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Cinematic synth bass

Following on from our investigation into cinematic percussion, Mark Cousins demonstrates how to add some powerful synth bass to your scoring…

The last time we looked at music to picture, we took a closer look at how drums can be used to provide the energy and drive behind an action cue. However, there was one key element we left out – the role of the synthesiser in providing the harmonic ‘pulse’ to the music. Look at a range of contemporary film scores – from Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight trilogy to Brian Tyler’s work with the Marvel films – and you’ll see how a pulsing synth bass forms an integral part of the score. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, synth bass can form an important harmonic foundation (often going deeper than the low end of the real orchestra), and secondly, its relentless, mechanical precision really helps drive the cue along.

First steps

To create your own pulsing synth bass, there are a number of creative options you can explore – both in respect of the means of creating the pulse and how to process and layer the sounds. Arguably the simplest solution is to program the sequence from scratch, usually using the step time input in your piano roll editor, or simply drawing in a series of 16th-note divisions.

One key concept to pin down at this stage is whether you intend to use some form of accenting. While a relentless swathe of 16th notes can work well, it’s often useful to mirror the accent pattern that you’ve built up in your drum sequence. As we saw in the last workshop, the use of a consistent accent across multiple parts really helps to define the energy of your cue, especially when you start to use some clever off-beat syncopation. The accent can be defined in two ways: either using velocity (as you’d expect) or by the use of octave switching, so that the bass part uses notes an octave higher to define accent points.

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About MusicTech

It’s celebration time here at MusicTech as we reveal our 150th issue! quite a milestone we’re sure you’ll agree. What an issue we’ve got to celebrate. First we’ve compiled the 150 best gear, studios, quotes and tips from the last 150 issues of MusicTech and we sit down for chats with studio legends Tony Visconti and Bob Clearmountain. We’ve also got a whole host of tutorials, reviews and a brand new feature looking at the six ways to save time when recording.