Humanizing Drums With Velocity Effect in Ableton Live

One of the challenges with producing electronic music in a DAW is maintaining a human feel in the music. If producers aren’t careful, programmed sequences and patterns can easily sound robotic and stale, leaving listeners bored. Today Multiplier shares a simple trick to help humanize drums and add some variation in Ableton using the Velocity effect.

Velocity = Volume Variation

Simple hi hat pattern in Ableton with velocity variation.

Velocity is a used as a measure of how hard a pad or key is hit. This value will determine the volume or amplitude of drums and instruments. The harder you hit the pads or keys on a controller, the louder the sound will be.

In Ableton the “Velocity” midi effect allows producers to define the velocity range and it also has random modulation. The random modulation will randomly adjust the velocity value everytime a midi note is triggered. So even for producers that are using a controller that doesn’t have velocity sensitive control or if their using the computer keyboard for midi input, the velocity effect can help add some variation.

Why Is Velocity Important?

Listen to any drummer, even the best drummer in the world and every drum hit will sound different due to a variation in timing and the impact of their hits. Even if they tried to hit the drum the same way every time, there would still be some variation. This imperfection is what actually makes a sound or performance interesting to our ears. It’s entirely possible to have a perfectly quantized loop with all sounds playing the same velocity but this will feel very robotic to the listener and quickly gets repetitive.

How To Setup The Velocity Midi Effect

  • Load a drum rack, instrument, or VST
  • Go to the midi effects tab in Ableton’s browser
  • Click the triangle beside the velocity effect, this will display presets
  • Drag the “Add some Random” preset in front of the drum rack
  • The default settings sound great, but feel free to play with the random value
  • Look at the level meters to confirm that the volume/amplitude is varying

This technique is not just limited to snares as demonstrated in the video. It can be applied to any drum sound, drum kit, and instruments as well. So next time everything sounds “perfect”, mess it up and humanize it by “adding some random” with the velocity effect.

Looking for more ways to spice up your drums?

Learn how to create round robin drum samples!

Abletonableton live 9ableton tips and tricksdrum programmingmidi velocityMultiplierproduction tipsvelocity
Comments (5)
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  • calgarc

    i kinda cheat 😀 i have a plugin i love using called camel space, i throw some of that on a duplicate of my drum group. I use it to get weird percussive effects. this adds a touch of feel and variation to the drums without really changing the pattern.

  • René via 'Allo 'Allo

    So just use the velocity preset…..

    Not sure it was worth a full article, particularly the bit about pressing the ‘triangle’ to open up the presets…

    Has there been a staff or editorial change here at DJTT? The quality of articles recently has really gone downhill.

    If it’s not pinching ideas (and not crediting) by Ill Gates, or having extremely rudimentary guides on ableton or traktor, it’s articles on the business side of djing, which appear to (me at least) be telling the world that all djing is nowadays, is about making money- seeing it as a carer path. What happened to articles about people just doing it for the love of the music?

  • PuffnChug

    Hmm… the exact same thing can be accomplished by highlighting your drum hits and then using the drawing tool on the velocity values.

  • Unreallystic

    Another option, coming from a Reason user, I often use pads to create my drum loops. Just practice the loop unquantized until you can just about nail exactly what you are looking for. Outside of the midi fighter, most pad devices are velocity sensitive, so you’ll get the timing off by just enough to humanize it with velocity to match.

  • Prof_Strangeman

    VERY cool tip!! Will use this lots.