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electronic MUSICIAN

Master Class: All the More Reason

By Kurt Kurasaki | January 1, 2008

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Propellerhead Software's Reason 4 introduces a new sequencer that has a region-based interface, similar to DAW applications. Clips displayed along the sequencer's timeline represent note and automation data. Regions can be trimmed, spliced, and quickly duplicated. The sequencer has been completely recoded and now features tempo and time-signature automation. Version 4 is more than an update; it's practically a new application, optimized for the speed and capacity of the latest personal computers.

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The landscape of Reason 4's sequencer is different from those of its predecessors. Its primary editing pages are still the familiar Arrange and Edit modes, though a new subset of Edit mode has been added: the Clip Editor, which lets you modify note events and automation. Incorporating another layer of editing may sound as though it would be more complicated, but the keyboard shortcuts streamline many tasks. In addition to illustrating key-command functionality in the sequencer, I will discuss various approaches to automation, using the ReGroove quantization system, and adapting pattern sequences.

Get a Handle on Key Commands

The new key commands in version 4 increase the efficiency of recording and editing sequence data, and anyone who has yet to explore the use of Reason's keyboard shortcuts will certainly benefit from them. It is important to know the keys, but developing a feel for the order of keystrokes will help accomplish tasks that normally require navigating through several editing menus.

Experienced Reason users should already be familiar with the Control (Win) or Command (Mac) + A (Select All), + S (Save), + Z (Undo), + C (Copy), and + V (Paste) keys, as well as the Tab (Flip Rack) key. Window-selection keys are also on the keyboard's left-hand side: Control/Command + 1 to view the rack, and Control/Command + 2 to view the sequencer. If you're accustomed to navigating the previous key commands, you should have no problem learning the new shortcuts for selecting the sequencer's editing tools: Q, W, E, R, T, and Y. The G and H keys control the horizontal zoom, the F key toggles the sequencer's Follow feature, and the S key toggles the grid-snap feature.

FIG. 1: By combining the Enter/Return key with the Left and Right cursor keys, you can scroll through and edit clips.

FIG. 1: By combining the Enter/Return key with the Left and Right cursor keys, you can scroll through and edit clips.

Your computer's cursor keys let you navigate through the clips in Reason's Arrange and Edit windows. Once a clip is selected, pressing the Enter/Return key (not the Enter key in the numeric keypad) opens the Clip Editor; this action is the same as double-clicking on a clip. To exit the Clip Editor, press Enter/Return again and use the Left or Right cursor keys to move to the next clip in Edit mode (see Fig. 1) or use either the Shift + Tab or the Control/Command + E shortcut to toggle back to Arrange mode.

The process of recording sequences centers around the Enter/Return key and other keys in the keyboard's right-hand area. For example, try using Control/Command + I to add a new instrument, and then use Control/Command + Enter/Return to start recording. Stop the transport by pressing Shift + Enter/Return. Hit Control/Command + K to quantize the clip, and then press Enter/Return to open the Clip Editor. In the Clip Editor, use the cursor keys to navigate through the notes, the Control/Command + Up and Down cursor keys to transpose, and the Control/Command + Left and Right cursor keys to nudge recorded notes.

In the Track List, the Up and Down cursor keys let you scroll through tracks. Track scrolling is useful for quickly switching between patches during a live performance. In addition, it's useful during recording because you can jump to another track and continue to sequence a new part without stopping the transport. With the New Alt and New Dub sequencer features, you don't have to stop and delete a bad take. Pressing the Period key mutes the current take and creates a new lane in which you can record another pass. For a simple overdub, press the Comma key to create a new lane without muting the current take.

If you still aren't comfortable with the concept of switching between clips to edit notes, a simple work-around is to select all clips along a lane and use the keyboard shortcut Control/Command + J to join smaller segments into a single clip. Then use the Enter/Return key to open it directly in the Clip Editor. With some practice, the new key commands will become second nature, and the benefits of using clips will be readily apparent, especially when you use automation.

Automation Clips

FIG. 2: Right-clicking on an effects device knob and selecting Edit Automation adds both a track and an automation lane to a sequence.

FIG. 2: Right-clicking on an effects device knob and selecting Edit Automation adds both a track and an automation lane to a sequence.

