Renoise as a Drum Machine pt. 1

Renoise as a Drum Machine

part 1

This piece here will teach you everything you need to know to start making your own beats from scratch. Yes that’s right, after reading these pages (and some practicing) you will be able to synthesize your own kick, snare, hihat samples and put them in place in Renoise.


Getting started out here is quite simple. If you don’t have Renoise yet, go and get the demo at their website. Here are a few simple extra files we’re going to need (right click->save as):

I’ve got more handy ‘toolchains’ like this, some even more complicated, but for the purpose of this tutorial it will suffice if you download these to a certain directory, and know how to find them in Renoise’s Disk Browser.
First, if you’ve just downloaded and installed the Renoise demo, go to Edit->Preferences… and in the Files section, make sure that the checkbox labeled ‘Replace existing chain‘, somewhere in the middle of the window, is unchecked. This will make sure that when you double-click a DSP Chain from the browser, it won’t replace the existing FX in the track but instead be ‘concatenated’ (i.e. added at the end).
Renoise for the hip hop head is like a very extended sampler & sequencer with a lot of extra functions. It also gives control over samples using a few different codes called “Pattern Effects Commands”, but for now we will not be paying attention to these. In fact I have provided you with a start-file where these are hidden so you won’t have to learn about all of that just now. All we want is to see if we can make our own bangin kickdrums, snaredrums n hihats samples.

Basic Building Blocks

To start, open Renoise with the drumstart.xrns “Song” file. You can save this file under another name right away, let’s say drumloop1.xrns. Go and do that either with the standard File->Save As… option or via the built-in Disk Browser at the top of the screen (Select ‘Song’ on the leftmost panel, select the folder you save your music stuff in in the second panel, then type ‘drumloop1’ in the textbox in the third, rightmost panel).
Let’s take a little time to explain what these different .xrnt files that you’ve downloaded, are for. Renoise has 26 built-in audio effects, like a delay, reverb, ring modulator and so on. Some are very basic, others can achieve a wide variety of different sounds. All of these modify the incoming sound and have some degree of control of how much the sound is being changed, repeated, distorted, et cetera. As you might have guessed, most awesome sounding drumbeat elements are formed with a combination of many of these basic building blocks.
If you take a look in the Mixer view (hit the F3 key to be real quick), you can see that almost all tracks are empty, that is, they have no sound effects in them yet. Change this by double clicking the djbpf.xrnt file in the disk browser and notice how 5 new devices and all their settings are imported into the track’s effect chain in the bottom part of the screen. One XY Pad, then two Hydras, a Highpass Filter and a Lowpass Filter. They’re always added at the end of the chain, just before the immobile ‘Post FX Mixer’ panel on the far right. At this moment, if you can not see the ‘screens’ for the 2 filters and the XY Pad on the left, try and scroll or even slide the divider between the device chain and the device list all the way to the left. Now go drag the dot on the XY Pad around and see what the other things do. You’ll soon see the correlations: moving the control point from left to right changes the ‘center frequency’ the filters move around, and moving up or down will alter how much filtering is taking place, with the top meaning tightest bandwidth and having the dot down below will result in no hearable filtering at all. Together these 5 devices form a rudimentary bandpass filter that is gonna come in handy with the drum sound design that we’re gonna do in minutes.
A short note about the first 3 devices: these come from Renoise’s stack of 9 so-called “Meta Devices”, that are particular in that they do not alter the sound in any way, but are more a type of programming devices, made to modulate the other sound effects. I won’t go into detail here but if you happen to have used Propellerhead Reason you might compare them to the CV cables, CV jacks, and the options on the Combinator’s programmer screen, but with more options than inversion and addition via a Spider device.

