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How To Create Minimal House Chords Like The Pros (Tutorial Overview)

I often get asked “how to achieve those classic minimal/deep house chords similar to Djoko/PIV” (* insert similar artist). These sounds heard in many records today are often impressive but many people tend to overthink the complexity involved with trying to recreate them. If we strip them down into their most basic form, there is just 3 elements we must consider:

  1. Chords & MIDI Information

  2. Plugins & Sound Selection/Design

  3. Audio & MIDI Effects

These 3 areas are something I went fully in-depth on in our recent tutorial, so I would highly advise checking that out when you get the chance. However, I thought I would also summarise some of the main takeaways here as well:

Chords & MIDI Information

  1. Chords & Notes - don't overthink it. Typically minor chords. Spice them up with different chord variations (7ths, 9ths etc.) and experiment with inversions also.

  2. Note Placement & Groove - Experiment with moving the chords across the 16th note grid. Play alongside the basic kick and snare/clap beat to find where best suits the groove.

  3. Call & Response Patterns - Build the layers with chord 1 being a "call" layer and the others being "response" layers. By this we want each to consider each layer in relation to one another, positioning each chord somewhere where it can seamlessly follow on from the previous layer (think interaction).

  4. Fill The Gaps - Ideally, you want to try placing the chords in a space on the grid that isn't already occupied. This can help you to achieve that groovy bounce that often takes place between the layers.

  5. Layering & Unique Chord Patterns (chord jams) - Where your focus might be on using single chords across loads of different layers, try making your patterns on one of these layers a bit more interesting. This won't necessarily work in all cases, but it can help to give your chords a bit more life.

Plugins & Sound Selection/Design

  1. Using Raw Sounds & Tweaking To Audition MIDI Info - People often ask what is the best plugin for "x" but in all honesty, you can use the most basic of patches - I mostly use Ableton Analog in this example - demonstrating how simple it is to tweak a raw sound into something that sounds decent.

  2. Filters & ADSR - The two most important aspects to consider regarding sound design. The filters help you to dial in an appropriate balance between those harsh raw tones when fully open to a more pleasant one on the ear. When it comes to Minimal style music, the filter is king. The ADSR envelopes are also important as they allow us to shape our chords to our liking. Decreasing the decay and sustain can give us the short stabby sound we might be after, and increasing it can make the chord more elongated. The attack is another useful parameter to consider as it lets us control how gradually we want the sound to come in.

  3. Not About The Plugin, But The Sound Type - My advice is not to think in terms of what plugin I need, but instead the sound type. Every plugin will likely come with a large collection of sounds that you can often organise by "sound type". For "minimal-style chord stabs" a good starting point is those multi-voice sound categories that chords are intended to be performed on, things like keys, pads, brass etc. Get creative.

  4. Layering For Fuller Sounds - If you're listening to a lot of references in your style, you might notice how impressive a lot of these chords sound. A large part of this is down to space-based effects, but layering also plays its part. Don't be afraid to layer multiple instruments together to give any particular chord more presence in the mix. You could do this using an instrument rack if you want the channel to share the same MIDI, but you could also go one further and split the chord's notes up across multiple channels.

Audio & MIDI Effects

  1. Effects - Filters, Space Effects, & Modulation - Effects are never something you can pin down to one particular style due to the endless potential on offer, but if I had to summarise it would be Filters, Space Effects & Modulation. As I mentioned briefly, filters are tools that help you strip down to a certain frequency range which helps to give that classic minimal feel to any sound source. Filters aren't just useful for cleaning sounds, but for modulating things and keeping them interesting. Space effects are essentially what I consider your reverbs and delays that place your chords in a metaphorical space. These help to add life to your chords and allow them to feel more natural as they transition from one to the other. Modulation effects like Chorus, Phaser, & Flanger allow you to modify the tone of these sounds while giving them the feeling of being from another dimension.

  2. Automation & Modulation - With this genre being a typically more stripped-back style of electronic music, we have to find new ways to keep things interesting. One process we might follow to do so is using automation & modulation. For some, automation can be a rather tedious process, especially if drawing it by hand, however, I would argue it is essential as it stops elements from becoming static as well as making your track flow more naturally. My personal favourite thing to automate is the frequency on an AutoFilter which gives that dubby sweeping motion effect, but you can experiment with automating any of the effects above to change their state over time. You can also do something similar by Modulating parameters within the clip view. This allows you to add a set amount of change to any macro, without fixing it in place like Automation does.

  3. Max Tools - LFOS & Envelope Shapers - We can use Ableton stock tools to help us apply modulation changes, by mapping an LFO or Envelope shaper to any given macro. This is a more efficient way of modulating things, but one that gives you a bit less control over how things are changed.

And that concludes our key tutorial takeaways on how to create "Minimal House/Deep Tech Chords Like The Pros"

If you like what you read or wish to learn more about a specific point made in the article, I would definitely urge you to check out the tutorial in full. This in-depth tutorial covers everything you need to consider in the process, from drawing in chords, choosing suitable sounds & shaping them to your liking, to adding effects that take these sounds from a 7 up to a 10.

You can watch the full tutorial below.


Piano Keyboard

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