to taste.

If you don’t want velocity modifying the volume at all, either set the intensity to 0% or right click and delete the modulation completely. I like mine somewhere around 60-75%.

Adjust the intensity of the Mod on the Amplifier that links velocity to volume.

You can also adjust the curve if desired, so you don’t have to smash your key at full 127 velocity to get 100% volume.

To shape the modulation, select the dropdown next to the Invert button. Select Preset -> Factory -> INIT Shaper Table. This is the default linear shape. You can bend the tension upwards, and then click Table. In the table, draw in the shape you want. For example, anything over 75% velocity will play at full volume, and the quietest levels set to about 20% volume.

Adjust the modulation shaper to fine tune velocity to volume mapping

Set oneshot mode

By default, the AHDSR envelope on the volume will make your sound cut off if you release the key. For a drum kit, I want the full sample to play even if I just tap the key quickly. You could accomplish this by adjusting the default volume envelope to have a long release, but I prefer to completely remove the volume envelope, then set the sample to One-shot loop mode.

Here is an overview of the steps. I will then explain each one in more detail.

  • Remove the default volume envelope
  • Set the sample to oneshot mode
  • Copy the loop settings to other zones

Remove ADHSR volume envelope

To remove the default volume envelope, find it under the Mod section of the Amplifier, then right click and delete it.

Remove the AHDSR envelope from the Mod section of Amplifier

With the AHDSR envelope removed from the volume, the next step is to set the samples to loop with Oneshot mode.

Activate oneshot loop and copy settings

To set the loop mode to oneshot, go to the Wave Editor for a sample and activate Sample Loop. Then set the Loop Mode to Oneshot.

Now we want to copy these oneshot loop settings to all the other zones. While keeping the same primary sample selected, also highlight the other zones in the Mapping Editor with CTRL-A. Then click on the cog wheel in the Wave Editor, and choose To all selected zones -> Copy current zone’s loop settings. Then all samples will play completely through even from a quick tap of the key.

Activate the Sample Loop mode, set it to One-shot, and copy loop settings to all other zones

Layer sounds

Layering sounds is common in drum kits and you can do it in Kontakt and adjust the volume and envelope of each sound, giving you a great amount of control. You can fade in a second sound to ring out in the tail or have a short envelope to capture only the transient of a layer.

Switch into List View, duplicate the zone, drag it to the same key that you want to layer. You can repeat this for as many samples as you want. Then whenever you play that key, all the samples will be played at once.

In List View of the Mapping Editor, duplicate a zone and drag to desired key

Next, you can tweak the volume envelope to control the mixture of the layers. To edit the envelope for a sample, go into the Wave Editor for the sample, to the Zone Envelopes tab. Left click and drag it up or down to change the volume. Right click to create points for more complex envelopes.

In the Zone Envelopes tab of Wave Editor, select Volume envelope and shape as desired

You can also make an envelope for the pan to spread the sounds in stereo.

Voice groups to choke hats

With a real drum kit, the hi-hat can’t be open and closed at the same time, so with the Kontakt instrument, the open and closed hat samples can be set to cut each other off so only one can be played at a time. This is done by assigning a group to a voice group, and then moving the desired zones into that group.

To setup the group, go to the Group Editor, create a new group and rename it. Uncheck Edit All Groups and select the hat group. Turn off Tracking for this group too. Then change No voice group to a voice group. The default Voices is set to 1 so only one sound from the group can play at once. The last option here is the Fade Time to control how much crossfade there is when cutting off a voice.

Setup the voice group for hi-hats

Then, to assign the zones to the new group, go to the Mapping Editor in List View. Hold CTRL and select the open and closed hat zones, right click, and choose Move to existing group -> Hi-hats.

Assigning open and closed hat samples to the correct group.

Now the hi-hat samples will cut each other off, giving a slightly more realistic feel to the kit.

Reverse crash cymbal

One common sound effect used as a riser or transition tool is a reverse crash cymbal. I like to duplicate the crash cymbal to another key and reverse it for utility.

First, duplicate the crash cymbal and move it to an empty key.

Duplicate the crash sample and move to an empty key

Then in the Wave Editor, go to the Sample Editor tab, highlight the entire sample, and click Reverse. This will create a new reversed sample that gets saved to disk.

Select the entire sample in the Sample Editor Editor and click Reverse

You can then switch to the Sample Loop tab and adjust the start time, so the long silent tail doesn’t cause a delay before it starts sounding.

Adjust the start position of the sample to avoid a long tail

If you want to stretch the sample to a certain length, you can play with the Sync/Slice tab and the Sync to MIDI Clock section. This can make the sound distorted though so I don’t use it much.

Color keys

One thing I like to do is color my keys for a visual reminder of how my drums are mapped. I like to set my kick drums to red, cymbals to a yellow, with toms a blue color. This is purely cosmetic and doesn’t affect the sound. To set the color keys, Kontakt has a built-in script helper.

Open the Script Editor tab, then in an <Empty> script slot, choose Preset -> Factory -> Utilities -> Set Key Color. Then choose the color you want, click Learn Color and click on the keys you want to change. Repeat this for different colors.

Set custom colors on keys using a Factory preset script

You can also use the Preset knob to store different sets of colors.

Reverse polarity

There are some instances where you want to reverse the polarity of some samples. The position of the microphone when recording drums affects whether the very first sound is the drum head moving away from or towards the microphone. If some drums are recorded from behind/underneath, the polarity is different than those recorded from the top.

Create a group and assign the zone(s) to it. Then, with that group selected and Edit All Groups unchecked, toggle the Phase Invert button in the Amplifier section. This will reverse the polarity of the group.

Conclusion

You should now be able to create a useful and playable drum kit as a Kontakt instrument.