Kick Start

Now that you’ve seen how some of these devices work together, let’s build ourselves a cool kickdrum sound. First, make sure you get rid of the current Chain of FX by pressing F3 to go into the Mixer window (you can see a ‘stack’ of abbreviated representations of the devices you see in the bottom of the screen, in the current track’s mixer ‘lane’, though in here they’re stacked from top, to bottom) and consecutively pressing Alt+X to clear out the current chain.
Now go to the sample editor by pressing F5. Renoise has a kickass sample editor with quite a few cool utilities, but for now we’re just going to use it to create a so-called “Null” sample. It’s gonna be real simple. Press F11 to create a new sample. Then, double click on the field below ‘Number of Samples’ where it says 168. Type in a 1, and then press Enter twice. There you go. Go back to the Main screen (F1).
If you press a key now, whether on your MIDI Keyboard or on the PC Keyboard (‘Q’ and ‘Z’ are C keys), you won’t hear any sound. We’re gonna change that too. First, make sure you set the Post FX Volume to around -9dB or lower, so you’re not gonna break your ears or make your neighbours damn angry. Select ‘DSP Chain‘ in the leftmost panel of the Disk Browser and load in two device chains: first ‘envelopes’ and then ‘oscbased’. Note that oscbased.xrnt and noibased.xrnt are meant to generate sound within Renoise from scratch, so it’s really not advised to use them on samples you’ve already got. This does not hold for envelopes.xrnt, this is just a very handy shortcut to be able to modify our drums’ Decay, filter envelope and just modify any parameter in the duration of, in this case, a killa kick drum.
At this point, if you press any key, you’ll just hear a very annoying 440Hz tone. It’s handy to switch the top part of the screen to Master Scopes so you can also ‘see what you hear’. Later on you will see when we render a kickdrum, Renoise with its sample editor window is very much about seeing what you hear.
So let’s first change the Frequency path that our kickdrum will traverse. Scroll to the left so that the device called “LFO” (the first non-minimized device in the chain) is in your sight. It’s got a very basic path from top to bottom, making for a first version of the Pitch Bend in our kickdrum. Let’s map it to the Ring Modulator‘s Frequency parameter (the RingMod device, together with the DC Offset device, is what makes the sound out of thin air in this chain). In the 3 boxes following the label ‘Dest.‘, leave the first one on CT (that’s short for ‘current track’), make sure the second dropdown is set to ‘RingMod‘, and the third can be ‘Frequency‘. Press a key now (shortly) to hear that you have a very simple kick. Turn the ‘Offset‘ on this LFO Device (I’ll call the LFOs that have the ‘One Shot‘ parameter on “Envelopes” from now on) down to about 42%, maybe even 32% if you fancy a subwoofer breaker type kick sound. Turn the ‘Amplitude‘ setting to around 18%, or if you said hell yeah reading the last sentence, you might be better off turning amplitude further down to let’s say about 6%.
Test your sound again.
We’re now going to make the duration automatic as well, so that you won’t hear as much of that annoying click at the end when letting go of a key (it’s caused by the DC Offset). Check out the 4th envelope in the chain. It’s got some weird Offset and Amplitude values already set up. This is because the fader device in Renoise (you’ll see later that in some cases it’s awesomely handy to have a separate fader device), called Gainer, has 0dB at the 25% marker of it’s possible values, where 0% will kill any sound and 100% will amplify sound with about +12dB. On the 4th envelope, (it’s called “LFO (4)“) set the Destination to CT/Gainer/Gain.
Test your sound again. It’s not really bending nice if you ask me. That’s probably because, we’ve used a straight line for the RingMod‘s Frequency traverse which sounds a bit boring. Go back to the first envelope, and click on ‘Ext. Editor‘. You can now see the path in a bigger window, and also, you can use keyboard shortcuts! Right click in the field where you see the graphic, and choose Process->Create Exponential Curve. Now press Ctrl-F. Close the window.
Test your sound again. You might want to adjust the Offset and Amplitude parameters. In this case, the ‘Frequency‘ parameter in this first envelope device actually corresponds to some drum machines ‘Bend Time‘ parameter on the kick drum. You can probably see why. Only difference here is, you take the slider to the left to have a longer bend time. Same goes with modifying the ‘Decay‘ by adjusting the last-in-line envelope controlling the volume.
Now, if at this point the kick is not really reaching your ear like it should, readjust the post-fx volume, either on the far right of the chain, or on the track display in the mixer view. Around -2dB might have a good feel to it. I leave this slider to your judgment now. Let’s add some higher frequency grunge to this by abusing tools of mass distortion. Start with adding a Comb Filter (double click it in the list on the bottom left of your screen). Do not: test your sound with the comb filter left in default state. Instead, try these settings: Frequency 2.97kHz; Feedback 81%; Inertia Instant; Wet Mix -7.5dB; Dry Mix -3.5dB and turn the end-volume back down to about -7dB.
Test your sound again. Press the Zee or the Zed key (or almost any of the letters really, just A, F, and K won’t work), then disable the Comb Filter, press it again, to hear what difference the device makes. Turn it back on. This is not the end of our kickdrum, although we can probably agree it’s beginning to sound like something. We’ll make it fatter later on; let’s first make basic hihat and snare sounds to hear it blend, hear this sound in a beat.

