Reason 5 Workshop
Layering beats in Reason 5
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reason 5 Workshop
Kong mixes synthesized and
sampled drum modules to let
you create custom kits
complete with multiple
effects. Its 16 pads also allow
great old school drum
programming techniques.
Rex loops can be manipulated
and mangled easily and the
new Dr Octo Rex module can
hold up to eight at once. They
are a great way to add life to
your beats.
Reason is a powerful beat making tool and in version 5 it opens up a
whole new world of rhythms, as Hollin Jones explains…
B eats of one kind or another are the
foundation for most kinds of music,
and especially for those that people
make in Reason, whether it’s rock,
techno, pop or electronica. A beat is
the place most people start, from which they take their
inspiration for developing melodies, basslines and
structures. Reason was arguably the first DAW to
incorporate easy-to-use loop players and drum sample
players – Dr Rex and the ReDrum – in an integrated
programming environment, the rack. And in Reason 5
there are a couple of really important new features that
can help you to expand your skills and take your beat
making to the next level.
First there’s the incredible new Kong drum designer
module, a drum synthesis unit that lets you mix and
match generators and effects to build unique drum
machines. It also has a classic pad-style programmer that
makes it really easy to learn and use. The second major
new development is the advent of native sampling in
every module that can load samples. This means that
wherever you see a sample load icon you will also now
see a sample record button.
Reason can read from your audio inputs and capture
live sounds directly into modules. From the perspective of
making beats this is a really handy new tool, since it
applies to every channel on the ReDrum. You have always
been able to load up any audio samples you wanted into
the ReDrum but now you have the ability to record
sounds directly in from a mic, turntable, guitar or other
source. With a little imagination you can see how easy it
would be to make, for example, a beatbox kit powered
entirely by your own vocal sounds that you could sample
on the fly. Need to spice up a standard sampled drum or
percussion kit? Replace a couple of its samples with hits
38 Reason 5 MusicTech Focus
Power Tip
In addition to the Alter
Notes trick there’s another
technique for spicing up
your beats and that’s the
ReGroove mixer. Activate
this using the button at
the bottom right of the
Transport panel and then
route each desired track
through one of its slots,
tweaking the settings as
you wish to change the
timing and feel. ReGroove
applies nondestructive
quantization and can even
pre-align parts before they
are groove quantized so
that the results are as
expected. It works
particularly well on beats
and is a great way to add
a more human feel to
parts for either a laid back
or more urgent feel. Try it
with percussion parts and
live drum sounds.
of your own, with vocal stabs or sound effects performed
through the mic.
Mix and match
The most effective way to create interesting and layered
beats in Reason is to use several or indeed all of the
beat-making tools it offers, mixing and matching them
according to your needs. Of course, you can just load up
a ton of Rex loops in the new Dr Octo Rex but why not
use a Rex percussion loop, a kick from Kong and other
hits sampled into a ReDrum to make things more
interesting? The possibilities are more or less endless. To
begin with, try loading up a new project and creating an
instance of Kong.
Open the patch browser and locate a patch that
sounds good. You can play the patches from your MIDI
keyboard to audition them from the browser. 1
Set up a loop and activate the click track, then record
a basic pattern, say just a kick and snare, using Kong.
You can either do this by playing the MIDI notes in from
your keyboard or control surface, or by playing the pads
You can see that each module is
equally adept at building and
shaping rhythms in its own way,
and they can all be used together
to create some excellent beats.
on Kong’s interface with the mouse. For the ultimate in
tactile control you can lock a MIDI pad controller to Kong
using the Remote system, making it even more hands on.
