For many music producers and audio engineers, audio frequency ear training is key to helping them tune that perfect mix. Percussion (drums, cymbals, etc.) is generally the basis of a good mix, and getting just the right punchy sound from your percussion audio frequencies is essential.
Note: If you’re not familiar already, start by getting to know the different parts of a standard rock drum kit.
Learning about percussion frequencies breaks down into a number of steps:
Characteristic drum and cymbal frequencies (Hz)
First up, you need to know where each part of the percussion section “lives” in terms of frequencies. There’s no point adjusting the EQ in one band, if the target instrument doesn’t have any presence there! So step one is to learn the characteristic frequency presence of each part of the drum kit, from kick drum through snare, on to the crash cymbals and hi-hats.
Impact of frequency adjustments on percussion
How do you change your kick drum frequency to make it “thud” harder? How can you make the snare have punch without dominating the mix? What band should you adjust to get the cymbals floating along nicely over the rest of the mix?
These are the kinds of questions you can only answer by studying frequency ear training and learning the characteristic sounds of each EQ band.
Side note: Tuning the percussion
Another thing which can improve a mix is making sure the drum kit is tuned to match the key of the song, most notably on the snare and tom drums. If the drum tuning matches the core notes of the song’s key the percussion part will blend much better with the other instruments in the mix.
You can adjust this in the post-production/mixing stage (especially if you’re using synthesized drums), but much better to tune the drums right to begin with.
How to improve your percussion aural skills
Use audio frequency ear training, and in particular studying the frequency characteristics of each part of the drum kit, and you’ll find you have stronger listening skills for percussion and a far greater ability to pin-point and fix any issues which arise in the mix.
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