Creating Realistic Drum Kits in Reason

While it's easy enough to make drum patterns and beats, it's a little trickier to make realistic sounding drum kits. Here's how to convince yourself and others using Propellerhead Reason.  

Reason, being a large virtual bundle of tools offers a sound for everyone. But, if you’re looking for some nice, realistic sounding studio drums, the path is not always as straightforward as some might like. In this tutorial, I’d like to show you some of my own methods for getting realistic sounding drums, out of the virtual studio, known as Reason.

Build From a Solid Foundation 

There are, of course, tons of different instruments that offer drums in Reason. However, one particular instrument was designed with acoustic drums in mind... Sort of. 

Within Kong, you’ll find multiple components that can be used towards building an extremely realistic drum kit, without having to spend a lot of time velocity mapping samples and fine tuning each piece of your kit. Let me show you what I mean. 

I’ll bring up a Kong, within Reason, and clear that current patch, if there is one, so that the patch field indicates Init Patch. 

Now that I’m in Kong, let me show you some of those tasty little drum components I was referring to earlier! I’ll select Pad 1, so that the blue selection field appears around it. Then, I’ll press the Show Drum and FX button at the bottom of Kong. 

Kong has several different drum modules, and effects hiding inside of it. But the three we are going to be focusing on, for the moment, would be the Physical Bass Drum, Physical Snare, and Physical Toms. Let’s start with the Bass Drum, first. In the empty drum module area, I’ll use the selector arrow to open the drop-down menu, and select Bass Drum... 

Like all of the Physical Drum Model Modules in Kong, the Bass Drum offers every possibility for adjusting the size, shape, Beater level, density, tune, pitch, even the Shell Level! However, as tempting as it is to start tweaking right now, I always wait till later. Why? Before I get into how great, or not great the drum sounds in question, I am more concerned about getting vocals, and other instruments in. Once the song is complete, and it’s time to mix, this is where building from Kong becomes very handy, as there are so many customization options for each individual drum. I’ll also Pan the new Bass Drum to the left, so that we can give it its own output, later.  

Now let’s get the rest of those Physical Drums going, so that we can start building an environment, and some reality! 

I’ll select Pad 3, which will cause the slot we recently occupied with the Bass Drum to disappear. Actually, it’s still around, the bottom panel always, and only, shows what the selected Pad has for Drum module and effects assignments. For this Drum Module, let’s select Physical Snare, and Pan it to the Right. 

Next, on Pad 6, I am going to create a Physical Tom (Not Shown). Then, right-click on Pad 6 and select Copy Patch. 

Then, on Pad 8 and 10, I’ll Paste Patch, to each Pad. Using the Tune and Tone knobs, we can go back later and adjust each Physical Tom so that each Tom is pitched according to Low, Mid, Hi Tom, and even more, should you be a big lover of toms. 

Tip: You’ll notice that I am assigning modules to pads a little out of order. In fact, what I am doing is mapping each module based on General MIDI Mappings of the past. Most sound designers still follow this kind of mapping. And, by doing so, if I need to switch out this drum patch, later on, I’ll have been playing and programming my drums in a General MIDI mapping, so any new drum patch I assign will have its drums played appropriately by the sequencer.  

Pitching is extremely easy to do with the toms. Just adjust the Pitch knob in the upper left-hand corner of the Physical Tom Tom module. 

What About Hats? 

While there isn’t a Physical Cymbal module, there is a sample module that is excellent for hi-hats. On Pad 7, I’ll right-click and select Browse Drum Patches, then navigate over to the Kong Sounds and Samples, within the Kong Folder, within the Reason Factory Soundbank. In this directory, I’ll locate the Hi Hats folder. 

Now, within the Hi-hats directly, I’ll select the HH_DryPop.drum. You’ll notice that this particular sound has a blue icon. This means that it is not a sample, it’s an actual patch. Also denoted by the .drum at the end. Patches are a lot more comprehensive than just basic WAV, or AIF files. They usually, like DryPop, consist of multiple samples, and edge much closer to reality. 


