In this post, we’ll learn how to create a custom Sforzando drum kit for use in your DAW projects. Sforzando is an open-source sampler that uses a file-driven configuration to play your audio samples for MIDI files. While it may not be usable for every music producer out there, it can be an invaluable tool in creating virtual instruments with custom audio samples. Let’s get started making a basic, reusable, custom drum kit now in Tracktion Waveform 11 Free.
11 June 2020 – Written by Michael R. Myers #mykmyrs
Skill Level: Advanced
Creating Your Own Inexpensive Drum Kit
You may have asked yourself if it is worth the time and effort to create a drum kit in an open source plug-in. I know I did. Looking at the cost of the big virtual drum plug-in developers’ products, I decided it was better for me and my budget to learn how to use the free Sforzando to make use of the tons of drum kit audio samples I already own. It’s free, well-supported and has a large user base. There are plenty of videos available on YouTube and getting started was easy enough,
As we move forward in this tutorial, please keep in mind that there may be better, faster or smarter ways to work in Sforzando. I am a guitar player, not a drummer, and I need seriously great-sounding drums for my own artistic expressions. The drum samples I have are great quality and I wanted to be able to integrate them into both a Windows and a Mac world due to the computers I compose on. Sforzando seemed like a great choice and hopefully it can work for you too.
I’m using Tracktion Waveform 11 Free as my DAW, so some of this tutorial will be specific to Waveform’s ways and configurations. Other DAWs may require you to figure out your own path. Hopefully at the end of the tutorial, You’ll have a custom Sforzando drum kit that you can use over and over again.
This tutorial is a basic approach to creating a starter Sforzando instrument. There is so much more that can be done within Sforzando, such as simultaneously playing multiple samples, creating groups that play random samples to vary your playback and controlling your output with its knobs and effects. And also be aware that there seems to be many, many different ways to structure your SFZ configuration files and still produce audio output properly. This tutorial is a minimalist’s experience to get up and running quickly.
The key with Sforzando, at least for me, is to be flexible and be willing to do some trial-and-error approaches to see what ends up working. After I get something working the way I want, I can copy/paste as needed to move on knowing things will work. Another benefit to the file configuration model is that you can copy an entire SFZ, rename it and change your samples and be ready to go with a whole new kit with different sample files.
Getting Started with Sforzando
Your SFZ file will contain all of the configuration of your kit’s samples and parameters that control its function. Once you have your kit’s SFZ file saved, you’re able to reuse the kit any time you like. Save your completed SFZ files somewhere safe so you don’t lose your time and efforts.
To begin, you’ll neeed to create a new, basic sfz file. Follow the steps here at sfzformat.com. Save this file on your local machine so that you can use it to start making your instrument. You’ll also need to download the drum kit samples and place them into the same folder that holds your SFZ file. After you learn to configure Sforzando, you can move your files to another location that suits your needs.
What You’ll Need to Get Started
- Digital audio workstation software, such as Tracktion Waveform 11 Free
- The Sforzando plug-in for Mac or Windows by Plogue installed
- Audio samples of a complete drum kit. I used the free kit EasyRider by Michael Kingston for this tutorial.
- A text editor, such as Notepad++ (Windows only) or Geany (Mac and Windows)
- https://www.plogue.com/products/sforzando.html – Plogue’s website for Sforzando
- https://sfzformat.com/ – For creating an SFZ file
- https://sfzformat.com/tutorials/drum_basics – For configuration of a drum kit, including round robin and random samples playback
- https://s3.amazonaws.com/sforzando/sforzando_guide.pdf – A Complete Guide to Understanding Plogue Sforzando
Steps to Create Your Custom Sforzando Drum Kit
- Create a new project in Waveform.
- On an empty track, create an instance of the Sforzando plug-in
- Create a new basic SFZ file for a starting point, supposing that you don’t have one already. Follow the steps here at sfzformat.com. When you’ve completed the file, save it to your machine and then drag/drop it onto the Sforzando window. Ignore any errors you may receive.
- After Sforzando loads your sfz file, you should see a screen similar to this one. From here you will see your loaded file name at the top of the screen, and you’ll have a button near the bottom of the screen to open your file for edits. I associated Notepad++ to open *.sfz files to make editing easy.
- Download the EasyRider drum kit from the link in the Getting Started section of this tutorial. Place the extracted folders into the same folder that contains your SFZ file.
- Open your SFZ file and make two <group> sections. One will define the kick drum. The other will define the snare drum. Refer to this image for the text entries needed in your SFZ file. Set your sample path as required so that Sforzando can find your samples. If the path is not correct, Sforzando will display error details.
- Drop a drum MIDI file onto your Waveform track, or create a new MIDI clip and add some kick and snare MIDI notes.
- Press Play on your transport. If all went well, you will hear your kick drum and your snare drum playing the MIDI notes.
- Continue creating your <group> sections for each of the pieces of your drum kit and map the samples.
Where To Go From Here
Now that you have a basic kit with a few various hit velocities per instrument, you’ll want to look into implementing a round robin and/or random sample playback approach to really vary your playback audio. In addition, take some time to look into samples that include files for room microphones that open up your sound with real room dynamics.
Congratulations on making your first custom Sforzando drum kit. Thanks to Michael Kingston for making his EasyRider kit available for free so that we could learn how to play them in Sforzando.
If you would like to add to this content to help other folks, please contact me and let me know what you have in mind.