The Basics of Gating Acoustic Drums

Hey, folks. Matthew Weiss here —,, and

We’re going to be talking about gating drums. Not just how to do it, but also why to do it.

So let’s check this out. Here is a drum capture without any of the gating on it.


And here we are with my gates.

[drums, with gates]

So one more time, and I’m going to point out the differences here.

Without the gates, you’ll notice that there’s a lot more tone overall in the kit. There’s a little bit of snare rattle showing up, there’s some hum and ring between the notes, and also the sound is a little less punchy.

[drums, before and after gates]

With the gate on, the sound becomes a little bit tighter, a little bit punchier, all the drums become a little bit more defined, but they also separate. There’s a little bit less of that glue and cohesion between them.

So why do we use the gate?

Well, we use the gate when we want to favor one idea over another. In certain styles of records, we want to have that bleed between the drums. That bleed between the drums is what helps glue the whole kit together.

So a lot of indie rock styles, we’re going to keep the bleed in there for the most part. Jazz, we’re probably going to keep the bleed in there for the most part. Certain styles of drum breaks that might be working into electronic style records or whatever it may be, we want to keep some of the bleed in there.

But if we’re doing something like a hard rock record or a metal record, or certain styles of Hip Hop that incorporate live drums, we probably want to get the bleed out, because the punch is actually more important.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that on those styles, it’s very common that we’re going to be doing very heavy compression, so all of that bleed is going to get exacerbated as we start doing more and more processing.

So ultimately, it is an aesthetic decision that leads us to use a gate.

Okay, now let’s take a look at how to set one for drums.

The idea of using a gate is to target the drum itself that we want, and eliminate the quieter bleed between the hits that we don’t.

So, there’s a few rules of thumbs we should be looking at. Rule of thumbs, Rules of thumbs?

Anyway. We want a very fast attack. It’s really important to retain the definition of the transient of the drum. In addition, if your gate happens to have a look ahead, it really helps to set the look ahead up pretty high, because again, it’s going to help preserve that initial attack and that initial punch of the sound.

The next thing that’s important to look at is an additional way to target the drum, which is to use the side-chain detection filter. So here’s the sound of the drum.

[drum, raw]

But here’s what the gate is going to hear.

[drum, side-chain]

And this helps eliminate the presence of the snare and the hi-hat, or whatever else might actually be getting into the gate, because there’s more low frequency information in the kick than in anything else.

Similarly, if we were working on the snare, we would probably be cutting a lot of the low information out.

This is my filter here for the snare. You can see that my high-pass is set to 1.6 kHz. That’s getting rid of all of the low end, because there’s plenty of content in the snare, in the high end that we can focus on to help our gate function more accurately.

The next thing that we want to look at is the release. You see, the drum is an entire thing. It’s not just the attack, but it’s of course the sustain and the release of the signal as well. So that means the body and resonance of the drum, and maybe even some of the room tone if we can retain it, although that’s pretty tricky.

So one of the most important and overlooked functions that most gates will come with is something called a hold. The hold function tells the gate to stay open for a duration of time, regardless of the amplitude that it’s hearing.

So once the gate opens, this gate is told, “Okay, you’re going to stay open for 130 milliseconds before you start to close, and then you’re going to start applying gain reduction over the course of 600 milliseconds.”

That’s how my release is set. These seem like pretty slow settings, but if you think about it, I’m trying to capture not just that initial attack, which might only last ten milliseconds, but also a sustain that could easily go as long as an eighth note. So when you think about it in those terms, setting the hold to 130 milliseconds is really not all that long.

The last thing to look at of course is the threshold, ratio, and range.

These are not only going to determine when the gate opens, but also how much reduction the gate is doing after the fact. So when we’re reducing the bleed, we can keep in mind certain things like, we don’t need to completely eliminate all of the bleed from the sound. We just need to get it subtle enough so that we can do our additional processing without dramatically effecting the other drums.

If I have a ton of snare in my kick capture, and I start boosting a bunch of top end, then I’m going to end up brightening up the snare, when all I’m really intending to do is brighten up the kick.

So that said, if we can get the bleed to be low enough where it doesn’t have a dramatic effect on the snare, that might be good enough and if we find that we are affecting the core drum that we’re trying to preserve in a negative way, we can certainly back off the gate, and in this particular case, my range is set to 30 dB and my ratio is set to 6:1, so it is cutting out the snare quite a bit.

[kick, gated and ungated]

But that’s also because there’s a lot of space between the drum hits. I’m able to do that.

If I wasn’t able to do that, it wouldn’t be weird to just do this.


As opposed to this.


And you can hear that I’m still reducing the bleed quite a bit. Like, and that little bit in there is not really going to have a dramatic effect, and sometimes we might want to choose to retain that little bit of bleed, just to help that cohesion stay in there a touch.

Alright guys, hope that you learned something. Until next time.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch:
Smiley face