Building An Environment 

Now that we have the meat of the drum kit, I usually will begin building an environment through effects. Meaning: I’ll begin routing my physical, realistic sounding drums into the mix, and get some send effects going so that my drums sound like they are sitting in a real environment, and not within a laptop. 

Tip: Remember to use the Tab button to turn the Reason Rack around, to get to the cables! 

To do this, I’ll route each of my pads to individual outputs, as we began doing with the Pannings for Pad 1 and 3; Bass Drum and Snare. Actually, they are already taken care of. We just need to fix them in the mix. I’ll create five additional Mix Channels...

Then, I’ll label each mix channel, as they pertain to each drum pad... 

Of course, Kick and Snare are still on the same mix channel. I’ll grab the cable going into the right input (Remember: We panned the snare to the right, earlier.), and route it into the Mono input of the Snare drum... 

Then, I’ll route a cable for my hat, starting at Output Number 3, panned left, so that the hi-hat is being routed to Output 3 on Kong. By giving each drum a mixer channel, we obtain serious control of the over all sound and mix. As well as a way to really sculpt each drum. 

Tabbing back to the front panel, I’ll now go through each tom and pan accordingly, as well as route each tom to an external output. In fact, Pad 6 will be going out of Output 4, as panning it right, when going out of output 3-4 will always map to the left channel, or lowest number. This means Pad 8 will be going to Output 5, and Pad 10 will be going to Output 6 (not shown). 


Now that each physical, and sampled drum is assigned to its own mixer channel, and I have not only the amazing channel strips of the Reason mixer available to sculpt each drum sonically. But, I also have Physical Bass Drum, Snare and Toms parameters to sculpt each drum to what sounds real, and nice to my ears, after I have all my other parts in. I’ve essentially set myself up so that I have a scary amount of tools for dialing in my drums once it’s time for mix down. .

Learn Propellerhead Reason with these videos courses in the AskAudio Academy.


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


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Hi! This sounds interesting but I get stuck at, "Of course, Kick and Snare are still on the same mix channel. I’ll grab the cable going into the right input (Remember: We panned the snare to the right, earlier.), and route it into the Mono input of the Snare drum... " I'm not sure what cable you mean. The only cables I saw in back of the rack are from MAIN AUDIO OUT. And the screenshots don't follow both ends of the cable, so I'm not sure where they begin or terminate. It would be great to see a pic of the final wiring.

As long as I'm asking, I'm confused why AUDIO OUT 3-16 doesn't include 1 & 2. Are 1 & 2 the same as MAIN AUDIO OUT?
Those cables he is referring to are from the main audio out. He panned the kick and snare all the way to the left and right, so that the left and right cables on the main audio out would isolate the kick and snare.

As for 1&2 vs 3-16... if you look in the mixer menu for the drums (where you can set volume, pan, tone etc of each drum), you will notice an aux 1 and aux 2 knob. This sends that output (at the desired level) to aux 1 or aux 2. This is in contrast to routing the bus to 3-16, which is done by right clicking in the programmer. The reason for this is so you can use 3-16 for individual channels, whereas aux 1&2 are for multi-channel outputs.

Example: I want individual audio channels for each piece of the drumset (kick, snare, toms, overhead), as well as a drums-only output to put through Demolition for crunch, and a LF heavy full audio mix to be sent to reverb. I could go to each drum, assign them to 3-16 for the mix channels. Then, by using the aux 1 and 2 knobs for each individual pad, I could make the kick snare and drums all send audio to aux1 to be sent to Demolition, and make all pads (with higher levels for kick and toms than snare and overheads) send their audio to aux2 to be sent to my reverb module.

This allows you to create extremely fine tuned drumsets -- in the above example, I would have reverb receiving all of the drumset through aux 2, Demolition receiving all of the drums (no cymbals) through aux 1, have each pad go through it's own mix channel for compression and/or EQ, then have a multichannel mixer that receives all the pad samples, the Demolition audio, and the full-wet reverb, which can then be gain staged and panned perfectly.

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