Actually the title should say ‘How to make a beat that can be used in a progressive trance’ because the drum beat by itself doesn’t necessarily determine the genre. This kind of beat could very well be used in a uplifting trance or house music as well. Anyway, in this tutorial I will show you how I make a beat which you can typically hear in those modern progressive trance songs.
Here’s the beat:
I’m going kinda in-depth with all the eq and volume settings – keep in mind that they will work with the sample material I’m using, but not probably staright with the samples you’re using. However, I hope this tutorial will give you an the direction to make your own progressive trance beats.
Alrighty. First of all, creating a nice sounding trance beat (or ANY beat in that matter) starts from choosing a right combination of a good quality samples.
Choosing The Drum Samples
In electronic dance music, well produced drum beat is like 70-80% of the whole song and to be able to create such a beat, it’s ESSENTIAL to select a good samples. And I don’t just mean that they’re good in terms of bitrates and such, but also that they fit together.
So, I start by finding a nice and punchy kick. Some people like to layer two kickdrums together, but this requires some filtering in order to make them to work together. I usually don’t layer kickdrums. I have a wide range of kicks in my sample collection and 99% of cases I can find a one that works as is.
(If you’re interested on layering kicks here’s a quick guide: choose a kick with a nice top end ‘click’ and kick with a good low end ‘oomph’ and use high pass filter to cut the low end out of the ‘clicky’ kick and low pass filter to cut the high end out of the ‘oomph’ kick and mix the two together).
Trance beat needs a clap as well. With claps I do occasionally use layering so I’ll pick two different kind of claps (I’m also going to show you a little trick what you can do with claps) and a snare. All of these are going to be layered together for fuller sounding clap/snare combination.
Hihats are also essential for a good beat so I’ll choose a bunch of them as well. Closed hihats.
Choosing the right drum samples is really the key here. Finding a working combination is a bit of a trial & error, but after that, it’s mostly just fine tuning with volume levels and equalizers.
Okay. After listening a bunch of samples I found few good ones and first thing I do is I drop each sample to an empty Sampler channels in the Step Sequencer, rename the channels to keep things organized and assign each to it’s own free Mixer track.
Now, to the groove makin’!
Building The Beat
In progressive trance the tempo is usually around 130-135bpm so I’ll set the project tempo to 130bpm.
Next, I’ll extend the current pattern to 8 beats per bar. This is just because one of the samples will be used only once per bar and using standard 4 beats per bar pattern it would’ve been a bit too repetitive so I’ll just make it 8. Using longer patterns allows to create more complex sequences per pattern without the need to add new pattern for each variation.
Extending the pattern length is done by using that little box at the top left corner of the Step Sequencer: place the mouse cursor on that box, hold the left button and drag. I also rename the pattern to ‘Drums’ to keep things organized.
Now, I’ll just draw a steady four on the floor rhythm with the kick. That means a kick on steps 1, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25 & 29.
As for kick mixer settings, I’ll leave it’s volume level to 0.0dB. That’s what I usually do – leaving the kick loudest and then mixing the other instrument so that they support the kick and wont compete with it. In dance music, kick should really stand out and therefore “Give power to the kick!” is a good rule of thumb when making beats.
Okay. Back to Step Sequencer and I’ll place the clap (‘Punchy clap’ ) to steps 5,13,21 & 29.
This particular clap sound requires to drop it’s volume level to -2.0dB – otherwise it would’ve been too dominant compared to kick. Also, I drop a Fruity Parametric EQ 2 (PEQ2) to it’s mixer track and using the high shelf filter I boost the 4.7kHz area and above about 2.2dB to give it a little clarity.
Next, I’m going to lay another clap with the ‘Punchy clap’. I call it the ‘Loose clap’ because it sounds loose and not so tight.
Now here’s the trick I mentioned: instead of using Step Sequencer for creating a sequence for the ‘Loose clap’, I go to it’s Piano Roll view and draw a short notes of C5 on spots 1:05:000, 1:13:000, 1:21:000 & 1:29:000. Then, I select all the notes, hold the ALT key to bypass the snapping and drag the notes a bit to left so that they start SLIGHTLY BEFORE the exact spot. So the first note starts at 1:04:018, second note 1:12:018, third note 1:20:018 and fourth note at 1:28:018. This makes the clap slightly out of sync with the kick and will make the claps section sound ‘fatter’. Neat little trick which usually works best with tiny or ‘loose’ claps.
I also drop the Mixer track volume level of the ‘Loose clap’ to -1.0dB.
I’m going to layer one more sound with the two claps: snare.
