Techniques for creating & synthesizing chords
This is a useful technique for adding a unique old school feel to your chord stabs. Try making a chord with your favorite synth, and render out as a one shot (rendering in the key of C for ease of use). Load the chord one shot up in your sampler and try triggering different notes. This is a great technique for making dub techno chord loops, the re-pitching of the chord sample will create a harmonically different effect from transposing MIDI notes with a synthesizer, with lower notes being extended and higher notes being shortened.
Get to know your inversions
It’s useful to get familiar with the different chord inversions that work well with your chosen genre. The classic minor chord used very often for techno and tech house is taking the root note, minor third (+3 semitones) and perfect fifth (+7 semitones). If you’re working in a major key, change the minor third to a major third (+4 semitones). For a classic deep house vibe, take the root, +3 semitones, +7 semitones, +10 semitones, +14 semitones.
Keep things moving
In some instances, keeping your chord hooks to one note will keep things more dancefloor friendly and moody. However, it’s important to maintain the sound moving to keep interest. To achieve this, automate the cutoff frequency, envelope decay and reverb/delay sends to add or reduce intensity in sections. Also, try modulating parameters with velocity or random controls, it doesn’t need to be much, but just enough to keep the sound constantly moving and modulating.
For a rhythmic reverb effect, set up a sidechain compressor after your reverb on a bus send. Set the sidechain compressor to be triggered by your chord sound, meaning the reverb will duck when the chord plays, and sound in between the notes or phrases. Not only does this provide a cleaner reverb effect, but also creates a relaxed rhythmic feel, almost acting like a call and response between chord and reverb. This technique could equally be applied using delay.
For an authentic vintage or old school feel make good use of saturation or tape simulator plugins. Especially useful if you’re using a soft synth sound, these effects will help warm the sound up, just be sure to EQ off any excessive low end introduced by the saturation.
If you’re stuck for inspiration making chords, load up a polyphonic synth or sampler patch and apply a Chord generator MIDI effect. Although these come loaded with some nice presets, you can just as easily craft your own. Or you could even opt for a plugin dedicated to the task, like Cthulhu from Xfer Records. Producers have even put packs together for these plugins featuring chord inversions geared towards certain genres.
Classic chord samples tend to have an old school and in some cases lo-fi feel, due in large part to the vintage synths they were taken from or the iconic hardware samplers that were used to trigger the sounds. To recreate this vibe in your DAW, use bit crushers and downsamplers for a more grungy tone. One of our personal favorites for this task is D16’s Decimort plugin.
Effects such as tape delay and reverb work great on chord sounds. For a different rhythmic effect, try using one of the triplets or dotted delay times, or for a loser feel disengage the tempo sync altogether. As longs your chord isn’t too transient heavy, this will add a looser and more organic feel to your delay effect.
Get hold of a nice sample pack or virtual instrument – using samples taken from some vintage gear, or a virtual instrument that’s meticulously sampled some classic hardware, will help to give you that warm and vintage sound instantly. You can always add some extra processing to the sound afterward, to inject some of your own personality and flair.
Many samplers and synthesizers feature an optional quality setting, which you can set to something lower to save on CPU. Make sure this is set as high as possible when you’re exporting your chord samples to retain sound quality.
Some DAW’s, such as Ableton Live, feature both global and individual sample ‘High Quality’ options, this will generate less distortion when transposing or playing back at high frequencies.