Automating parameters is an integral part of sequencing music, one that makes it possible to manipulate various aspects of a performance. In Reason 4, automation data is organized in clips along automation lanes. The easiest way to set up an automation lane is to right-click on the knob or slider that controls the desired parameter, and then select Edit Automation from the contextual menu. You can also activate lanes using either the Automation pull-down menu in the toolbar or the recording parameter automation. If no track exists for an effects device such as a Scream 4, selecting Edit Automation in the contextual menu automatically creates both the track and the lane (see Fig. 2).

You can copy automation clips to other lanes — a feature that's useful for duplicating fader automation to several mixer channels. Although this procedure normally works flawlessly, data copied between different range types will display the Alien Clip warning (a series of dark red stripes overlapping the clip). If that occurs, try using the contextual menu's Adjust Alien Clips To Lane command to make the data conform. Copying the fader automation to a lane controlling EQ gain, for instance, will require adjustment, but copying fader automation to one controlling filter frequency will work without adjustment.

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Performance-Controller Modulation

MIDI Notes and recorded performance-controller information from the pitch-bend and mod wheels are embedded in a note lane clip, which is incompatible with automation tracks. It is possible to enter the Clip Editor, manually copy the vector automation for Modulation Wheel or Pitch Bend, and paste it into a new automation clip. Also, performance-controller clips can be transformed through a Reason 4 Combinator, which recognizes Pitch Bend and Modulation Wheel as modulation sources. After nesting a target device in a Combinator, copy the performance clip to the Combinator track, and route Pitch Bend and Modulation Wheel to parameters on devices nested in the Combi subrack.

You can also route performance-controller automation through RPG-8. The arpeggiator features a MIDI-to-Control Voltage converter, and when the Arpeggiator button is off, then incoming MIDI Note, Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel, Aftertouch, Expression, Breath Controller, and Sustain messages are converted to control voltages. The corresponding CV signals can be routed to control various parameters for devices in the rack. One benefit of this feature is that it gives you the ability to invert modulations through a Spider CV splitter. For example, inverting Pitch Bend data through a Spider CV splitter can modulate a different device's pitch CV input to achieve a simultaneous reverse pitch bend.

Transport Automation

FIG. 3: Here you see time signature changes and measure adjustments along the timeline. Time signature changes keep the timeline consistent for fractional measure breaks.

FIG. 3: Here you see time signature changes and measure adjustments along the timeline. Time signature changes keep the timeline consistent for fractional measure breaks.

Reason 4's transport-automation features make it possible to create interesting musical changes and transitions. Even if you don't plan to compose with meter changes, time signature automation is useful for introducing truncated transition points at the end of a phrase, and tempo automation can add excitement or dramatic pause (see Fig. 3). To insert time signature automation, enable the automation lane by clicking on the Transport Sequencer track, select Time Signature from the Automation pull-down menu, and pencil in a clip for the duration of the song.

To mix things up in an arrangement, try using a transition with a duration of one or two beats by changing the time signature to 1/4 or 1/2 meter. For instance, to insert a 2beat break at measure 9, start by inserting a 2-beat space in the sequence. Move the Left Loop locator to measure 9 and the Right Loop locator to position 9.3.1.0. Then select Insert Bars Between Locators from the Edit menu. This inserts empty space in the sequence and adds a 1/2 meter time-signature automation event.

Because short transitions can interrupt a song's natural flow, they provide a useful point at which to add tempo changes to a track. As the sequence nears a 2-beat transition point, insert a ritardando (a decrease in tempo); after the transition, restore the original tempo. You can explore tempo automation by starting with the 2-beat transition I've described. First, enable the tempo-automation track and draw in a clip from position 8.3.1.0 through to measure 9. Add a vector point at the beginning of the clip that is equal to the current tempo. (For example, if the tempo is 120 bpm, then the new vector point should be 120 bpm.) Next, add a second vector point with a lower tempo at the end of the clip. Pencil in a new clip through measure 9, and add a single breakpoint with the lower tempo. During the last two beats of measure 8, the tempo slows down going into the transition, and at measure 10, the song resumes at its normal tempo and meter.

ReGroove Management

The ReGroove Mixer is a powerful quantization tool that adds a touch of human feel to sequenced music. Though its primary function is to adjust event timing, ReGroove also transforms note Velocity and length according to preset groove templates. Reason's ample sequencer resolution lets you explore very subtle timing shifts.

