Modern hi-hat patterns have become more intricate with the introduction of DAW’s and their ability to manipulate the timing of drum hits altogether. But hi-hats, in particular, have probably seen the most advancement in creating new and exciting patterns and grooves. However, one of the most important factors in making your hi-hats stand out is to find ways to make them sound more human, rather than stiff and robotic.
To send your hi-hat patterns into the piano roll, right-click the name of your hi-hat channel and select “send to piano roll.”
You’ll notice that you might have spaces in between each note. If you highlight all of the notes and click “ctrl+L” you’ll fill in these spaces by creating full note lengths, which is useful for this next tip. By highlighting any of those notes, you can now click “al+U” to bring up the “chopper.”
This will allow you to quickly adjust the number of repeating notes with the “Time mul” knob. Another alternative would be to change your piano roll snap settings and select “ctrl+U” to chop the notes according to your snap settings. This is how you can quickly get triplet notes, which you won’t be able to do with the chopper.
The first step to getting a more humanize feel is to adjust the velocity hits of each note because, in real life, people don’t play perfectly at the same velocity, especially with hi-hats. A quick way to do so is clicking “alt+R” after highlighting the notes. This brings up the randomizer.
You’ll notice right away that your velocities are no longer all the same. You can use the left and right arrows next to “Seed” to alter the randomness. Use the “Vel” knob to increase or decrease the overall volume. You’ll notice some of the other knobs have been randomized as well. You can set these back to zero by holding “alt” and right-clicking the knob. “Mod X” and “Mod Y” is referring to the cutoff and resonance level of your filter inside the channel settings. This can be useful to recreate the sound of a drummer hitting different parts of the hi-hat, cymbal or snare. Slight adjustment of the pitch knob can add to that as well.
For open hats, if you have the volume envelope turned on in channel settings, you can randomize the release to make alternate between sounding more open or more closed, which can create more groove. Sometimes, I’ll use the pan knob for more experimental movement in the hi-hats, but this is more useful for more melodic elements in the project. Also, use the “Bipolar” setting to adjust the panning from left to right instead of just one side.
After randomizing, the final tool I suggest is the “scale leveler.” Highlight your notes and click “alt+X.”
Now you can fine-tune the randomness by leveling off the settings left over from the “randomizer.” Use the “tension” knobs to increase or decrease the amount of randomness. “Center” will adjust the focal point of the scale changes. “Multiply” will increase the changes as you move further away from the focal point set by the “center,” either up or down. “Offset” will move those settings together up or down as a whole. This, combined with the “randomizer,” will get you the humanization you need to make your hi-hats or any other pattern sound a lot more natural.
Let us know in the comments below about your experience with MIDI humanization.