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Using mute groups for more realistic sampled sounds

If you sample individual percussion and drum sounds and hope to achieve a natural sound, you need to understand how real instruments are played, and what you can achieve with mute groups...

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Using mute groups for more realistic sampled soundsIf you want to use individual samples, rather than loops, to create a drum or percussion track, then if you want to sound realistic you need a certain knowledge of how real instruments are played.

For example a conga player can play an open sound by hitting the drum and immediately pulling the hand away. The head of the drum is left free to vibrate and the sound will continue for some time. Alternatively the player can hit the drum and keep the hand in contact with the surface of the head. This will create a 'closed', short, duller sound because the hand damps the vibrations.

Clearly, if the player plays a closed hit immediately after an open hit, the second sound will prevent the first from continuing. It is an either/or situation. Both sounds cannot co-exist at the same time.

Another example is the drummer's hihat. It can be played open or closed. But if it is played open then closed, then the closed sound will cut off the open sound.

Not so with sampled congas or hihats. These different sounds would be stored as separate samples, triggered by different keys. Without special treatment, both could be played at the same time, which normally would be impossible. And if a closed sound is played after an open sound, then the open sound will not be stopped and will continue to resonate.

The answer to this, if you want your playing to sound natural, is to use 'mute groups'. Any decent sampler - hardware or software - would have this feature these days. By assigning both open and closed sounds to the same mute group, it is ensured that either can be played, but they both cannot sound at the same time. Also, the closed sound will cut off the open sound if played shortly afterwards.

The improvement in naturalness has to be heard to be believed. Many sampler users don't know about this, but it's very easy to implement.

Now, the question is when a typical sampler can offer as many as sixteen mute groups or more, how are you going to make good use of them all?

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By David Mellor Wednesday December 28, 2005
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