How to Map Chords to Your Drums

One of the most exciting aspects of electronic drumming is that you have access to the world of tonal music! And controlling sequences of chords from behind the drums is a powerful technique that I've found to be rewarding and fun!

View post on Instagram
Eddie Cole playing a kit with a chord progression

In this article and the accompanying livestream I'm using samplers and controllers in Sensory Percussion. Sensory Percussion is unique because it can track 10 different zones with a single sensor, but many of the methods outlined are possible using other electronic drumming systems.

1. Map the chord samples

Select or record some great chord sounds that inspire you and drag them into a sampler. Below we've dragged chords from the Swarm Sapience sound pack into a sampler.

A list of chords in the Sunhouse Library with an arrow pointing to the sampler across the screen that they have been dragged into.
Chords in a Sensory Percussion Sampler

You don't want the chords to sound all at the same time. That would sound chaotic! You want them to sound sequentially, so set the sampler from “all” to “cycle” (we'll go over some more advanced sequencing options later on).

Chord audio files in a Sensory Percussion sampler set to 'cycle', with the 'all' parameter crossed out, and the 'cycle' parameter highlighted.
Now the sampler will cycle through each sample sequentially

Now, you also most likely don't want the chords to layer over one another (sometimes allowing the chord sounds to overlap is cool, but most of the time it gets muddy quickly). So you'll need to set the sampler to “retrigger.”

The same sampler as the images above, but with 'retrig' selected and highlighted.
Now the chords won't layer over each other. Each new chord activated will silence the last.

Lastly, you'll probably want to velocity threshold the chord sampler. That way you don't have to worry about accidentally activating the chord with quiet hits: the sampler will only respond to loud hits. This is great because it will allow you to “play underneath” the chords and it also allows you to squash the chords' velocity range so that they always ring out loud.

The velocity threshold panel (a box with a diagonal line and three move-able parameters that adjust the curve of the line) with settings filtering out low velocity hits.
The velocity threshold is set so that quiet hits won't activate the sampler: you have to hit the drum hard for the chord to sound.

2. Choke Groups (and other fun ways to choke the chords)

Let's say you want to spread the chord progression across multiple zones and/or drums. Well then simply using Retrigger isn't going to cut it (that only works inside one sampler).

If that's the case you'll need to do something in order to make the separate samplers cut each other off. In Sensory Percussion you can create a Choke Group, or use velocity controllers mapped to the sampler's stop button to choke the chords.

A Sensory Percussion sampler is shown. The text box next to 'choke' in the sampler is selected and 'group 1' has been typed in the text box.
Adding this sampler to the choke group will cause it to silence any other samplers in the group whenever it's activated
The full Sensory Percussion software is shown. A 'rim tip' velocity controller has been assigned to the sampler's 'stop button' an arrow points from the controller to the assignment.
Now the 'rim tip' zone will choke this sampler

Advanced sequencing methods and other fun techniques

So you want to do more than just cycle the progression? Well you can certainly do that. Let's start simple by dragging a velocity controller from another Sensory channel to the reset button. Now when you hit that drum it will reset the cycle.

The full Sensory Percussion software is shown. A velocity controller from Drum2 has been assigned to the 'reset' button of the cycled sampler. An arrow points from the controller to the controlled parameter.
Striking Drum2 will cause this sampler on Drum1 to reset

Now let's dive a bit deeper and drag a rim tip velocity controller from the same drum to the sampler “next” button, and then set the sampler from “cycle” to “cntrl.”

The full Sensory Percussion software is shown. A rim tip velocity controller is assigned to the 'next' button of the chord sampler. An arrow points from the controller to the controlled parameter.
Hitting the rim tip will cause the next chord to play

Now this sampler isn't simply cycling any more: you can play the center of the drum to repeatedly strike the same chord, and then hit the rim tip to advance to the next chord.

Watch the livestream embedded at the top of the article for even more advanced sequencing techniques.

It's generally pretty fun to sidechain compress the chords to the kick or snare. That way when you play the kick or snare the chords duck out of the way, adding a reactionary movement to the chord samples. This technique often sounds best with low threshold and high ratio compressor settings.

A Sensory Percussion compressor effect set to sidechain the chords to the kick. The 'chan' triggering the sidechain of the compressor is the kick and that part of the software is highlighted.
These chords will now be squashed down whenever the kick plays
The Sunhouse Logo in yellow and white
Stay up to date
© 2024 Sunhouse Technologies, Inc. All rights reserved.