First, in the Step Sequencer I place it to steps 5, 13, 21 & 29.
Also, my ears tell me that I need to drop it’s volume level a bit so I’ll head to Mixer and bring its volume down to -2.3dB. The snare also requires equalization as it has too much life around the 150Hz area so I’ll drop a PEQ2 to it’s mixer track and using high pass filter and a steep curve I roll off everything below 180Hz. I also boost the 3kHz area by 1.8dB with a bandwidth of 40% using peaking filter to make it more audible through the layering.
Okay. The kick + claps section sounds pretty nice so far, but I will add a little ‘twist’ to the groove: I clone the snare, reverse it and create a reverse snare sequence that ‘leads’ to every second and fourth claps.
Cloning is done by right clicking on the snare channel (in the Step Sequencer) and choosing ‘Clone’. I’ll rename it to ‘Snare reverse’ and also assign it to a separate free mixer track because it may require a bit different volume settings than the original snare.
Next, I’ll reverse it. Reversing is done by opening the Channel settings and clicking ‘Reverse’ under the ‘Precomputed effects’.
Then I head to the Mixer and copy the PEQ2 settings used in the original snare mixer track to the ‘Snare reverse’ track. This is easily done by clicking the ‘FX slot options’ (in the original snare mixer track) and from the menu click-holding and dragging the ‘Save preset as…’ to the ‘Snare reverse’ mixer track. I also drop the ‘Snare reverse’ volume to -1.6dB.
Alright. Now, back to the Step Sequencer and I just place the ‘Snare reverse’ on steps 11 and 27. This’ll create a nice ‘lead-in’ -effect to every second clap and makes the rhythm sound more interesting.
Ok. Then I move on to hihats.
I’ll start by placing the first closed hihat on steps 3, 11, 19 & 27.
This is otherwise a nice hihat sample, but somehow it has low end frequencies in it so I need to use eq. Again, I’ll add the PEQ2 and using high pass filter with quite gentle curve, I roll off stuff below 450Hz. Also, I’ll drop the volume level to -1.5dB.
Now, the second closed hihat: it goes to steps 7, 15, 23 & 31.
This hihat requires some tweaking as well as to my ears there’s just too much of high end in it so again with the PEQ2 and this time using low pass filter with a steep curve I’ll cut everything from 13kHz and above. Also, while listening it with the kick, claps and the first closed hihat, it sounded like it needed a boost on some frequency area to shine better through the mix so I experimented by boosting the 1.3kHz area about 3.3dB with a bandwidth of 30-40% and it sounded better. I’ll also drop it’s volume level to -2.0dB and now it sounds perfect.
Next the third closed hihat. I drop it on steps 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28 & 32.
This hihat won’t require any equalizing. I’ll just drop its volume level to -2.0dB and it’s done.
One more hihat. I’ll place it on step 31.
This one requires eq’ing so by using PEQ2 I’ll cut everything below 400Hz using high pass filter with a steep curve. I also boost the 4kHz area by 2.6dB using peaking filter with a bandwidth of 24% and the 11.3kHz area and above by 10.4dB using high shelf filter. Also, I drop volume level to -9.5dB and it sits nicely in the mix.
This is how the whole drum pattern sounds like:
Drums are complete and we are ready to move on to the bass!
For the bass, I will use 3xOsc so first thing to do is to load it, rename the channel to ‘Bass’ and assign it to a free mixer track.
Now to programming right kind of bass sound.
I want a short and percussive, ‘rubber’ type of saw bass sound so I’ll start by choosing a saw wave as the oscillator shape for each three oscillators. I’ll set the coarse tune to -24 semitones on each oscillators.
Next some envelope tweaking. Under the INS -tab and VOL -sub-tab I’ll enable the volume envelope. I set the attack to 0 (all the way to left), hold to 1/4 (I dont know the value in milliseconds) , decay to halfway, sustain level to 0 (all the way to left), and release to 0 (all the way to left).
I need filter envelope as well so I head to the CUT -sub-tab and enable the filter envelope. The filter envelope is what I use to control the cutoff frequency and this allows me to make the bass sound percussive and rubber’ish.
So, I’ll start by setting the attack to near 1/4, hold a little bit above 1/4, decay to 0 (all the way to left), sustain all the way to right and release 1/4. Modulation amount I set to 1/4. And final touch: under the ‘Filter’ I turn the filter cutoff frequency (MODX -knob) to a position that is almost to it’s fullest, but not entirely (hard to explain in words so just check the pic).