Snare drum pt. 1

The first part of the snare will consist much of the same things as our kickdrum. A Ring Modulator device that will play it’s part as the oscillator, with an exponential curve to make for the pitch bend. The difference is that we’ll add a lot of ‘noisy’ sound to it with the LofiMat. So go on and start out with the same xrnt bases: envelopes and oscbased. Load them into the “Snare 1” track in that order. Open up the first envelopes’ external editor and Right click->Process->Create Exponential Curve, then flip with Ctrl+F (or Right click->Process->Flip).. One thing that is a personal preference that should be mentioned here, is Renoises option for ‘single click draw’ in the lfos, envelopes, automation, etc. In the Preferences window, under GUI, you can find the option “Single click to create new points“. I have tried it for a while and turned it off again, but like I said, this is 100% personal preference.
When you’ve ‘programmed in’ the right curve, set the envelopes Offset to 41% and the Amplitude to 28%. Tune the Destination parameter in again, like expected, to CT/RingMod/Frequency. Now go to the 4th envelope and bind it to CT/Gainer/Gain. Move the end point, the lowest point, a little to the left. Let’s say to about 1/4th of the envelopes duration (‘line’ numbers are visible just above the grid here, choose endpoint just before line #16)Snare envelope

Now just before you can test your sound, turn on the LofiMat device that is minimized (you can look at the settings if you want by clicking the button with the square in it), and dial the end volume down to around -10dB.
Test your sound.
It’s gonna be even cooler if you add a small Reverb to it (small meaning, low ‘Wet Mix‘ and ‘Room Size‘ amounts) and a new Gainer after that, then automate that with another envelope device like this:Snare envelope

Snare drum pt. 2

This otherside of the snare will fill up the metallic-mechanic-electronic sound of the first half. With filtered white noise (‘white noise’ is a term in sound design/music for random signals, containing every frequency evenly). Test some white noise by double clicking envelopes again, but this time follow it up by noibased.xrnt. Be sure to turn down the post-fx volume a whole lot before testing this sound out. The only routing/modulation we’re going to have for now is the Decay. It’s a little bit shorter, but stronger while it’s onSnare 2 envelope
The end volume in my case of the noise part is lower, around -12.5dB, so go with this and you can of course mix to taste later on.


Test your sound. We’re not going to do a whole lot of sound testing this round, since the snare consists of two parts, and we can’t trigger them both at the same time unless we sequence it. So, let’s sequence the snares. As you can see the pattern consists of 32 lines, numbered 00 through 31. This pattern setting is accessible in the upper left corner of the pattern editor (but let it stay on 32 for now). 32 is a good length to just try the loop out for a few rounds. In the upper left corner of Renoise is an important start setting too called “Lines / Beat“. Since this will be at 8, the pattern will have exactly 32 / 8 = 4 beats, which happens to be one bar in most music. It certainly will in our little startup example. So let’s put snares on “the 2 & 4”: with the arrow keys and/or Tab key, move to the track “Snare 1” and to line number 08. Press Ctrl-0 (zero) for now, to make sure the cursor is not going to move immediately after you record a note. Press Esc to enable recording and press the Q key. If everything went well you just heard the snare part 1, and, more importantly you saw how a C-4 note, of instrument #00, got recorded into that slot. Now move down 16 lines by pressing PageDown on your keyboard, and record another C-4 note. Press tab to go to the next track, “Snare 2“, and record a C-4 note there again.. now for the last one press PageUp and make the fourth hit so we’ve got both parts of the snare sound going off on line 08 and on line 24. Before hitting play, be sure to disarm recording by pressing the Escape key again top left on your keyboard. Press the right Control key. We’ve got a nice, although still bit mechanical, snare hit ticking off our groove to be. Let’s modify the Snare pt. 2 section a little bit: let’s make use of the coloring toolchain ‘djbpf‘ that I’ve made available. I’ve set it around 35% horizontally, and almost at the top, let’s say 92%.