Groove templates can be (and often are) longer than one measure, and the template repeats throughout the duration of the sequence. To properly align a ReGroove template with the sequence, set the Anchor Point value to the measure where the sequence begins. If a sequence starts on measure 3, for example, then set the Anchor Point value to 3. Template timings may appear rushed on certain beats, and when you loop a portion of the sequence, notes may disappear because the events are outside of the loop range. Setting loop points that are multiples of the Anchor Point value should prevent that from occurring.

The length of musical phrases might not correspond to the length of groove templates, which can potentially cause problems throughout an arrangement. If, for instance, you're applying a 4-measure template to a track with a 6-measure intro going into the first verse, the groove on the verse will reflect the third measure of the template. This may unpleasantly alter the sequence, but you can correct the problem by using time signature automation. ReGroove templates align to clips on the transport track's time signature lane. To arrange the groove templates, insert time signature clips across each section of the song. In the situation I've just described, pencil in a 6-measure time-signature automation clip, and then pencil in a new clip for the verse, chorus, bridge, and so on. The template will begin at the start of each section along the arrangement.

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Redrum and Matrix Grooves

ReGroove templates don't alter pattern devices such as Redrum, Matrix, and RPG-8, and to apply ReGroove quantization, you need to convert their patterns to MIDI sequences. For Redrum and Matrix, the Copy Pattern To Track and the Convert Pattern To Track Notes functions export patterns to the sequencer. Once a pattern has been converted to a sequence, apply the ReGroove template by assigning a channel to the sequencer track.

Applying a subtle amount of randomization to rigid pattern sequences also leads to interesting results. Open the Groove Editor, find a free channel on the ReGroove Mixer, and click on the Edit button. Select a converted pattern clip, and choose Get Groove From Clip from the contextual menu. In the Groove Editor's Tool menu, adjust the random timing slider in the range of 2 to 10 ticks. To add even further inconsistency, use the Note Velocity tool to randomize the Velocity messages by 5 percent.

Arpeggio Variations

RPG-8 is a pattern-sequencing arpeggiator that creates a spray of individual notes based on incoming chords. Before RPG-8 transforms its arpeggiator patterns into sequencer events, you must first sequence a chord progression on the RPG-8 track. Then click on a target track in the device list, set the loop locators, and select Arpeggio Notes To Track from the contextual menu to render a pattern, which is calculated from the chord progression and the RPG-8 settings.

FIG. 4: The Note Lengths tool is useful for maintaining precise durations for RPG-8 chord-progression sequences.

FIG. 4: The Note Lengths tool is useful for maintaining precise durations for RPG-8 chord-progression sequences.

Sequencing RPG-8 patterns may be confusing because its arpeggios don't always add up to exactly 16 steps. After a chord ends and RPG8 receives a new chord, the pattern resets to the first step. One technique for creating consistent patterns is to perform or sequence chords at every measure. After recording a chord progression, quantize the notes at the bar setting, and then use the Note Lengths tool to set the events to a fixed 1measure duration (see Fig. 4).

RPG-8 can generate several variations of a sequence from a single chord progression. For example, start with SubTractor and play a sequenced chord progression using an Up default pattern on RPG-8. While holding down the Shift key, right-click on SubTractor and select Duplicate Devices And Tracks from the contextual menu. This will copy SubTractor, connect the audio to a free mixer channel, and duplicate its corresponding track. On the mixer, pan the two channels hard left and right. Select the SubTractor Copy track, and apply Arpeggio Notes To Track to render the current RPG8 pattern to the sequence. Now change the RPG-8 mode to Down to alter the original pattern, and play the sequence to hear the two variations simultaneously. Repeat this process with other instruments, and change each track's settings for Octave, Insert, Mode (direction), Steps, and Rate (note resolution).

More Hands-on Training

Although Reason 4 has dozens of keyboard commands not mentioned in this article, learning them will make producing music a more fluid process. Time spent learning these shortcuts will certainly be time saved down the road, especially during those fleeting moments of inspiration. Full documentation on these commands is available in the Downloads section of Propellerhead Software's Web site (www.propellerheads.se). And for additional tips, see the online bonus material at www.emusician.com.


Kurt Kurasaki worked on the Reason 4 sound-design team. He is the author of the book series Power Tools for Reason (Backbeat Books) and is the developer of the video Music Production with Reason 4.0 (Groovebox Music). Visit www.peff.com for more information.

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