Okay. Now some effects to give it more ‘beef’: I’ll drop a Soundgoodizer with ‘semi-extreme’ settings to the fx slot and also a PEQ2 and using peaking filter I’ll boost the 60Hz area by 3.2dB with 25% bandwidth and using high shelf filter I tame the frequencies of 2.7kHz and above by -4.7dB to make it sit better with the drums. Volume I drop to -1.5dB.
The bass sound is ready and now I’ll create the bass sequence.
I’ll start by creating a new pattern to the Playlist (keyboard shortcut is F4), renaming it to ‘Bass’ and opening the Piano Roll -view I’ll create a very simple bassline sequence shown in the pic below:
Ok. The sequence of the Bass sounds pretty good however it’s causing a bit of a problem by overlapping with the kick as they are pretty much on the same frequency range so I’ll use sidechain compression to make it work better with the kick and to add a neat pumping effect to the groove. So, I start by going to Mixer and clicking on Kick mixer track and then right click that little up-arrow icon on the Bass mixer track and choose ‘Sidechain to this track’.
Then I go to the Bass mixer track and drop a Fruity Limiter to it’s fx slot. I’ll set the ‘Target’ as Compressor, ‘Sidechain input number’ to 1, Threshold to -38.1dB, Ratio to 2.4:1, Attack to 0.30ms and Release to 88.0ms. Using these settings makes the bass volume drop when the kick triggers in and then rising back again little just before the next kick. This’ll make a nice ‘bouncing’ feel to the bassline and groove.
Bassline is done and it seems to work nicely together with the kick.
For a working EDM groove, it is REALLY important to make the kick and bass work together. To make it so, you need a right combination of kick sample, bass sound, bass sequence, sidechain compression and equalization. Not an easy task yeah, but very important for the whole song.
At this point I extend the beat & bass patterns in the Playlist and export the mix to MP3, copy it to USB stick and go and test it in my car stereos (I have a standard car stereo system – no subwoofers or anything fancy) and compare it to some commercial trance songs. It’s a good practice to test and compare the mix to commercial songs through a different speaker systems to hear what needs to be tweaked (if any). Having a subwoofer in studio is also not a bad idea.
Ok. The testing revealed that there’s too much low end in the bassline.
So, back to mixing desk and I add another instance of PEQ2 to the Bass mixer track and using low shelf filter I drop the 30Hz area by -18.0dB with a bandwidth of 76%.
Testing again in my car stereos and it sounds better so I let it be.
This is the end result:
Okay. Next, to the melody.
I already have a rough idea for the kind of melody I’m planning to create: simple staccato chord melody so I need a certain type of lead sound for that.
For the sound I’ll be using one of my favourite free VST synths, TAL-NoiseMaker so I just add an instance of NoiseMaker to the project and assign it to a free mixer track (renaming it as ‘Staccato chord’) and I’ll start searching the sound by browsing through the presets and the one called ‘LD Crystal Lead TAL’ is exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll just decrease the Filter Cutoff to make it sound a bit more ‘closed’ and I’m ready to go.
I’ll add a new pattern to the Playlist, rename it to ‘Staccato chord’ and open the NoiseMakers Piano Roll -view and start creating the melody. I’ll use the bassline as the basis for the staccato chords (that’s how I usually compose my melodies) so I simply use the A as the root note for the chords.
I create a simple 4 bar staccato chord loop.
This is a very typical element in modern trance. Yes, it’s nothing unique, but I’m just using it as a example.
Okay. The sound needs a bit tweaking so I’ll go to the ‘Staccato chord’ mixer track and add a Fruity Delay 2 and Fruity Reeverb 2 to the fx slot to add a bit of dense and etheric feel to the sound. I also widen the stereo image a bit using the ‘Stereo separation’ -knob by turning it to 58% separated.
Also, some equalizing is required so I’ll drop in a PEQ2 as well and using high pass filter and steep curve I cut everything below 120Hz just to make sure it isn’t messing with the bass. I also boost the high end to a add a little brightness so using high shelf filter I boost the 8.5kHz area and above by 7.6dB.
And finally, I drop the mixer track volume to -3.1dB and it seems to sit nicely with the beat & bass:
Okay. Next I’m going to create a simple tension build up with the staccato chord using filter cutoff automation.
Simple Tension Build Up
First I’ll just extend the beat, bass & staccato chord patterns all the way to bar 21 by using copy/paste.
Now, I’ll open the NoiseMaker, activate the ‘Multilink to controllers’ in the FL Studio Transport panel and move the Cutoff -knob under the ‘Filter’ section of the NoiseMaker. Then I just right click on the ‘Multilink to controllers’ -button and choose ‘Create automation clip’ from the menu. This’ll create automation clip for the filter cutoff parameter to the Playlist.
