The modulation wheel on
your synth doesn’t have to control vibrato. I often use
pitch-bend as vibrato, which frees up the mod wheel to lead a much
more interesting existence—or add an effect along with
key to mod wheel fun is controlling multiple parameters. For best
results, your synth needs two control
parameters between the mod source and destination: level
to adjust modulation strength, and offset
provide an initial, fixed modulation value. Now, try these tips on
for size . . .
with bass, I like rolling the mod wheel forward to reduce highs
(e.g., by lowering a 12dB- or 6dB-per-octave filter’s cutoff
frequency) and simultaneously increasing gain to compensate for the
lower level. Or, increase the level of a sub-octave sine wave while
the filter cutoff lowers, thus giving a super-bass sound (see Figure
1 below). Here’s a related trick: Adding an octave-lower sine wave to an
ethereal female choir gives the illusion of adding some male voices
to the choir.
Fig. 1. Arturia’s
Prophet-5 is using MIDI learn so the mod wheel lowers the filter
while it’s raising the level of oscillator B, which is set to a
A variation on the above is controlling the level of a sine wave
tuned to the preset’s fundamental; bring in a hint of sine wave for
a deeper, more powerful fundamental on lower notes. Try this on a
piano’s lower octaves if you want it to dominate a track, but note
that a little reinforcement goes a long way.
synths let you control signal processor parameters with modulation
sources. With distortion, use offset to set a minimum drive amount,
and the modulation wheel to increase the drive amount. Also, apply a
little negative modulation to the output level so that there’s not
a huge volume change when going from minimum to maximum drive.
often sustain a note at high volume, inducing a second tone that’s
typically a couple of octaves and a fifth above the fundamental. Tune
an additional sine wave oscillator appropriately, and control its
level with the mod wheel. To be more guitar-like, add some vibrato as
the “feedback” appears, and pull back slightly on the
fundamental’s level (see Figure 2 below).
Fig. 2. Steinberg’s
Retrologue sets up modulation to bring in oscillator 2’s “feedback”
sound, while adding vibrato and reducing the level of oscillator 1.
with melodic percussion. Pitched
cowbell, clave, struck metal pipe), can add dramatic attacks if you
transpose them up an octave or two and mix them in subtly with the
mod wheel when appropriate. Also try tying modulation to filter so
that increasing the pitched percussion’s level lowers the filter
cutoff to take a bit of the edge off the percussion sound.
Got three oscillators? Create a chord with the root note and the
fifth, but use the modulation wheel to control the pitch of the
third—forward for major and back for minor.
its most basic, this technique controls the level of two oscillators
so that as one goes from full off to full on, the other goes from
full on to full off. But there are rich possibilities, like morphing
between a cello and sawtooth wave so you can go from more realistic
to more synthetic, or combine the two—or even morph between patches
(see Figure 3 below).
Fig. 3. In Cakewalk
Rapture, Volume 1 controls a percussive sound, while Volumes 2 and 3
control a pad sound. Adding modulation fades out Volume 1, raises
Volumes 2 and 3 to compensate, and pitch-modulates the LFO to animate