Creating an atmospheric and relaxing chill groove can be more complicated than it seems. The first thing that probably comes to mind is pads and reverb. It is easy to layer pads and drown them in effects, but this can blur the harmony and does not sound very tasteful or mature. In this situation, it is best to walk yourself through a more careful process. Therefore, in this article, I will show you one way to establish a relaxing and grooving bed of sounds to work with in Lumit.
This is what my Chill Groove sounds like….
Here’s how I made it….
STEP 1 – The Central Harmony and Main Pad
Picking the sound – This will be your anchor for both the harmony and the stereo image. Chose something simple but not too simple, such as a pulse-width modulated square wave. It should have a little grit to it, but should not be dissonant.
Picking the notes – Perform or draw in an 8 or 16 bar sequence. Use diads (2-note chords) like 3rds and 6ths (See Blog: Scales, Intervals). Keep the harmonic rhythm repetitive and simple – something like a three-beat chord followed by a five-beat chord.
Automation – Record a little bit of change within the sound. Modified parameters could be anything from phase position to pulse-width. I would avoid automating any pitch, timing, or filter parameters at this stage.
Processing – Use a modulation effect to give the pad a little more movement such as a phaser or a chorus. Keep the depth shallow.
EQ – Low Pass filter the sound at around 1000 Hz with no resonance.
Your Central Pad should sound something like this…..
STEP 2 – The Supporting Side Pads
Picking the sound – This will be your supporting accompaniment for the central pad. I like to use something sample based, with a lot of energy in the high-mids, such as a choir pad.
Duplication – Duplicate the notes you made in step 1 and place them in the same position for this track. Then, duplicate the support track entirely.
Splitting up and Transposing the part – Split the diads from step 1 between the two supporting pads such that they only play one note at a time but it is never the same note. Experiment with transposing notes by octaves. Avoid tense intervals (for now) and large leaps.
Panning – Pan the two supporting pads hard left and right.
Processing – Add a modulation effect like a phaser or chorus to one of the supporting pads. Be gentle with it – you do not want too much contrast. They should still sound like the same instrument.
Your Supporting Side Pads should sound something like this….
STEP 3 – The Bass
Picking the sound – This bass needs to be a standard waveform. You cannot go wrong with a lowpass filtered square or triangle wave. Save the sine wave for the sub. Detune the pitch VERY slightly – something like 1 cent. This will add some movement when the sub bass is introduced. Try sweeping in some FM using a modulator envelope.
Picking the notes and rhythm – If you are familiar with root motion and functional harmony, I would suggest using the root of the chord for this instrument. If not, listen for a note that sort of “collects” the rest of the sounds and produces a wholesome, consonant feeling. There should be a slightly different rhythm for this than the rest of the pads. Try simply shortening, lengthening, and repositioning notes by eighth notes and adding a few neighboring/passing tones.
EQ – Highpass filter the output at around 100 Hz just so that it does not interfere with the sub we are about to create.
The Bass should sound something like this….
STEP 4 – The Sub
Picking the sound – Use a sine wave. Adjust the amplitude envelope so that there are no pops or clicks on the attack and release.
Duplication and transposition – duplicate the notes from step 3 and use them for the sub. Transpose them an octave down. These pitches should be felt more than heard.
EQ – Since all we need here is a low fundamental pitch, lowpass filter the sound at around 300 Hz.
The Sub and the Bass together should sound something like this….
STEP 5 – Pulse and Flair
Picking the sounds – With all these long tones, the music can get boring. A simple pulsating sound on the tonic or dominant of the key signature can really propel the song and add interest. I would recommend a soft mallet or bell sound.
Picking the notes and rhythm – You can impose the pulse using modulation within the synth or by playing eighth-note or quarter-note rhythms. In addition to a pulse, the atmosphere can use some flair, which can be created with the same sort of sounds you will use for the pulse, but in a more gestural rhythm.
Processing – Highpass filter these a lot. We really only need the airy, breathy content above 2 kHz. Try adding some delay on eighth notes or quarter notes.
The Pulse and Flair for your song should sound something like this….
STEP 6 – Processing
Group Processing – Create a group including the central pad, the supporting pads, and the pulse and flair. This means their outputs will be mixed. Drop a limiter on the group followed by a stereo imager. Use these to make the sounds seem more together; in a wide, shared space.
Parallel Processing – Bring up the send levels on the group track for two returns – one for reverb and one for parallel compression. Use send levels on individual instruments instead if you need a more particular balance. Try doing some mid-side EQing in parallel as well to bring up the sides and focus the mids. (See Blog: Powerful Parallel Processing)
Levels – Generally, your central pad should be the loudest, followed by the bass, then the sub and supporting pads, then the pulse and flair. Try slightly offsetting the pan for the high range content.
In context, you may want some drums like mine. Keep them laidback and groovy. Do not draw any attention away from your atmosphere with fills or big hits. You may also want a top-line like a piano.
To conclude, this is what my chill groove sounds like….