Intro

The creation of chords and stabs remains one of the most frequently asked questions on music production forums. Specificly about those floating-around-your-head chords as heard in nowadays dubstep, dubtechno and related genres. The building blocks are actually quite basic stuff, nevertheless many people think way too complex. This is an Ableton Live tutorial, mostly using its internal resources unless otherwise specified. Let’s have a look.

Ingredients

– A basic polyphonic synth (TAL U-NO 62 VSTi)
– A delay (Ableton Ping Pong Delay)
– A reverb (Ableton Reverb)
– A chorus (Ableton Chorus)
– An EQ & compressor (Ableton EQ8 & compressor)

Getting started

Before tweaking the synth and setting up the effects, a few word about chords and scales. Most music styles have their own mood and character usually derived from scales that the artists use. The most prominent one in dub-related genres is the minor scale (for those not firm with scales, here’s a very handy tool for learning them). While many of you may slap their heads shouting “OBVIOUS!” there are lots of artists that go mad trying to find the right sound by browsing through their synths, ending up in forums asking for hints on producing certain sounds, because they weren’t lucky. It’s due to the fact that very, very often, the biggest sounds are made up from most easiest synth-presets played the right way.

The synth sound

TAL U-NO 62 ui

So, the sound we’re after is a short and stabby one, usually with fast attacking volume and filter envelope as well as short decay and release. In order to put the filter envelope in charge it’s necessary to take the filter cutoff down and raise the filter envelope amount to its max. The synth i’m using for this is the free TAL Uno-62. As you can hear it doesn’t sound fancy at all, but as soon as you play for example a C-minor chord from the lower octaves, the dubish mood is already in place.

Adding effects

The chorus comes in first to widen the signal and breathe some life into the rather static sound. I’ll be using Live’s internal one without tweaking it much and place the EQ Eight directly behind it. The equalizer is used to shape the sound rather? than using it to fit into the mix. The first band lowers the bass, the second notches the mid frequencies slightly and the third band stresses the highs.

2

 

Delay – i’m using Live’s Ping Pong Delay for this using 1/6th delay time and leave it alone for the moment. Next up is the reverb which needs some tweaking. We’re looking for a long decayed verb with a broad and lush sound. Live’s internal one is fine again, the one you’re using should have options for filtering the input signal, additional controlover the diffusion damping would be handy as well.

3
The reverb produces the foundation for the soundlayer which carries the delay effect, thus the input filtering should take care about the high frequencies and cut them off. If your reverb of choice doesn’t have have parameters for this you can also put it on a send channel and place a in front of it. That’ll do the job as well.

 

 

Last not least insert a compressor to glue the sound and effects together, i’m proceeding with Live’s internal one. Lower the threshold to around 7db below the peak of the incoming signal to give it some beef to work with. Second important setting is the release, since it’s a long decaying sound we’re dealing with it should be rather long in order to prevent thumping. Ratio of 1:3 (or in Live 3.00) is fine. You can alter the attack setting to your liking, got it at ~30ms here to stress the initial sound a bit more. It’s rather subtle at first but as soon as you’re playing around with the effects it’s necessary to have a compressor that keeps the effects in place.

4

Above technique could be used to create for example stuff like this:

but it’s also a solid foundation for any kind of chord and stab found in electronic dance music. As far as the story goes, this is a really basic and easy way to get started.

Here’s an Ableton Live project file with a few variations of above created sound. The free loops & samplepack is available as well.