Once you are done you may wish to quantize the part you
just recorded. 2
You have the option of substituting pads quickly to try
out different sounds. If you select a pad in Kong and then
click on an alternative box in the Drum Assignment box to
the right, you can assign a new sound to that pad,
changing the sound of the beat without having to reassign
any MIDI notes. Just think of it as swapping the sounds
around in their slots. 3
By clicking on the Show Drum and FX arrow you can
reveal the generators that are creating the sounds and
tinker with them, if you like, and add and edit effects. In
this example the hits are based on sampled sounds, but
you can change these – even sample directly in if you like
into the NN-Nano samplers. Try swapping one of the
sounds for a synthesized hit by clicking its source select
arrow. 4
Tweak its controls until it sounds
good. Activate one or more of the
FX units to add some interest. You
can do this independently for every
pad on Kong, and there are buss
and master FX available as well. Try
adding a Rattler to a snare sound,
for example. 5
Next, try duplicating the simple
MIDI part you have recorded and
adding a couple more hits to it using either the MIDI key
editor or just by hitting record and playing the pads or
MIDI keys. To differentiate the clip from others you can
right click on it and choose to assign it a new colour,
which makes things easier to keep track of. 6
Pieces of eight
Now that you have crated a simple electronic beat, let’s
start layering other things on top of it. First load up a Dr
Octo Rex and choose a percussion loop. Like Kong, you
are able to play back each sound from the keyboard,
except here you are playing the slices of the loop. If this
fits with what you are going for, record a percussion
pattern in using the conventional recording technique of
playing by hand. Alternatively, copy the loop into the
sequencer by expanding the Dr Octo Rex’s programmer
section and pressing Copy Loop to Track, whereupon the
current loop will be copied to the area between the left
and right markers. 7
Once a Rex loop exists as MIDI data in the
MusicTech Focus Reason 5 39
Reason 5 Workshop
Reason 5 Workshop
Layering beats in Reason 5
Layering beats in Reason 5
Power Tip
Power Tip
The classic ReDrum module now also supports live
sampling into any of its channels, so it’s a breeze to
add your own sounds and samples to any kit to make
truly unique kits on the fly.
Power Tip
Kong, like ReDrum, can
route its audio channels
out individually for
separate processing or to
trigger other modules. It
also has Gate In and Out
controls for all 16 pads,
and can accept an audio
input signal which you
can access by expanding
the Programmer section
and spinning the rack
around. It can be
sequencer controlled
using Gate and CV inputs
from certain other
modules including
the Matrix.
40 Reason 5 MusicTech Focus
out of time. Use a lower percentage value for mild
randomization, a higher one for unpredictable results. 9
Bear in mind that some slices are longer than others,
so your altered loop might not always sound quite right,
but then you can always undo it or keep randomizing until
it sounds better. Dr Octo Rex also has greatly expanded
slice editing capabilities that you can access by pressing
the Slice Edit Mode button in its Programmer section.
This lets you create variations within the loop in terms of
the sound, not the pattern. If you are trying this, maybe
experiment with choosing the Pitch control, then selecting
one or more slices and drawing new pitch values in for
each one, or drawing a ramp so that the pitch changes
over time. 10
Then move onto the filter frequency
control and draw in another ramp so
that the loop gets more filtered at
certain points. By doing things like this
you can take a relatively simple loop
and make it sound more interesting
with minimal effort. 11
Once you have programmed your
pattern, you could try either
replacing some of the existing
sounds, or adding further hits
that you sample in yourself.
sequencer, you can manipulate it in a number of ways
to modify the pattern or, in this case, the beat. Double
click on a clip containing the percussion loop and you will
find that by clicking on any of the notes or clicking in the
blue area on the left, you will preview the sound
associated with that slice. Select one or more slices and
you can do pretty much anything with them. Move them
around, delete some, repeat others. It’s up to you. 8
This is a great way to edit Rex loops without messing
up their basic feel too much. If a loop sounds too busy,
remove a few selected slices. If it needs to sound more
full, throw in a few new slices, repeating sounds that are
already present. A Rex loop is a bit like a sampler full of
data waiting to be played back in any way you like.
Another trick with loops is to select one or more MIDI
clips and then, in the Tool window, use the Alter Notes
command to randomize the pattern without knocking it
Reason 5 now saves
samples that you record
as part of the project file
and you can view and
manage these by using
the Tool window’s new
Song Samples tab. This
also enables you to
preview, delete, export,
duplicate and edit the
samples so they are not
simply stuck inside one
module once they have
been recorded. It also lets
you view samples in use
by all other modules. If
you expand this dropdown
list you can see which
samples, including those
you have recorded, are
associated with which
modules in the rack.
