Arp your beats with Reason 4

Hello, Reason users! Over the years, I’ve stumbled upon some novel techniques by using Reason’s features in unusual ways. I’d like to describe a particularly fun technique for manipulating sliced drum loops in a semi-automated way thanks to Reason 4‘s new arpeggiator device.

The RPG-8 Monophonic Arpeggiator is an instrument that controls another instrument by repeating sequences of notes in a particular order. Though arpeggiators are primarily used with synthesizers and other melodic instruments, you can also arpeggiate a drum beat. It’s not obvious how to do this, however; if you just connect the RPG-8 to a REX device, it doesn’t do anything useful. This tutorial explains how to pull it off.

First, you’ll want to find a REX loop that is evenly sliced. You can also get interesting effects with unevenly-sliced loops, but it’s easier to control the effect with a set of uniformly-spaced slices. Create the REX instrument, then right-click it and select “Combine”.

Now that you have the REX loop inside of a Combinator, it’s a snap to hook up an arpeggiator and have it “do the right thing”. Right-click on the Combinator instrument and select “Create -> RPG-8 Monophonic Arpeggiator”.

This is where the fun starts. If you select the RPG-8 and hold down a few notes on your keyboard, it will start playing a beat. Depending on which keys you hold down, you’ll get a different beat pattern. If you hold down four keys, you’ll usually get a 2-beat, and if you hold down eight keys you’ll get a 4-beat. If you hold down any other number, you’ll start getting odd time signatures and lots of other unexpected consequences. You can set the arpeggiator to go down instead of up, or play the notes randomly, and you’ll start to really mutate the original loop.

Once you have a beat you like, you can record it to the piano roll. It’ll look pretty weird, since it’s basically recording the fact that you held down the same block of keys for an entire measure. You can draw it in instead if that’s easier. If you cut-and-paste the patterns and move a few notes around, and you’ll get fills and other beat variations. It’s a great way to keep the drums live-sounding and add a human touch. Try it!

Until next time,