Liquid DnB Tutorial Day 5: Making a Spacey Piano and Sampled Strings [7 Day Song]
Hi! I’m Dave from boyinaband.com and welcome to day 5 of my 7 day song on liquid dnb. Yesterday, I taught you how to make two simple lead-ish synths. Today, I’ll be teaching you how to make a spacey piano and some sweet sampled strings.
So! Let’s start with that piano. I’ll be doing things slightly differently this time – right click and create a combinator, but instead of making it ourselves, this time there’s a preset that just sounds amazing, so load up the combinator preset “Distant Grand”. Don’t worry though – we’re still going to be learning about it, we’ll just reverse engineer what makes it so awesome. Before we forget, name it “SPACE PIANO” so it already sounds dynamic.
First then, I’ll add in some notes, which I’ll be talking about later.
So, we’ve got all these effects units vying for our attention like a bunch of teenage girls whose parents don’t love them, but just like we would in real life, let’s bypass them for now and concentrate on what matters – making frickin’ awesome music.
So now they’re all bypassed, we can hear what we start off with – a simple sampled piano that sounds like a child playing some surprisingly pretty notes on a casio keyboard. NN-XT is great when it comes to sampling or multisampling. Multisampling is what is going on here – where you sample multiple notes of the same instrument, then assign them across the keys so you get an authentic sound. You *could* just use one note and stretch it the whole way, but then it’d sound like this *plays* – Not entirely natural or piano sounding, eh?
So, that’s our piano, they’ve also taken the frequency down a bit and lengthened the attack slightly to make it less harsh sounding. Next up, I’ll explain how these vulnerable teenage girls, I mean effects units, have been hooked up together.
Firstly, I’ll move this RV-7 to above the mixer, since then it’s in a logical order. Check it out – the piano goes into the mixer, then the auxilliary input is on pretty high here. Hitting tab shows us the back, which looks like spagetti junction right now (for those of you who get that reference, hi five!), but if we hit “l” then we can hide the wires temporarily.
Now we can see that the aux send is going to the splitter, which is sending the signal to three units – the ddl-1, the rv7000 and the scream 4 unit. These all come back into the merger side of the spider instance, which goes into the return on the mixer. So basically, it’s mixing all three sounds together in parallel.
Then, the mixer is going into that RV-7 for a last bit of reverb, and the compressor to even out the tail of the tone a bit and give it that bit more punch.
So let’s turn them on one at a time and hear what they do. Starting with the delay. This is set to 7 steps, so it’s echoing just before the beat, giving a trance-like piano sound that’s a great start to a spacey piano.
Next, we’ve got the RV7000. The way this reverb is set up, it kind of acts like another delay, as you can see, it’s on the “Echo” algorithm, also on 7 steps. This one’s a bit more smooth sounding, since it’s still a reverb, so by combining it with the ddl-1, you get a delay that has smooth edges to it, resulting in a gorgeous spacey sound.
Lastly, we’ve got this scream 4, which might seem unusual, but you can hear it adds a slight overtone to the notes, as well as giving them a sweet semi-lo-fi feel. So it’s like you were playing a piano in space, but the only thing you found to beam what you were playing to the space station was a dodgy microphone. NASA must have had to make some cut backs after the credit crunch – even virtuoso pianist astronauts were affected. It’s on overdrive mode, but not with too much damage control. We can see the mid-range is boosted to give that crackly old radio feel, and body type E, which I think is probably the biggest sounding body type, is selected.
So, then the real reverb – RV-7 is added. It’s big, it’s long and it’s slightly damp. Eww. Anyway, this is what really makes it feel like it’s in space – while the other reverb just softened that delay, this one grabs the astronaut and his trusty piano and throws him miles away from his space station. Man, this is turning into an awesome episode of the twilight zone. It turns out the spaceman IS the piano! DUN DUN DUUUN!
So yeah, lastly that compression… it’s just a small threshold with a small ratio of 3:1. Just squashing the tail end up and the attack is quite small, just enough to let the piano notes punch.