Tried and tested
The third method for creating beats is
to use the venerable ReDrum, so try
adding one to your project. Load up a preset kit and try
playing in a drum part using the keyboard or by entering
notes manually as before. You might also want to use the
onboard pattern sequencer, as we have demonstrated
elsewhere. Once you have programmed your pattern, you
could try either replacing some of the existing sounds, or
adding further hits that you sample in yourself. In Reason
5 this is really easy to do and simply involves clicking on
the button with the waveform icon on any ReDrum
channel. 12
Let’s say for example that you wanted to add a clicked
finger or a whistle sound to a loop, but didn’t want to
poke around your hard drive looking for one. With the
sound in and out properly set up, choose a ReDrum
channel into which to record and click the sample button.
If you are recording through a microphone you should
sample while Reason is not playing back, or monitor
The Dr Octo Rex module
can be automated in a
number of ways to
sequence the playback of
up to eight Rex loops from
a single module. As well
as placing clips into a
sequencer track, you can
automate the Notes to Slot
dial. What this does is flip
the focus of the sequencer
track to any of the eight
loop slots. So you would
have the same MIDI clip,
or different clips over time,
flipping to play back their
data using different Rex
loops. This is a fairly easy
way to create variations
without having to do too
much legwork.
through headphones while recording, otherwise you will
either get feedback or record the backing track onto your
sample, or both. If you are recording a connected source
like a guitar or turntable this shouldn’t be an issue.
Here, we have hit the sample button and then Edit to
trim the sample down to the correct length. With short
samples this trimming is done automatically, but you may
decide you also want to use the loop, crop, normalize or
fade tools that are to be found in the sample edit window
to tweak your sample. 13
You also get to name the sample here if you like, and
when you hit Save, it is stored inside your project file.
Now the sample is available in your ReDrum you can
use it in the kit and trigger it as part of your beat.
Helpfully, it can also be tweaked using the channel
controls on the ReDrum too, so here we have recorded a
short whistle sample and then pitched it up, making it
even shorter and more punchy. 14
The ReDrum retains its individual channel outputs of
course, so you can route your sampled sounds through
other modules. We have sent the whistle sample through
build your song block by block back
in Song mode. you can easily create
sections for songs and stitch them
together with a minimum of fuss.
an instance of the RV7000 with a dub echo preset loaded,
and then on to the main mixer. 15
We could also have used a Line Mixer module to
manage multiple routed drum channels and then sent
them to the main mixer as a simple stereo pair.
Banging beats
Although the examples given are straightforward, they
demonstrate the techniques you can use to build and
layer up beats. You can see that each module is equally
adept at building and shaping rhythms in its own way,
and they can all be used together to create excellent
beats or indeed any other kind of loops or patterns.
There is yet another new feature in Reason 5 called
Blocks, and if you compose using blocks and then build
your song block by block back in Song mode, you can
easily create sections for songs and stitch them together
with a minimum of fuss. This is particularly well suited to
electronic music where you might start gradually adding
more and more beats and sequences to build the track.
Even if you don’t use Blocks, you can still easily copy,
paste and duplicate beats and other backing parts around
the sequencer to layer up material and create rich and
interesting sounding songs. With everything quantized or
ReGrooved, it’s hard to go wrong and by using the many
samples, tools, modules and other techniques at your
disposal, you can create epic beats in Reason. MTF
Power Tip
The ReDrum can be
programmed in a number
of ways, including by
automating its pattern
section. Each of its 32
pattern slots can be
sequenced to play back in
any order you like by
‘painting’ blocks of data
into the relevant
sequencer lane. This is a
more old school approach
to programming and a
little more restrictive than
using MIDI data in the
sequencer. That said,
these patterns can be
placed into the sequencer
as MIDI clips if you wish
to edit and process them
more flexibly.
MusicTech Focus Reason 5 41