Alright. Back to the Playlist editing the automation clip. I’ll just draw a simple ‘rising’ envelope curve (shown below) for building up the tension:
And this is how it sounds:
Filter cutoff sweep is one of the most basic yet effective ways to build up tension.
To make it even more effective I’m going to add in a white noise sweep.
White Noise Sweep For Boosting The Tension Build Up
I’ll add a new instance 3xOsc to the project, rename it as ‘Sweep in’ and choose noise as the oscillator shape for each three oscillators.
Now, I want to make the white noise sweep to sound fairly ‘thin’ which is common (at least in my opinion) in progressive trance so I’ll assign the ‘Sweep in’ to a free mixer track and drop a PEQ2 to it’s fx slot and using low shelf filter I roll off frequencies of 1.5kHz and below using -18.0dB cut with a pretty gentle curve and I also boost the high end a bit for more ‘hiss’ using high shelf filter and raising the 9.3kHz area and above by 2.0dB.
For the sweeping effect, I’ll add another instance of PEQ2 to ‘Sweep in’ mixer track. I’ll choose the low pass filter with a steep curve and bandwidth of 54%. I’ll set the frequency to 1.4kHz (that will be the starting frequency for the sweep) and right click on the frequency controller knob and choose ‘Create automation clip’ and new automation clip will be created to the Playlist.
I also drop the track volume to -5.0dB.
Okay. Now I head to the Playlist, add a new pattern, rename it to ‘Sweep in’ and open the Piano Roll -view and draw a 9 bars long C5 note.
In the Playlist, I place the ‘sweep pattern’ so that it ends to the same point where the staccato chord filter build up ends and edit the PEQ2 automation envelope so that it ‘opens’ the filter fully to the point where also the ‘Staccato chord’ build up ends. Check the pic:
I’m not done yet. What’s common in modern trance sound is that the white noise sweep ‘ducks’ in sync with the kick drum so I just sidechain compress the ‘Sweep in’ with the kick and pretty much use the same compression settings as I did when I sidechained the Bass.
Okay. This is how the tension build up sounds with the white noise sweep:
However, I wan’t the final drum pattern bar before the tension drops to have the kick muted while keeping the sidechain pumping active in the white noise sweep and bassline.
So, I’ll go to the Mixer, click on the ‘Kick’ mixer track to make it active and right click on that little ‘To Master’ -volume knob that is on about halfway of the Master mixer track and choose ‘Create automation clip’ from the menu. This way we can use automation to drop the kick drums volume send to master track to zero. This’ll mute the kick even though it’s still triggering which’ll keep the sidechain compression alive.
So now, I’ll head to the Playlist and edit the ‘To Master’ -autiomation envelope so that there’s a sharp drop during the last bar before the tension drops. Check the pic below and listen the audio:
Yep. Just what I wanted. Kick is muted, but the sidechain is active.
Okay. One last element is adding a sidechained white noise downlifter after the tension drops.
I’ll just add one more instance of 3xOsc, rename it to ‘Sweep out’ and again choose white noise as oscillator shape for each three oscillators. I’ll assign it to a free mixer track and copy the two instances of PEQ2 from the ‘Sweep in’ -track, but I’ll use slightly different settings with both of PEQ2’s. With the first PEQ2 I’ll cut frequencies of 2.6kHz and below using low shelf filter (this’ll make the noise even more thinner) and boost 16.7kHz area by 2.0dB using high shelf filter.
Then, opening the second instance of PEQ2, I use low pass filter with a quite gentle curve (curve order 2), set the starting frequency to 20khz and then create automation clip for the low pass filter controller.
I also drop a Fruity Limiter to the fx slot for sidechain compression with the kick drum, and finally, drop the volume to -6.0dB.
Now I head to the Playlist, add a new pattern, open the Piano Roll -view of ‘Sweep out’ and create 9 bars long C5 note.
Then I head back to the Playlist and place the pattern to start at the point where the ‘Sweep in’ ends and edit the low pass filter automation envelope to look like this:
And we are ready! Now listen to the whole beat (I normalized the WAV):
That’s about it. I hope this tutorial gave you some ideas on how to make your own trance beats 🙂
Check the video version below:
I’m also sharing FL Studio project files for the beat. I have put up two versions: one which requires the TAL-NoiseMaker and the other where I have replaced the NoiseMaker with one of the FL Studio native plugins, WaspXT so no need to dl NoiseMaker.