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Synth Secrets is a series of programming tutorials in which we show how to make a range of classic and new synth sounds using plugins such as Massive, Sylenth and Predator.

In our latest Synth Secrets we show how to create arpeggiator-style effects in NI Massive. Although Massive doesn’t have a dedicated arpeggiator, we can achieve the same results (and more) using the Stepper feature in combination with pitch modulation. Here’s an example of the sound we’ll be making in this walkthrough:

Triggering this hook is simply one long note. All of the pitch programming has been done inside Massive:

MIDI Screengrab

Step 1

Begin by loading up an instance of Massive and initialising the patch by clicking the File drop down menu and selecting New Sound. Now click on the blue 4 Env (which is the amplitude envelope) found in the centre panel of Massive, and click and drag up on the decay level (titled Level, found to the right of Decay) to extend the envelope of our sound.

Step 1

Step 2

Now click on the green 5 LFO found to the right of 4 Env. At the moment this is an LFO, but we can change this to what is called a Stepper to apply stepped increments of modulation to a sound. Click on the LFO drop-down menu and select Stepper. You’ll see that the centre panel has changed, and now displays 16 columns and some other controls to the left.

Click and hold the crosshair on the right of the green 5 Step and drag it over to the first box underneath the Pitch box of Osc1. Click on this empty box and drag up on the number until you reach 12.00. We’ve now applied +12 semitones of pitch modulation to this oscillator.

Step 2.1 Step 2.2

Step 3

With our pitch modulation set up, we can now set some values in our Stepper to create our arpeggiation. First, turn on Snap to Grid, to keep the Stepper in tune. Keep the first column at 0.00, change the second column to 3.00 and the third to 7.00, then press and hold a note to hear the pitch modulation in effect.

Let’s now change a few settings to make this a bit more rhythmic. Click to the right of the number 16 on the last column and drag to the left, until only steps 1, 2 and 3 are active. Now, to the left of the stepper, click the box next to Sync so the stepper synchronises to the tempo of your project, and change the bottom ratio box from 16 to 24 by clicking and dragging up.

Step 3.1

Step 3.2

Step 3.3

Step 4

We’ve mimicked the behaviour of an arpeggiator here. The first step stays at the root note, the second step pitches the sound up by three semitones and the third step pitches the sound up by seven semitones. Following the exact same procedure as Step 2, let’s use another stepper to modulate the pitch of the same Oscillator. Click on the green 6 LFO and change it to a stepper. Click and drag the crosshair of this stepper and drop it in the second pitch modulation box of Osc 1, then apply +12 semitones of pitch modulation again.

Now, in the Stepper, click the sync box to sync it, but this time change the ratio to 1 over 1 by clicking and dragging down in the bottom ratio box. Change the number of active steps to four and make sure Snap to Grid is activated again. Keep the first step at 0.00, change the second to 5.00, keep the third at 0.00 and change the fourth step to 12.00. With the ratio of this stepper set to 1/1 it means every step is one bar long. Hold a note for four bars and you’ll hear we’ve arpeggiated our arpeggiator, effectively applying a chord progression!

Step 4.1 Step 4.2

Step 5

Let’s fatten up this sound by adding another Oscillator in the Osc2 slot. Turn on Osc2 by clicking on the small circle in the top left, then click and drag down on the Wt-position control until it’s all the way to the left, meaning Osc2 is playing back a square wave (as opposed to the sawtooth wave in Osc1). Now set up the same Stepper pitch modulations as we have with Osc1, so both 5 Step and 6 Step are modulating Osc2 by 12.00 (+12 semitones). Some subtle detuning on both of the oscillators will add some really nice thickness to the sound; click and drag up on the third digit in the box underneath Pitch on Osc1 and set it to 0.08. Now click and drag down on the third digit on Osc2’s pitch and set it to -0.08.

Step 5

Step 6

The sound is really coming together now, but playing over a long sequence in a track this hook could become a bit relentless. Let’s use another modulator to shape the volume of this patch. Click on 7 LFO and this time set it to Performer mode. You’ll now see two rows of 16 steps appear in the centre panel. We can use this performer to modulate the Amp setting of our synth, creating a side chain compression-style effect. Click and drag the crosshair of 7 Perf and drop it in the second box underneath Amp Mod. You’ll hear how this performer is now modulating the output of the whole synth.

Set this performer up with a ratio of 1 over 1, and click and drag on the steps until only step 1 is active. Now click the Load Curve box and you’ll see a selection of curves appear to the left. Click to highlight the top left curve, then click on the curve in the top row of step 1 to reverse its direction. If you want to maintain some of the attack of the sound, click on the Load Curve box again to hide it and click and drag down a tiny bit on the XFade Seq control.

Step 6.1

Step 6.2

Step 6.3

Step 6.4

Step 7

From here, you can experiment with this sound to make it your own. Play with different ratio speeds on the first 5 Step modulator, add effects, filters, reverbs, chorus, distortion and so on. In this example we’ve added a Dimension Expander and Reverb in Massive’s FX section, and also added some overdrive and chorus from Logic’s native plugins, making the sound a bit more polished and atmospheric.

Step 7.1

Step 7.2

Step 7.3

Step 7.4

14th May, 2015

Synth Secrets is sponsored by


u-he are makers of award-winning software synthesisers and effects including Diva, Repro-1, Zebra2, Hive, Bazille, Presswerk and Satin.

Download the demos and try them for yourself at



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