Today we’re looking at creating a sound effect that is used in all sorts of games, namely the sound of a heartbeat. The process is super simple and can of course be altered a lot of ways but use this as a starting point and come up with your own variations. Let’s do this!

A Kick

When looking for sources to create a heartbeat, my mind usually goes towards drums, more specifically the kick drum to give it that low end that you need. Instead of going out and sampling one, let’s create a very simple one in massive instead, here’s how it looks;

Kick drum patch

As you can see, it’s just a simple sine wave with a quick pitch envelope to give it some more flavour and transient. If you play this with a low-note on your midi controller, you should get something similar to a heartbeat. Let’s go ahead and add another layer of this, so we can play around with this sound a bit more.

Layering

If we ignore the third layer called “lid”, you can see that I’ve just stacked the massive tracks on top of each other. Also, I made a little loop with some midi notes to simulate the rhythm of the heartbeat. Try setting this up now.

You’re probably thinking to yourself that your sound doesn’t sound that much like a heartbeat right now except for the rhythm, which means it’s time for some extreme EQ’ing!

EQ on the first Massive layer
EQ on the second Massive layer

If your EQ’s looks like this, then you are a true sound designer! Jokes aside, the aim of the EQ’s is to control the low end as much as possible, while still letting some tone shine through. This is of course all up to personal preference. Here’s how my two massive layers ended up sounding.

Heartbeat (Massive Layer Only)

Try getting as close to this as possible. If you want, you can copy my massive patch and EQ exactly or you can experiment as much as you want. Preferably I would want you to copy me first and then try it your own way afterwards, but it’s completely up to you!

Now, listen to the example above a couple of times, what do you feel is missing? Take some time to think about this.

Personally, I think it needs a more “clicking” feel and some more tone to distinguish between the first and the second beat. Initially I was really struggling with figuring out how to get this sound until a friend of my, Thomas Murphy (currently making a game called “The Shadows Lengthen” under the name Feral 3D, check him out on twitter!), suggested that I used a Snapple cap (I think that’s what they’re called) and it worked out perfectly!

The Lid

A Snapple cap! (Excuse my hairy arm and tattoo)

The trick with this little thing is that if you press the lid (exactly where the text is on the picture above) you get this sound that is very close to heartbeat without any processing at all. Here’s an example from the raw recordings I did;

Raw Snapple cap sound

As you can imagine, with just a little processing this could very well sound like the perfect heartbeat. So I put on a low-pass filter with a little resonance on it, to filter out some of the more metallic and harsh sounds while emphasizing the actual low-end of the click a bit more. Try finding one of these yourself and give this process a try, if you don’t have one they’re very cheap and you can get one at every supermarket!

EQ on the Snapple cap

Putting It All Together

To glue it all together, I just cut up and matched the Snapple cap sounds to the rhythm of the massive layers and then gave it all some minor reverb.

Reverb settings if you’re curious

The less reverb you give it, the more realistic it sounds and the more reverb you give it, the more otherworldly is sounds. Here’s how my final sound effect ended up;

Final Heartbeat Sound Effect

Exercises

  1. Get a hold of 3-5 different Snapple caps and record 2 minutes worth of each being pressed. Experiment with different ways of holding it, think of it like an instrument.
  2. Try making 3 different heartbeats in Massive (or any other synth that you might have), experiment as much as possible!
  3. Put the results of exercise 1 & 2 together, what works for you and what doesn’t?

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