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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 the first of a new series, we build the kind of dusty, one-note ‘stacked chord’ popular in old-school house and garage using Native Instruments’ Massive.

Here’s the sound we’ll be making:

Step 1

Much of the sound design work in this patch revolves around tuning the oscillators and using Massive’s voicing section to generate chords from single-note triggers. In house and garage you can often get great results with minor 7th and minor 9th chords, but for this basic example we’ll keep things simple with a minor triad, which consists of the root note, minor 3rd and 5th.

Create a new patch in Massive. Ensure all three oscillators are turned on and that the Amp setting for each oscillator is turned fully up, then set the Pitch of Osc1 to 0.00 (the root note), Osc2 to +3.00 semitones (the minor 3rd) and Osc3 to +7.00 semitones (the 5th). Dial the Wt-position and Intensity to 100% for each oscillator.

Step 1

The MIDI pattern we’ve used is show below, but you can program or play whatever pattern suits your track.

Am MIDI screenshot 1

Step 2

Move to the Voicing tab found in Massive’s centre panel. Click and drag up in the box underneath Unisono and increase the number of voices to 2. In the Unisono Spread panel to the right, turn Pitch Cutoff on, move the Pitch Cutoff slider all the way to the right and increase the number in the right-hand box to 5.00 by clicking and dragging upwards. This may push Massive’s output volume into the red; if so, reduce the volume a touch.

Step 2

Step 3

With the raw patch established, it’s time to shape the sound for the purposes of the track. Let’s mellow it up to start with by clicking on the pull-down menu to the right of Filter 1 and choosing the Lowpass 4 filter setting.

Step 3.1

At the same time, move the Filter Mix slider to the right of the Filter panel up to the top so only Filter 1 is affecting the patch.

Now set up a modulation envelope 1 (1Env) to control Filter 1’s cutoff frequency by clicking and dragging 1Env’s blue crosshair in Massive’s central panel and dropping it into the first modulation slot below the Cutoff dial.

Step 3.2

Step 4

With the cutoff frequency of Filter 1 turned down to 0, click and drag up on the blue-lit number 1 in the below modulation box to apply envelope modulation to the filter. We’ve dialled it in at around the 2 o’clock mark.

Step 4.1

You can now play around with different filter and envelope settings to help the sound fit the vibe and groove of the wider track. In particular, play with the attack and decay envelope values, alongside the cutoff frequency and resonance values of Filter 1. To get the sound in this example we’ve chosen a farily swift attack and longer decay.

Step 4.2

Step 5

Adding some effects really brings the sound to life. In this example we’ve used a combination of Massive’s reverb and Dimension Expander. To set these up, go to the FX window and select Reverb from the FX1 pull-down menu and Dimension Expander from the FX2 pull-down. Tweak the values until you get a nice lush, harmonically interesting halo to the sound. (Anything from subtle distortion and chorus to snapback delay can also be introduced here to supply the required vibe. Tape saturation will also work well.)

Step 5.1
Step 5.2

To thicken the tone further, try transposing the pitch of OSC1 down one octave (-12 semitones). Now add some subtle detuning of OSC2 and OSC3 to give a nice warmth to the sound. Applying modulation to the filter cutoff frequency, or automating the attack and decay of the amp envelope adds tension (note the way the sound ‘opens up’ in the third bar of the audio clip).

Step 5.3

Step 6

This is a great starting patch to experiment with. For a darker tone, try altering the Pitch values, Unisono voices and oscillator wavetables. In this example the pitch of OSC2 has been set to +5.00 semitones and the pitch of OSC3 to +8.00 semitones. The wavetables of both OSC2 and OSC3 (selected from the drop-down menu to the right of OSC2 and OSC3 respectively) have been changed to Strontium.

Step 6.1

Now change the value of the Unisono Spread to 7.00 by clicking and dragging up in the box. This final step gives the vibe of the hook a distinctly different feel. Remember to keep an eye on the master output and reduce its volume if necessary.

Step 6.2

If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.

3rd February, 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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