Making Pads in Ableton for House
House pads come in a lot of variations or flavours, here we show you how to cook up your own in Ableton so you always can create a unique pad, exactly suited to what’s needed in your tracks. Create lush pads from beginner to advanced with step by step instructions but also get the deeper knowledge of how to build your own and what makes up a good pad sound.
First we’ll look at what makes a good pad sound, then we will make a couple in a step by step guide.
If you want to jump ahead to the tutorial and start making your pad sounds then scroll down to the section “Lets Make A Pad Sound – Step By Step” below.
Before we start: Investigating the components of a pad
Think of your favourite house pad sounds: they very likely have a lot of rich warm tonality with movement, they have stereo width and space and some high end and sparkle. There are variations of course and that all depends on your sub-genre. A classic old school house pad might be simple but it’s still warm and rich, while a dark house pad is more spacey and complex.
Let’s examine what makes up a good basic starting point of any pad sound, so we can go further and create our own unique pad sounds in Ableton whenever we need to.
The Lush Warm Middle
The lush warm heart of a traditional pad is usually a rich analogue-style synth wave, typically the Juno style pad emanates from the Sawtooth wave supported with a Square-wave sub oscillator. The waveforms are filtered with a low-pass filter and then the harmonic spectrum is filled out with the trademark Juno chorus.
Somewhat similar sounds on other vintage synths might instead utilise either a couple of detuned Sawtooth waves, or perhaps a stack of saws. The idea is to create a wash of harmonics.
The creators of the Juno synth were aiming to recreate string pads, and harmonically dense sawtooth sounds like an approximation of a string instrument. The chorus effect was their way of emulating the stacking of multiple “strings”.
The Stereo Width and Space
We can create a basic pad with the above oscillators on any synth, the slow attack and release on an envelope and a low pass filter to bring out the body… but it’s still very underwhelming! So what gives the sound richness? On the classic Juno the Chorus is famed for providing a stereo shimmer to the (somewhat basic) oscillators.
Despite the mythology around the Juno chorus it does need more processing to sound truly great. More stereo width and greater depth is provided by running the output of the chorus into a stereo delay then finally a large hall reverb serves to emphasise the chorus effect.
A further trick to enhance the basic pad sound’s stereo width and sonic depth is actually to double-track the synth. Recording the synth part twice, each with slightly different settings, and then panning the two versions left and right and feeding both into the same delay and reverb. Now the stereo is more impressive.
Here’s an example of how stereo doubling can benefit a sound, first lets listen to one synth into a delay and reverb:
Now, the same pad duplicated and placed left and right to enhance the stereo width.
As a basis that’s Ok, but we also need some tonal complexity. Some width and depth. We’ll get into that soon, but first a note about stereo width and CPU.
PRO TIP : To avoid CPU overload when making pads
You might wonder why we would even bother making two separate synths for our stereo spread sound when there’s a handy knob marked “spread” on all ableton’s synths. Well, Ableton’s synth “spread” feature creates an invisible double of the synth, but it can add a lot of CPU in cases where you use it with a high voice count and the computationally expensive filter models. The “spread” dial is a handy quick parameter, but in many cases we get more control if we create the duplicate synth ourselves.
It’s always good to keep CPU percentage low so aim to keep the synth voices around 6 (like an old analog poly-synth), and use the “straight” filter model wherever possible to keep the CPU meter under control.
If you want the “stereo spread” sound it’s better to duplicate the synth in another chain and pan them left and right, that way you have more control over each synth and a more interesting sound.
Adding more motion, width and depth
Now as you probably noticed from our example – it doesn’t yet sound quite as rich and lush as we might want it to, that’s because what most producers do is take the synth sound you hear and process it further through another filter.
So the basic chorused, echoed, reverberated sound is then filtered – and processed again!
Here’s what that additional filtering sounds like on our example
Glassy airy top end
The high end needs movement and space, this is found by adding air, some sheen, glassiness and motion.