And there we have it! Now for those notes…
It’s separated into two call-and-response sections. This lower first part and higher second part. Kind of like Crunk music – a genre which is pretty much the peak of musical achievement.
For the first part, as you can see, I’ve used my trusty semitone again, as well as that 7th in the key G# – all adds to the tension and thus prettiness of the melody, but I’ve let it resolve to the Bb.
The second part flows nicely, since it starts on the Bb, so where it ends on the first part, it jumps up an octave, which is a natural kind of musical leap that feels like it works. More semitonal goodness here, you can see I really like the tension of those semitones, since there tend to be more notes around them than anywhere else. Then I’m not kind enough to let it resolve completely, but I do let it hit the third, which is a really pretty note in the key as we’ve come to realise! I don’t at the end though, just reprising that little riff, without the end third note so it sounds like it’s drifted off into space…
The second time round I use both parts, I’ve edited each slightly.
In the first part, I’ve added the third note in the key above each note, making pretty little chords for some nice variation.
The second part I’ve changed part of the riff entirely, but as you can see, it’s all living around that semitone difference again. I’m even cruel enough to let it end on a semitone change into the second in the key, which is just ACHING to move down to that Bb. But I won’t let it. I’m quite a sadistic person – just ask my girlfriend. Don’t ask her about the bruises, though.
So those are the notes! Now we’ll move on to the sampled strings in part 2…
So, make a combinator, name it “sampled strings” and add a line 6:2 mixer, and an NN-XT instance. Initialize NN-XT and open it up. Now, right click inside the sample column and let’s add in those samples! Click “Browse samples” and I’ve cut up a strings sample I found on freesound.org (which is a great website for random little samples, especially foley stuff, which is like explosions and basically sound effects you’d hear in movies like footsteps etc.) into 6 parts. I cut it up in Sonar, but you can do that in your audio sequencer of choice.
So, select all the samples, then hit ok. Now, at the moment they’re all overlapping and playing a note would result in a painful mess – which would be great for some evil dubstep, but we’re going for pretty here, so we’ll have to resort to ordering these string samples.
Fortunately, I recently found a quick way to do it. Select them all, then right click and select “Automap zones chromatically”. This assignes each sample a note on the keyboard from C1 upwards.
Now we can go into the sequencer and hear the samples are playable! I’ll just add in some notes now.
So we’ve got those notes, I’ve simply cut up the sample a bit, take a listen. If we go back into reason, I’ll show you what else can be done to improve it.
First, make an EQ and boost around 1.2khz by 4dB with a wide bandwidth of 2. This just brings up the mid-range nicely, which was an area in the frequency spectrum where the song needed filling up a bit.
Then, we’re going to add RV7000 to the mixer on All the Met, taking up the decay to about 3/4 so it’s a bit of a longer tail, then the aux to half so it’s nice and prominent.
Now, the last thing I want to do is some heavy filtering every now and again to act as a sweet fill. After the EQ, make an ECF-42. Set the resonance to 60 – this will give that high-pitched edge to the underwater-y sound when we filter it. Now, we’re going to link it into the combinator so we can automate it. So, show the programmer, select the filter in key mapping and we’re going to route two different things.
First, set the target for rotary 1 as the frequency. This allows us to filter in and out simply.
Next, set button 1 to enabled, with min 2 and max 1. This means when it’s pressed, the filter turns on, and when it’s depressed, it cries itself to sleep. Or bypasses it, one of the two.
Now, right click each and edit automation. Make sure you set the default of the button to “off” so the filter doesn’t affect the sound except when you tell it to do so with an envelope. So, draw in an envelope at the end of the strings progression and turn on the filter, then do another envelope for the rotary 1 telling it to modulate in and out.
And there we have it! Some piano that’s spacier than Ingvar Kamprad’s house (you’ll have to search the internets to get that joke) and some strings more sampled than Gregory Cylvester “G. C.” Coleman (man, you’ll be having a field day on wikipedia)
Join me tomorrow for day 6 where I’ll be structuring the song, and adding in some fx to polish it off! See you tomorrow…