Rhythmic Gating On Synth Basslines & Leads In Trance Music. Gating is often used by electronic music producers to chop up long, droning sounds into smaller, percussive bits of audio. It is found in almost every dance music genre including hiphop, trance, drum n bass, and house. This SonicTransfer tutorial focuses on rhythmic gating used in trance music. To follow this lesson you will need:
Gating is used for a wide variety of purposes in music production. Most often, a volume gate is used to remove background noise from a recording. However for the purpose of this tutorial, gating refers to triggering a rapid increase or decrease in a track’s volume. Much like a turntablist uses a crossfader to chop up elements of a record into a mix, music software can be used to chop up audio in your song. When used tastefully, this effect makes songs more rhythmic, danceable, and energetic.
Many electronic musicians will use rhythmic gating at some time or another. But, the way it is used depends greatly on the style of music being composed. Trance musicians use this effect all the time. Here are two audio snippets from popular trance artists that feature rhythmic gating:
In both examples, a synth lead is being rapidly gated to produce short, stacatto notes. You have probably heard this effect a ton of times. Read on to learn how it works.
A common sound in trance music is a gated synth lead. Most trance musicians play a long note into a synthesizer and rapidly turn its volume up and down. This allows them to write their song’s chords first, then go back and write the rhythm of the melody afterwords. (See the image below.)
The are lots of ways to actually achieve the effect. Some artists will use an oscillator in their synthesizer to perform the gating for them. However, this usually leads to dull, repetitive rhythms. The most versatile way to produce rhythmic gating is to use volume envelopes. Whether the volume automation is performed using a pattern sequencer or drawn directly onto a track’s timeline, this method gives you the most control over your sound.
In order to perform rhythmic gating, you must understand how to automate the volume of a track. For example, in Propellerhead Reason you should draw or record automation of the volume fader on the Subtractor or Maelstrom. Many audio programs have a pencil tool for envelope editing (e.g. Steinberg Cubase / Nuendo, Ableton Live, Propellerhead Reason). If your audio software has it, use the pencil tool to draw the volume automation. If you are gating a synth lead, it often sounds better to only reduce the sound by 30% or so. Try rhythmically gating a synth lead by only 20-30% of its volume. It is often easiest to start with a simple 16th note on/off pattern, then make it more complicated. Try gating a synth every 16th note, then go back and make the rhythm more intricate. After you have programmed a 16th note pattern, try adding 8th notes and triplets. Whatever you do, don’t try to draw all the rhythms by hand! Make use of your audio software’s envelope copy feature. In other words, draw 4 measures of rhythmic gating, then copy that automation to the next 4 measures and modify it. After you have worked out some rhythms that you like, you may want to rework some of your note placement to better fit the beat. The art of rhythmic gating involves finding the perfect balance between melody and rhythmic structure.
To recap, here are the tips for successful rhythmic gating:
For readers using Ableton Live, there are several ways to do fast rhythmic gating. To perform gating on a MIDI clip, first double-click on the bar containing the title of the clip. This selects the clip and brings up its properties window at the bottom of the screen. To view the clip’s envelopes, click the small E icon at the bottom of the clip properties window. Now you can edit clip envelopes like panning and volume. Click the Volume button in the Envelopes section. You are now able to edit this MIDI clip’s volume automation. Press the Ctrl key and the B key at the same time to select the Pencil tool. Before you draw your automation, you should zoom into your clip until you see 1/16 in the bottom-right of the clip waveform window. This means that your automation will be locked to 16th notes. Now you are ready to draw your rhythmic gating like a pro! (If you have any questions, see the screenshot below.)
To recap, here are the Ableton Live instructions for excellent rhythmic gating:
This technique is extremely common and used in all types of music, especially trance. Once you master it, you will be much better at producing almost any genre of electronic music. The envelope adjustment tricks in this tutorial are also applicable to thousands of other effects like filters, flanges, distortion, and phasers.