By Francis Preve
In previous roundtables, we’ve discussed the process for developing leads and pad sounds, but what about more subtle rhythmic synth elements, such as stabs and arpeggios? This month, our crack team of experts explores their approach to weaving supporting parts into an arrangement. Have a question for our panel? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you may find it answered by the artists below, and/or the likes of Alan Wilder and Wolfgang Gartner.
I use very simple sawtooth arpeggios, composed in two or three layers, with complex treatments. I like to write the chord progression first and then weave an arpeggio and a sub-lead underneath that interact in cool harmonic ways. I like using counterpoint sometimes, too, where one lead goes up while the other goes down. It creates an interesting harmonic tension moving around the scale like that. I like using chord stabs that propel the beat forward, opening up the release and the filter during breakdowns—you hear it a lot, but it definitely works.
I’m a sucker for sub-melodies, supportive melodies, or so-called “answers” to the “call” of the main melody. These have a tendency to create more musical depth. A classical composer taught me never to let these play higher notes than the main melody. The guy drives a Lamborghini, so I took his word for it.
I enjoy layering and adjusting the presence of the layered elements as the track progresses. Back in the day of hardware sequencers and hardware synths, I used to layer several different keyboards on one MIDI channel to create thick, lush sounds. I apply that same philosophy to the world of virtual synths. It is really effective if you want the chorus to feel bigger or thicker without cluttering up the track with too many different arrangement parts.
By learning to recognize the sounds of various waveforms, especially the ones commonly found on synths, such as sawtooth, square, pulse, and triangle waves, you can hear which spaces in the track need support. If you can hear a sound and judge the waveform or combination of waveforms that is most appropriate to reinforce a section, you’ll enhance the track greatly. So basically I just like to spend a few hours on getting that sound right, tweaking and adjusting the right waveforms to get that sound to fit the track.