Melodic techno would be nowhere without plucks. Often heard scattered among the genre’s distinctive fluttering beats and driving bass lines, plucks really help in crystallising a track’s sound and applying a final layer of vim and vigour. Plucks can be used as single-note grooves to slap on some additional funk flavour or as arpeggiators to give listeners the full trance experience. They also work well as one-shot melodies, perhaps intermingled around with three or four other melodies, complete with reverb and delay across the bar to create powerful variations. Plucks are also useful for playing trills and bringing excitement to your chord voicing.
Plucking up the courage
Despite the pluck’s prevalence in melodic techno, the sound lends itself to all manner of genres, and appears in multiple forms. What defines these forms is up for debate.
In basic terms though, an arpeggiator consists of repeated often 1/16 notes but can be quicker or slower depending on the energy you want to exude. Stabs are chordal one-shots, often fifth, seventh or ninth chords, and are synonymous with house and techno music. The job of the vanilla pluck is to bolster leads and grooves.
Though you might initially think that the term ‘pluck’ will refer to a sound that replicates the playing of stringed instruments, in actuality they are synth-based lead sounds though with a similar short (but not instant) attack and medium decay to their acoustic namesakes. Plucked guitar and other string instruments are perfect examples of the science behind this term. The key here comes in understanding that these sounds are not fully sustained in the same way that a lead instrument might be. If engineered right, however, plucks can take the form of a lead. The beauty of synthesising a pluck is that you have absolute control over the attack and decay of the sound, and you can then use an envelope to morph your plucks into more well-defined leads, which means you can wring a great deal of arrangement potential out of just a single sound. You will find them quite versatile in that sense.
Breaking the rules
When designing pluck sounds, it pays to think about layering up multiple synths in the creation of your final pluck. But why stop there? Take samples, for instance. Let’s say you have a sample pitched to the C of a real-world harp or a vocal. Why not try layering this sound with your C-pitched synth to give it an organic edge? Be sure to experiment with reverb and delay to truly give the sounds a sense of real-world space too. You can achieve interesting results when layering multiple sounds over your synth plucks. In the words of Hans Zimmer, one of the most successful musical and compositional innovators in the world, “If there’s a rule, break it – that’s the only thing that moves things forward”.
“Deadmau5 created one of the most memorable pluck sounds in modern electronic music”
Last month’s cover star Deadmau5 created one of the most memorable and frequently used pluck sounds in modern electronic music, a sound that has become synonymous with progressive house around the globe following Joel Zimmerman’s extensive use of it. His pluck is one of the most notable examples of a pluck taking a strong centre stage in a modern classic. Check out tracks Faxing Berlin and I Remember to hear it in action.
Pluck-style melodies are also used to fantastic effect on Major Lazer and
DJ Snake’s global smash Lean On. On this track though, the pluck has a more contemporary edge, with a slightly longer attack and interesting stereo separation that really brings the sound to life and makes the track pop. This represents a
truly innovative use of the humble pluck to command the attention of, at the time of writing, more than three billion listeners across Spotify and YouTube.
In this tutorial, we’re going to build a pluck that would sit comfortably in a melodic techno track. We have already created a pluck that demonstrates subtle variation using a pitch envelope, as well as reverb and delay effects. This pluck should serve as the solid foundation on which you build your track. Here, we’ll show you how to take control of FL Studio’s powerful subtractive synthesiser 3xOsc, and bring some of the power lurking within the modest-looking instrument out to play.
Making melodic techno plucks: step-by-step
1. Open 3xOsc by loading it into the channel rack. Initialise the preset by selecting Default from the drop-down menu.
2. Once your preset is set to Default, set all the oscillator waves to saws by selecting the saw icon on the left-hand side of each oscillator.
3. Adjust the detune on oscillators 1 and 2. Detune these waveforms separately. Set oscillator 1 to +15cents and oscillator 2 to -15 cents to create some phasing.
4. Set both the octaves to 12 coarse. Leave the coarse at 24 if you prefer a higher pitched sound. But 12 will give you a deeper sound. Turn down the volume for oscillator 3.
5. Set the stereo phase randomness to about 70 per cent to introduce some instability in the oscillators, giving them a more analogue feel.
6. Navigate to the envelope instrument settings and activate the volume envelope. Turn down the attack, hold and sustain to 0. Pull the decay down to reduce the tension.
STEREO FOR YOUR THOUGHTs Keep in mind how you want your pluck to sit in the mix. Drums often occupy the mids so it’s wise to send your plucks out to the sides to leave space for them. Remember to check your phase and reference back in mono too.
7. Navigate to the pitch tab and turn everything but the decay down to 0. Leave a small decay of about 4 per cent and turn up the amount to about 8 per cent.
8. Move to the LFO section of the pitch modulation. Turn the delay, attack and speed to 0, and turn the amount up to about 4 per cent to introduce some noise.
9. Change the filter type to SVF LP 2 and navigate to the Mod X tab. Reduce the attack, hold, sustain and release to 0. Set the decay to about 14 per cent and the amount to about 38 per cent.
10. As you reduce the Filter Mod X (cutoff), you’ll hear the pluck sound taking shape. Create your own or replicate this melody for the synth line.
11. Add 3xOsc to the mixer by clicking on the track button in the top right-hand corner. This will allow you to add effects to the sound. Add it to mixer track 1.
12. Add Fruity Reverb 2. Here, we’ve introduced low cut, turned diffusion to 100 and added modulation. This reverb has a short decay, with the wet set to 73 per cent.
GETTING CREATIVE Experiment with modulation effects and whatever else you can get your hands on. Adding chorus can lead to interesting results but be careful not to overdo it. Automation is your friend and introducing effects temporarily as fills can help bring things to life.
13. Add Fruity Delay 3. Right-click the time knob and select 1/8th notes. Set the delay mode to ping-pong and add a HP filter. Set the cutoff to about 50 per cent and raise the resonance to 70 per cent.
14. Add a low-pass filter to the chain to remove unwanted low end and clean up the sound. Set the filter mode to low-pass and change the order to steep 8 about 200Hz.
15. Add variation by introducing a low-octave oscillator on Osc3. You can hear this by raising the volume on oscillator 3. Automate this to ensure further variation throughout.
16. Navigate to the misc tab. Under the echo-delay section, set the feed to 100 per cent, the pitch to 39, the time to 0 and the echoes to 1. Enable fat mode to add some heft.
17. Add the appropriately named Soundgoodizer to the start of the chain and dial in about 25 per cent.
18. Automate the cutoff across your track to give it some movement. Raise the cutoff to add energy, lower it to give things a moodier vibes.
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