Creating Drum Kits from Household Items in Ableton Live 9

Struggling to find inspiring sounds? Get out of your studio and explore your home. You may be surprised just how fun sampling household objects can be for creating your own drum kits in Live.  


This article first appeared in AskAudio Magazine. Find out more here:


Account balance got you down? Tired of selling platelets to get that next soft synth? Most of us look to soft synths these days to fill the creative void. However, it wasn't too long ago that many of us, especially in situations of low income, would use the hardware and software that we had to supply us with nice sample banks. And, I'll say for myself, even when it wasn't simply a matter of money, I've always enjoyed recording everyday items, and then manipulating the recordings later to get entirely new usages out of the processed audio. 

Recently, I ran into an old friend, and he reminded me of our days sampling thunder, toilets, various book covers and so on when we were teenagers. There was no fear of using the wrong mic back then, or the right sample rate. Heck, 44.1 wasn't even achievable! Really, it was all about working with what you had and being a little punk rock about it. 

With the current technology, especially with applications like Ableton Live, you can truly achieve some craziness and beauty that you might not have imagined with some simple tweaks. 

And, just for a moment, let's pretend that we don't have to worry about the recording quality, or mic, or the sample rate, and so on. I'm just going to do some simple recording with my iPhone and FiRe (the wonderful field recording app) and see what I can get around my apartment. And, with each recording I get, we will go through some of the things that you can do with the sound.

Let's get started!

Sample 1- Tea Kettle

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First, I'll start off with one of the oldest tricks in the book, a tea kettle. Because tea kettles essentially produce a square/sine type waveform, they are easy to manipulate into basses, pads, and even arpeggiated loops that can be highly melodic. You'd be really surprised how easy it is, and in fact, how beautiful/terrifying they can be... All, from a simple whistle. But, don't think the kettle is all about whistles! Because the metal expands and the water boils within a strange, metal capsule, you can hear some strangle metal shiftings going on even before the whistle begins. This allows you to have some fun with pitching later. In fact, pitched down metallic noise can sound terrifying with the right effects.

After importing my sample recordings into my MacBook Pro, and into a directory that I've labeled specifically for my recorded samples, I'll drag this 'Personal Samples' directory into my Live 9 Places section, within the browser. 

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The great thing about having this directory within my Places section of the browser is that I've got access to the samples now, regardless of what project I'm working on!

So what can I do with this sample? Let's explore!

For the kettle, I'll place the audio into the Session view of Live, and set it up with as a Loop. With this method, there are infinite possibilities. 

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I'll turn the pitch down on the Clip all the way...

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.... And apply a Grain Delay. 

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By using the XY pad, with the new session automation, I can play the grain delayed whistle, low, low, like a bass. But, what sets it even farther over the edge is adding the Amp plug-in! Now, I get use the whistle like a bass that sounds far from 'tea time' and more like aggro punk guitars. 

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And, finally, to add just a bit more control... Let's add a little Auto Filter into get some wobbles, shall we? Session view automation allows me to record my wobble automation as I'm in the moment, making things much more fun, and rhythmic.

Tip: If you try this out, don't forget to Unlink parameter you want to record automation for. This allows you to have a much longer pass of recording automation before the loop comes to an end.

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Now that we have a bass for our home song, let's try adding in a lead from a surprising source. 

Sample 2 - Car Engine

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I pay a car payment on a nice little V6 engine which can work great as a nice lead. Engines, especially when they are pitched up, can greatly resemble a sawtooth waveform. And, this mustang is no exception.

For this file, I'll drop it into a Simpler, as it's an easy device to set up and control. And, and then transpose the engine all they way up, so that it's nice and sawtoothy...

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I can also reduce the loop duration of the audio file so that it sounds more '8-bit'. This is even more fun if you add on some Glide, with a relatively long Global Glide Time. Suddenly, this engine sounds like a edgy, little lead that tears it up. Especially, if I add on a Chorus...

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Now, let's look into getting these more percussive recordings into the action!

Sample 3 - Pots, Pans and Books

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The pots, and pans, in opinion don't need much in the case of processing. In fact, they make the perfect snare drums. Well, if you like really loud, metallic snare drums, that lend themselves more to industrial noise. 

After adding the pot recording into a drum rack, and narrowing which pot 'hit' I want to play, with the decay and release set up appropriately.

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I end up copying the same pot over to another drum pad, within my drum rack, pitching it way up, and using it for a hi-hat. The only thing left now is a good kick drum... This is where the book slap comes in. 

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I used an old hymn book for an entirely different purpose, as a drum. I used a plastic spoon to beat the front cover. For the book to work, I end up using the low pass filter with some filter envelope modulation. This gives me the 'click' that I need for the kick to be audible, and because I've added a healthy bit of resonance to 'push' those low frequencies at the end, this kick comes out very healthy. 

Putting it All Together...

So, what do all of these parts sound like, after I've mangled them and manipulated them with session view automation? Very much like any other instrument, or loop in Ableton. Well, with some thoughtful tweaks. And, I can even continue to build more new patches with Simpler, Sampler and the Drum Rack, as I continue to move forward, out of these simple, household samples. In fact, I'll even make a pad out of the whistling kettle, as well. It's begging for it anyway. Right? 

So, feel free to try out some home sampling on your own. You never know what you could come up with. And, in doing so, you can continue to build up your own patch library.

Download the project file.


This article first appeared in AskAudio Magazine. Find out more here:


Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More


Now THAT is a great article! I love it!

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