Comparing frequencies and tuning the kick drum. Includes case study with audio. This is a question often discussed. How do you avoid the kick and bass cancelling each other out?…

Tuning Kick Drum and Bass and Comparing Frequencies

Tuning Kick Drum and Bass and Comparing Frequencies

Comparing frequencies and tuning the kick drum. Includes case study with audio.

This is a question often discussed. How do you avoid the kick and bass cancelling each other out? This tutorial won’t tell you everything there is to know about the kick and bass, but it should help.

The most obvious way in my opinion to get them to both be audible is to not have them peaking at the same frequency. However they do need to be in the same key—more on that later.

Here’s a way to compare them easily. Pan your kick hard left and bass hard right. Route them into an audio track with the VST version of Voxengo Span, a free analyser. Select Underlay 2. Go to Routing and change Group Assignment B to 2. As you can see here, my kick and bass have similar frequencies. So now you can retune your kick, or play the bass differently to avoid this clash.


Ctrl click and hold (trackpad ctrl doubletap) to hear and see a narrow band on the Span for more information as to what frequency has the most energy.


Tuning the kick

To check the kick’s pitch, zoom in on the waveform and move the sample start to about half way, to a zero-crossing of the wave form, and use Span, or Spectrum in Pitch Mode. This gives a fairly accurate pitch analysis, depending on the sample. Missing out the start is important because kicks contain a pitch envelope, descending from a higher pitch. There is usually a click overlaid at the start as well. We are more interested in the long boom after that. The kick should be in the key of the tune, but doesn’t have to be the root note, just on the scale.


Kick tuned to A viewed in Spectum’s large window, actual size. Play around with the scales and so on and keep turning the big window on and off ’til you achieve something clear like this.

Comparing multiple instruments

You can actually compare more than two tracks in Span, route the Inputs to A-H, Group Assignments 1-8, Output Routing A-H. Pan your tracks and overlap them in pairs, so 1 is underlaid by 2, 2 by 3 and so on. In order to hear them you then have to route pairs of tracks to extra audio tracks with Spans on them like this:



Finally, pan back to centre, maybe reduce stereo width to zero, and always check your tune and different combinations of instruments which could clash in mono to make sure there is no cancellation. Normally you should roll off the bottom 25 Hz or so on kick and bass using a hi-pass filter.

Other things you can do:

  • Sidechain compression of the bass to the kick, to allow the kick to cut through.
  • Cut a notch out of one instrument’s EQ at the point where another peaks. Just a few dB should help.
  • Use an oscilloscope to check for level reductions where two instruments’ EQs clash (see below). Compare in mono, kick, bass and both, how do they compare?
  • Increase upper and/or midrange frequencies of your kick or bass to help it cut through.
  • Use your ears!

For a quick, rough comparison of frequencies, if you use a plugin, you can allow multiple windows in Preferences like this:


Case Study

kick and bass in Voxengo Span

This is a kick tuned to A0 and a B0 bass note coinciding with it. The kick is the green envelope. On the scope (see link above) they look like this:


kick in smexoscope


bass in smexoscope

Kick and bass together

kick and bass in smexoscope

The first thing you will notice is that the bass varies from note to note. This happens in some synths, and if you don’t like it you can freeze the track, drag the midi to a new audio track, and an audio version is created. Then you can pick the best bit and duplicate it. Look at the wave form as you listen to it. Remember to loop it so you can drag it out in Arrange view.

N.B. This would be lost if you deleted all your freeze files (see the tutorial on clearing out junk files in Mac Stuff) . A simple solution is to drag it into a folder in your browser and name it. Drag it safely to your samples folder. Then drag it back into the Live set to replace the frozen sample. It is now a normal audio sample safely stored in your library. The main thing is that it is not in the Frozen files folder which could get deleted later.

Next you will see that on a couple of the beats with both together there is a bit of phase cancellation and the bass has eaten into the kick a bit, just after the transient (sharp peak at the start). However it does sound ok and the overall wave form is louder than the two separate ones, plus this is not going to occur on every beat. The kick is easily heard because it is louder than the bass, and has a lot more going on at the top end.

In this first example the bass is not very prominent because you only hear it where the B note coincides with the kick. You can just hear the variation in the bass.

Overall though, in context it sounds fine, to me anyway!

Some useful links:

EQ: How & When To Use It

Using Equalisation

Kick Drum Tuning in Ableton Live

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