Many pads on commercial releases will use a layer of filtered and modulated choir samples because of the airy tonality and the inherent motion. Often it’s just one sample, the limitation of which is exploited to give the classic pad air sound. Some pads use a wave-table, being sequenced to give motion.
As an explanation: It’s possible to create a synth sound which has a tonality slightly reminiscent of vocal choirs using just a synth, a layer of sparkles and air.
Here’s what that sounds like on our example synth.
Or here’s a different example which uses sample and hold on an Operator synth.
Lets Make A Pad Sound – Step By Step
Ok, now you know the basis, let’s make a pad sound. In this demo I’ll use Ableton’s Analog and Operator, but if you have other synths then with what you’ve learned above you should be able to follow along.
Step 1: Add an Ableton Analog synth
So first we will make the lush warm heart of our traditional pad, emulating a Juno to a small degree using Ableton’s Analog synth. Create an empty MIDI track and add an Analog.
The oscillator shape is Sawtooth, with the pitch Detune set to -0.05.
The Oscillator is in Sub mode, with the sub-oscillator turned up to 70%.
Make sure that the routing slider which sends the oscillator output to either Filter 1, or Filter 2 is set to “F1”.
In the filter section we are using a 12 decibel per octave filter, this is slightly less harsh than the 24db filter and provides a smoother sound. Set the glitter to 540, and 20% resonance.Set the envelope mode to Legato, and Exponential [Exp]
The Filter envelope settings are
- Attack: 1.5 seconds
- Decay: 10s
- Sustain 0s
- Release 5 s
Now set the Amplitude envelope as in the image with the envelope mode to Legato, and Exponential [Exp].
The Amp envelope settings are
- Attack: 2 seconds
- Decay: 15s
- Sustain 0.5
- Release 3 s
Set the amplitude level to -8 Db and pan slightly to the right.
Double it up!
Now, in Analog we have the ability to set the second oscillator as if it were a second synth, so we are going to copy the settings of Oscillator 1 (Follow the same steps including the envelope’s adjustments). Now add some slight alterations to Osc 2 to make it sound different:
The oscillator shape for oscillator two is also Sawtooth, with the pitch Detune set to + 0.03. The filter is set at 750.
The pad sound should now sound like this:
Step 2: Add more warmth, emulate the Juno Chorus!
Now lets add the Juno Chorus sound. There’s a huge topic of discussion to be had here, but the Juno chorus is two chorus units which can be used together, or individually. The rate of the chorus is fixed, though different on each.
Drop in a chorus after your Analog synth
Set the Chorus to
- High Pass: 80
- Delay time: 1.82 ms
- Delay 2 Off
- Modulation: Amount 1.07ms
- Rate 0.51Hz
Now rack the Chorus up by using Control & G , or Command G.
Now map the Dry/Wet control to the macro 1, and name it “Chorus 1”
Duplicate that Rack chain so there are now two Chorus chains in the rack.
In this copy change the following parameters to
- Delay 1: Time 2.56 ms
- Rate 0.80Hz
- Map the Dry/Wet control to the macro 2
Set the chain volumes to -3db (to prevent overloading the gain structure)
Step 3: Add some space, Delay and Reverb
Most pads will have some delay and reverb on.
We could use the fancy new Echo device in Live 10, but instead lets use the slightly simpler Delay Device as this is going to be buried in the signal chain.
Use these settings for the delay.
- Delay: 3 beats
- Offset left: -4%
- Offset right: 4%
- Feedback 25%
- Filter: 2KHz
- Width 4
- Dry/Wet 25%
Step 4: Add yet more filtering and processing!
The pad should sound pretty rich, but a fun thing to do is add more filtering.
Drop in an autofilter device after the reverb and play around with the effect of it as suits you.
To put icing on the whole thing, select the delay and reverb from earlier in the chain, group both of them into a rack. Copy that rack and paste the copy after the autofilter.
Now select the whole row of instruments and effects and Group the whole lot and save it as “my pad”.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, if you would like to know more about pad synth patch making, including how to make those magical top-end noises then let Aulart know via social media and I’ll go further into synth patch design in Ableton.