I'm trying to compose music with Ableton Live 9 and every tutorial I see uses samples. I don't want to use samples since I would like to create my own sounds. How should I create a kick for example (not a drum kick, more like a hardstyle kick)? I'm totally new to music creation and I don't even know where to start...

  • Learn about Foley sound to understand recording of sounds in general. As far as music creation, which instruments have you learned as this is a good start by simply playing instruments you already know.
    – filzilla
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 18:15
  • I learned piano for 13 years but I don't know if this will be very helpful to create electronic music :-(
    – jeanmi
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 18:43
  • 2
    This will be very helpful as you all ready have an understanding and practice of melody, harmony, rhythm, etc. Piano is a great start since it covers the entire range of traditional pitches and you have no doubt developed a sense of form from the music you already learned.
    – filzilla
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 18:50

8 Answers 8


It's good to hear that you want to make your own sounds rather than use canned ones.

If you have a mic, try recording things. Experiment with ordinary objects around you: hitting thick books or empty boxes may make good kick drums. Microphone placement will influence the spectral balance a lot. For more bass, put it really close.

Next step, learn sound synthesis the hard way. Pick up Csound, SuperCollider, Pd or other programming environment that allows you to do whatever you want. After spending a few years with that, making and modifying sounds to your desire will be much easier.


If you want to go about this from the perspective of sound synthesis, and you have a synthesizer that allows you to do things with waveforms (like modify resonance, filters), then you might be interested in Fred Welsh's "Synthesizer Cookbook" which has a darn good explanation of how those things work. He shows you how to reverse-engineer sounds and even shows you how he came up with his "Kitchen Kits sample pack" where he reverse-engineered the sounds for a bunch of common kitchen items. http://www.synthesizer-cookbook.com/

  • That's great :) I might buy the book as it seems to be a good start to understand the basics of sound synthesis. When you listen to the sample pack, are those sounds recorded with a mic or synthesized? (I think it's the whole purpose...)
    – jeanmi
    Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 18:42
  • The sounds are completely synthesized. It's cool how closely they get to the original sound. Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 19:33
  • Ok, regarding the "kitchen sounds" maybe I'm mistaken. He might have recorded those. But his book shows you how to synthesize them from scratch. It's pretty cool. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 17:45

I'm happy to hear you want to create your own sounds from scratch.

You're specifically wanting a hardstyle kick but let me explain the basic kick first:

1) Play a low note with a single sine wave oscillator

  • Go for low pitch near 100-300Hz. Nothing exact, you can change the pitch later on.
  • You can add another waveforms later and experiment with them. The output with sine is the most 'pure', you can see this by analyzing the waves or just listening.

2) Modulate the pitch with an ADSR envelope.

  • Link the ADSR to the pitch in a way that it makes the pitch fall quickly.
  • Adjust the curve to make the kick the way you want it: the two extremes are subby and punchy.
  • Now every time you play a certain note on the synth, it will slide down making the kick-sound. Yes, you can do the kick without ADSR-controlled pitch modulation: just play a slide note making the pitch fall from example from C4 to C2.

Those are the necessary steps to turn a wave into a kick. You obviously want to add effects on the resulting sound: ADSR linked to the velocity and filter which would be either low pass or band pass filter. Like any kick, you should equalize and compress this one too.

Going futher into the hardstyle sound will require you a lot of knowledge of the anatomy of the sound. The effective usage of distortion is important. The fullness, warmthness and overall melodic nature of the kick can be achieved by sampling the sound over and over again with stacks of equalizers and distortion. This will require you a lot of different plugins. Usual kick is mainly always in the same pitch - hardstyle kick will sometimes go along with the bassline. The selection of the root note is essential for this reason as the kick must have space to play the chords without being transposed too much high or low.

There's two parts in hardstyle kick: the noisy attack sound and the fat body of the kick. You have to practice a lot in order to make these two from scratch and make them sound as hard as Noisecontrollers would.

Begin by making a fat basic kick. You could go for a 909-ish kick sound and change the tone to your liking. The desired sound will be achieved by using clip distortion. I can't tell you the exact parameters for distortion amount, filters, dry/wet ratio etc, try it on your own first. Professional producers prefer cutting some bass off before adding distortion and boosting the bass afterwards. This prevents the "muddy" sounds you get distorting low frequencies and results in more energetic kick.

After distorting and equalizing multiple times you will have more or less hard sound. There is no shortcut here, you will find yourself making the sound for hours. Since you will have to edit the sound multiple times, each time you will end up with completely different sounds.

Apply ADSR to make the kick short, this will be the attack sound, usually referred as the "tok" sound. Make another kick, it will be the body of the final sound. You don't have to distort it but boost the low frequencies. Layer these two kicks into a single sample. The "high" and "low" kicks make an excellent pair.

Of course you can do every step as you like. Come up with your own personal sounds, select distortion nobody else uses, combine waveforms.

Here's a professional way to do the kick from scratch


I think this partly depends on whether you want a synthetic sound or an acoustic/real sound.

I'm not qualified yet to talk about a synthetic sound but for a real sound all you need is a microphone and a source of sound. The quality of sample depends on a million things relating to the mic quality, type, the environment you're recording in.

For a great supply of royalty free samples you might want to check out freesound.

  • He was talking about synthetic sound since he's into producing hardstyle techno. Still, I agree with recording some of the samples.
    – Hyrtsi
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 20:26

You need to start looking into synthesis. Ableton Suite comes with a bunch of instruments that do sound synthesis in a bunch of different ways. Subtractive synthesis through the Analog instrument might be a good place to start.

You can actually do some allright synthesis with a sampler btw. I.e. for a kick drum, you might load up a sawtooth or square wave, add a low pass filter, and a pitch envelope. Who says you have to start with those boring waves? Try some other ones instead! The Sampler instrument is even better.


if you want to programm drum sounds i could recommend you to read an manual from an drum syhtesizer (waldrof rack-attack is not in production anymore)

http://www.waldorf-music.info/de/archiv/rack-attack/downloads/519-documentation.html page 84

Programming Drum Sounds

Roland TR-808 Tr-Roland TR-909 and so on..

it is written so generally that you can use the build in softwaresynthesizer in abelton to create your own drum sounds, well there is also a short intro to Sound Synthesis from page 34 on .... well there are many other sources on the web ...


This video is old but he explains very well the theory of sound synthesis. I think this will be helpful for you to make your own sound:


The SOS magazine has written a series on all things "synthesis" and published it online for free. It touches on both acoustics and electronics.

Bear in mind that if you are working with a computer, eventually, everything is sampled.

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