Simple HiHats

Making a first drum-machine-sounding hihat sample is very easy, all we need is a highpass Filter on some white noise. To start off, load envelopes.xrnt and noibased.xrnt again in the hihat track. Make the Decay, the Gain envelope almost as short as possible and don’t forget to route it to CT/Gainer/Gain. Now add a Filter device, set its Type to HP, and the Cutoff to around 12.5kHz and test your sound. Good. Let’s make it count.. in this sequencing it’s really handy to understand about the “Edit Step” we’ve changed earlier by pressing Ctrl-0:Edit step box screenshot

We are now going to use Ctrl-2 to set the edit step to 2 lines (you can see it changing in the bottom of the Pattern Editor). Navigate to the top row/line by pressing the Home key. Press Esc to arm recording and hold your Q key until you’re round the clock once. Turn the Post Volume down about -9dB.
Disarm recording and play the sequence. This sounds quite dull still, don’t you think? Let’s make some hits louder and some softer. From the Disk Browser, load up ‘velvol.xrnt‘ just after all the other FX. This Chain of two will make sure the sound gets amplified according to each notes ‘velocity’, which is the general name of how hard you hit a key on your midi keyboard or pads. Since the PC keyboard does not measure this, we’ll have to program in our volume values. We’re first going to turn ‘Follow‘ off so that we can make changes comfortably while the track plays. Hit the Scroll Lock key on your keyboard, most of the time right above the Home key. Now navigate to line 02 and take three steps right with the arrow key so that you’re in the “velocity” field (it’s got all green dots, 2 each line). Set Edit step to 4 with Ctrl-4 and now press ‘3‘ until you are round the clock again. Sounds cooler already. Just for variation, we’re going to have more of this. Know for now that this volume value goes from 00 to 80 in hexadecimal, where 80 is printed in the player as two dots (full volume, or keep volume from last note). We’re not going to fool around now with what the fuck hexadecimal means, and why you can input values with letters A-F there and even values higher than 80. Just know that 40 is half volume and two zeroes will give you silence. Get to line 04, again on the velocity tip, set edit step to eight this time and press: 6, 7, 6, 7. Better. Since you’re back on line 04 you only have two lines to go to move the cursor back on line 02. Now adjust values on the delay column (blue dashes). Press ‘2‘ until you’re around the pattern. Let’s get our kicks in before some more cool edits to our hihat sound.

Finalizing the sequence

One of the most used patterns is one that one of the Beastie Boys rapped about in their track “Triple Trouble“. Kicks on the one, seven and eleven (snares on the 5 n thirteen). In renoise this translates to different line numbers, because we have a Lines / Beat value of 8 instead of the default 4 and it counts pattern lines like a computer, starting at 00 instead of 1. So just go to the first track and the first line (Shift-Ctrl-Home, Home) and record a C-4. It’s advised to have the edit step back at zero for this (Ctrl-0). The other kicks go at line 12 and 20. Now to make this thing a little but funkier, you’re going to add the ‘velvol.xrnt‘ to the tracks device chain just like with the hihats. Go back up to line 06. Don’t record just yet, first, find the ‘Keyboard Velocity‘ button just right of the edit step box. Enable it, and type ‘40‘ (half volume) in the box. Now record a C-4 Kickdrum trigger in the slot on line 06. Do the same for a kick with velocity 20 on line 26.
For good measure we will place a little emphasis on the first beat, the one, in this drum loop. Let’s have it lead in with a drumroll. Go to line #30 and record another kick with velocity 20. To have it not cause annoyance, turn the ‘keyboard velocity‘ button off for now. We’re going to start a trick with one of the pattern commands. Let’s make room by clicking the small plus sign to the right of the top of the track, where just under the track name (‘Kick‘) you can see ‘PLAY’ written in yellow. This play word also doubles as a ‘mode selector’ for the track, i.e. by clicking this you can mute the kick track. So press the plus on the right of ‘play’, and you see a whole new (type of) column appear containing 4 grey dashes on every line. Move to the right until you are on the second dash. Now hold Shift and type: R, 0, 6. Release shift. The R stands for Roll, or Retrigger. The numbers that follow the R are too difficult to explain for now. Go to the last line, #31. Put a 10 in the velocity field with the same holding-shift method that you used for the roll command. Go to the right to enter a new pattern command. This time use R, 4, 4.
So you have a little rhythmic first piece of a beat now. Next round you’ll make the Kicks, Snares and Hihats more interesting, double them with send tracks, and see how you can emulate open and closed hihats by adjusting the decay and adding a small reverb with the help of the Velocity Tracker. After that we’ll have some Renoise built-in Tube distortion, Compression, and tuning up with the new Exciter device. Check this link to hear what you will be able to make, from scratch, when you’re done with this and the following two tutorials.

On to part 2