Jump Up DnB Tutorial Day 4: Porta Lead Synth + Plucked Arps [7 Day Song]

Hi! I’m Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to day 4 of the 7 day song Jump Up Drum and Bass collaboration with Noisestorm.

Yesterday we created the pads, and today we’ll go into more syntheriffic territories to develop a lead synth, along with an awesome arpeggiated synth.

So, let’s begin with that lead. Combinator, thor and initialize. Name it Porta synth, since that makes it sound like it has an obvious selling point as a travel synthesizer. It’s actually referring to the portamento we’ll add on later, but don’t tell that to the person you’re selling it to.

I’ll add in some notes now.

Now this synth is an excercise in doing a lot with a little – the source sound we’ll keep as it is on the analog oscillator, taking it up an octave. You could simply play your notes an octave up on your keyboard, but my left hand is quite comfortable taking a rest where it is at the moment, and my right hand is doing all the work. Yet they both reap the same rewards – wow, I never realised how communist my appendages are.

Next up, let’s apply the portamento by a quarter to give the synth it’s eponymous effect, and change it to mono legato in order to restrict it to one note at a time. This lead synth is not for chords… no. Bad. One note for you.

So as it stands it’s still a bit dry, let’s widen and thicken it with chorus but only on a quarter dry wet, so it still has a reasonable punch and presence.

The main thing here is the delay though. Tempo sync it and turn it to 4/16ths so it’s in time with the music, and bring the feedback up a touch to increase the tail. Just under a quarter dry wet, but we are going to emphasize this with some compression.

Sometimes adding compression on after the delay is a bad idea, since it squashes the effect too much and it sounds less natural, but over an intense drum and bass song, it’ll be hard to pick out the subtleties of such an effect without bringing them right into your face. I tried playing around with the feedback and dry wet settings, but the compression really did the job well to me, so I stuck with it.

Bring the input gain up to ¾ so the initial volume is a bit higher to work with, threshold down to -25dB, so quite low, and ratio to 16:1, so quite high. Importantly, the attack should be right down. This way there’s no initial punch, only a flattening of the sound. I’m also gonna bring up the output as well just until I feel it’s sitting as comfortably in the mix as my left hand is on it’s Marxist perch on the keyboard.

And there’s our summer-y portamento-based lead synth! It’s going to soon be accompanied by an arpeggiated ally in the form of our next synth patch, so join me in part 2 for that.

Let’s get stuck in, Combinator, name it, mixer, thor, init, open and we’ve got our simple source sound sorted; sweet!

I’ll just add in some notes.

Now, bring the filter down to ¼ and the env right up to full. We’re going to use the filter envelope to quickly close the filter every time the synth makes a note. This way we’ll get a high pitched start to the tone, followed by a more subdued tail end. It’s really quick and sounds akin to a muted plucked string on a guitar. You’ll see in a bit. Well, you won’t see… unless you have synesthesia.

Anyway, bring the decay down on the filter envelope until you hear it plucking… around 300ms did it for me. Now, Add on some delay with the default settings and you can hear it’s already kind of duplicated in an arpeggio-like manner.

However, we want even more arpeggiated goodness, so right click and create an RPG-8 arpeggiator, which for some reason makes me want to play final fantasy VIII for the 70th time.

Default settings are fine for our purposes, it automatically routes itself at the back to control Thor like an overbearing shadow government acting as puppetmaster to the subordinates in the fake seat of power to force their oppressive regime upon the unsuspecting masses without them ever questioning their democratic society.

Then, let’s make a filter. We’ll keep it fully open for now, but we can automate this later. I’ll probably add these to a bunch of the other instruments too – mega easy to do, if you don’t mind the messiness from extra note lanes, you can simply right click and edit the filter frequency directly to modulate in the sounds like so.

But it’s not too much hassle to hook it up to the combinator and keep things tidy either with the programmer if you so wish.

Now let’s make it sit in the mix nicely with a reverb unit on the mixer. Initialized and applied a half to the channel for a reasonable ambience to the sound. Bring up the hi EQ to just about a half to let the synth shine and the decay to ? to give it a bit more of a prominent tail, like a stem cell research mishap on an unborn child.

Now one thing that’s fun to play with is the automation on the RPG-8 device. Try automating the octave and mode for instance to get some variety in the notes played. I’ll automate it from the default 1 octave and up mode to 4 octaves and up + down.

Hear the difference such a simple change can make? This is a great way to keep a listener’s interest in a long track, subtle changes in a repetitive genre like this stand out a lot more than in shorter genres, meaning you don’t necessarily have to resort to making a million different synths for different parts of the song. It can be more catchy and memorable to just play about with what you already have.

And there we have it! A lead synth that glides like a downed jet in a war between the communists and the capitalists, and an arpeggiated synth that’s got more potential for variation than the post-war sociopolitical structure in the previous hypothetical scenario.

Join me tomorrow for day 5 where we’ll look at adding a sweet delayed piano sound, some vocoded vocals, and a cool pitch bend effect for a massive build near the end of the track.


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Hi! I'm Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to the site!

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