How to Mix House Drums in FL Studio
Drums and percussion are an integral part of any electronic music composition. They hold the song together, provide structure and rhythm, and tell the audience when to dance, jump, and shout. In this house drums tutorial, we’ll cover how to make a drum loop using the FL Studio 12 Step Sequencer, and what you can do to add a bit of your own spin to the mix.
The Step Sequencer
FL Studio’s Step Sequencer/Channel rack is great for programming house drums. To make a good drum loop, we’ll need to understand how it works first. First, open the Step Sequencer/Channel rack by clicking the button on the top toolbar in FL Studio.
In the next picture, we can see a default Step Sequencer that I’ve marked up with numbers. Next, let’s run through these.
- Swing slider – this gives the drums a more organic sound. We’ll leave it at the default setting, 0% (far left), for now.
- This button toggles between Step Sequencer view and Piano roll view for each channel. We’ll leave it on the default view for now.
- This column of numbers is where you can assign each channel to a Mixer track. Leave these alone for now.
- This column of knobs controls individual channel volume.
- This column of knobs controls individual channel panning. Panning is a way to control how much volume the right and left speakers get.
- These green buttons can mute or solo individual channels. Click to mute, and right-click and select “solo” to play just that channel.
- These are your channels. They can be samples, plugins, automation clips, etc. Today we’ll be using all samples.
- These rectangles can be used to select channels to perform operations on. Click once to select that channel. Click on the same one twice to select all channels. Right-click to deselect a channel.
- This is the step sequencer. Each button represents a 16th note, or step. Click on the buttons to trigger the sample at that point in time.
- This is the channel selection filter. When you have lots of channels listed in the channel rack, it can be useful to sort them into categories for more efficient workflow.
Now that we’ve got a basic idea of how the step sequencer works, we can move on to selecting our drum samples.
House Drums Sample Selection
To keep us on the same page, we’ll work with native FL Studio samples only.
First, we need to choose a kick. We want the kick to be punchy, but not synthetic sounding. Many house tracks will use realistic sounding drum samples. To access your kicks select the Browser/Plugin picker at the top toolbar. A menu should pop up if it wasn’t already at the front. From that menu, select Packs, then Drums, and then Kicks. This will bring up a list of kicks to choose from. I picked Grv Kick 03 for this one. Simply click and drag it into your Channel rack over the default kick channel.
Next, we want a set of hi hats. Again, we want to look for something realistic sounding. Following the same method as above, under Hats you will find two samples called Linn CH and Linn OH. Click and drag each of these into your channel rack.
After that, we want a clap. The samples from ModeAudio that come with FL Studio have a nice selection of claps to work with and can be found in the Browser/plugin picker under Drums (ModeAudio). For this one I chose HouseGen Clap 07.
Under the same ModeAudio folder, there is a list of shakers. These will mirror the closed hat and provide more depth to the percussion. Click and drag Attack Shaker 10 to your channel rack.
Finally we will pick some snares. I chose Collider Fifth Snare 02 and HouseGen Snare 23 in the ModeAudio snare selection.
We now have a few samples to work with, and we just need to add a few more steps. Click and drag the lower right corner of the step sequencer to expand the number of steps. We want 32 steps. Your channel rack should look like the one below.
Programming the Drum Samples
Our first step here will be to change the tempo to 124 BPM. Do this by simply clicking and dragging the tempo at the top of your window to 124. Clicking and dragging over each number will change the tempo by that number. So clicking and dragging in the ones place will change it by 1, the tens place will change it by 10, etc.
The kick is the most important part of the drum loop. Its presence in the low bass part of the spectrum gives the listener something to move to. House music has a very distinct drum structure where the kick appears once every 4 16th notes. To do this, right click on the Grv Kick 03 sample in your channel rack and select fill each 4 steps.
Next we’ll put a closed hat and shaker on each 3rd step, a clap on the 1st of each red step set, open hat on the 4th of every other gray step set, and snares scattered as shown below.
Sample Channel Knob and Swing Settings
Next we’ll mess around a bit with the channel volume and panning settings. Unless specified otherwise, leave everything else at the default setting.
- Attack Shaker 10 panning = 15% right
- Linn CH panning = 15% left
- Linn OH volume = 55%
- HouseGen Clap 07 volume = 70%
- Collider Fifth Snare 02 volume = 58%
- Collider Fifth Snare 02 panning = 10% right
- HouseGen Snare 23 volume = 48%
- HouseGen Snare 23 panning = 10% left
- Set the swing slider to 35%.
Using the Cut and By Settings
One thing that’s not evident by just looking at the channel rack is an effect I have added to the open hat Linn OH. This sample is triggered on the 4th step in every other gray step set, just before a kick. This a rather long and drawn out one compared to some others, so I programmed it to be cut off by the kick that comes just after.
To access these settings, we need to click the channel we’d like to modify and then the wrench at the top left. Under Group, you’ll see Cut and By. These tell the step sequencer what that sample will cut off, and what that sample will be cut off by. So in this case, we want Linn OH to be cut off by Grv Kick 03. Set the open hat By to 1, and go into the kick Group settings and set its Cut to 1.
You can hear the big difference this makes in the audio clips below:
We now have a very basic, dry, and generic house drum loop to play around with. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I’m always asking “how can make it better?”
Spicing It Up a Bit
Technique 1: Add Blips, Pings, Taps, or Snaps
This ones pretty straight forward. You add an interesting sounding percussion sample to the last two steps of every set of 4 steps. I’ve picked one called Collider Down Dry XY 02 and lowered its channel volume to 68%.
It’s very important to keep in mind that nothing here is ever set in stone. You’re not restricted to using only the last two steps. You can experiment with different instruments/samples and how they sounds triggered at different times. At the end of the day, it’s what you like and what you envision your track to sound like. I settled on the “1-then-2” arrangement above. Here’s how it sounds.
Technique 2: Loop End Percussion
This one is a little trickier becasue we need to use the Cut an By settings again. The basic idea is to add two different percussion samples on the last two steps in the loop, have the last one cut off the first one, and add some delay/echo to the second one.
I added two new samples, MA Swamp Perc and MA SunWorship Perc, to the channel rack. MA Swamp Perc will be the first, and MA SunWorship Perc will be last as seen below.
Now we need one to cut the other. So we’ll set MA Swamp Perc By setting to 2, and MA SunWorship Perc Cut setting to 2 just like we did with the kick and open hat earlier.
The final step is to add delay. This can be done a few ways, but to keep it simple we’ll just add it to the MA SunWorship Perc channel.
We can see Cut set at 2 and the echo delay settings I’ve change and outlined below.
FEED = 65% (what percentage of the signal gets carried over to the next echo)
PITCH = -151 cents (lowers pitch 151 cents per consecutive echo)
Again, this is totally up to you. It may sound better to you without a pitch shift, or with some panning added in.
Technique 3: Variation With Hats, Kicks, and Snares
Choose another closed hat to add to your channel rack and have it triggered in every step of your loop. I chose Attack Hat 12, dropped the channel volume to 34%, and adjusted the swing multiplier to 75%. This will ensure some of the new hats are triggered on some open space instead of getting drowned out.
I doubled the length of the loop to add room for variation, changed the snare sequence up a bit for the second half, and added a few open hats. I also added 2 more kicks at the end to conclude the loop on a more exciting note.
There you have it. Now we have a pretty decent sounding house percussion and drum loop all with native FL Studio samples. Time to make some spaced out house tunes!