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OT: Synth Leads (your favorite patchs, apps, hardware, techniques, players?)

edited February 12 in Off-topic

Synth (and other) leads. Your preferences... what, how, and who?

Lately, I’ve been enjoying jamming with keyboard leads of various kinds over drum and bass sequences. Genre doesn’t particularly matter. Electronica, funk, rock, pop, jazz. (Well, my version of jazz anyway. Call it “half-azzed jazz” or “happy accidentals”, lol).

Usually, i like a single-oscillator saw wave with some resonance, for a kind of funky “wah-wah” sound. But other types are nice, too. Such as square, sine, and sync leads. Mostly, I’d think that leads are monophonic, but sometimes it’s nice to use a polyphonic patch, mostly playing single notes but being able to throw in a chord when needed. Bass patches played up a few octaves often work.

I’m mainly using a Korg Microstation and M3 for keys and sounds. The mini keys on the Microstation actually are a benefit for doing quick riffs, slides, and easily reaching an octave or more with injuring the hand. The joystick controllers on both keyboards are wonderful for doing quick pitch bends (of +/- 2), And usually having vibrato on the Y+ axis, with some filter or effect on the Y- (down). Two fingers, four possible controls... nice. (I’d like a foot controller like that. There’s the Touchè, for around $400... maybe one day, lol).

Lotsa good apps for this on iOS, of course. Zeeon, Korg ODYSSEi, iMS-20, and IMono/Poly, and Moog apps come to mind. Haven’t tried Pure Synth Platinum or Shockwave, but i bet they’re great for such sounds. Bebot is nice (using the iPad as a controller).

Players i find inspiring include the fusion masters like Herbie Hancock, Chick Correa, etc. But really any soloist (of any genre) is fair game for inspiring synth leads, it seems. To throw in a short riff from a well-known piece is fun, and a tribute to some wonderful songs. (While neatly sidestepping the “sampling”/ copyright issue. 😂) Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, many different scat singers, harmonica players and other amazing soloists. If I could play any Mozart or Beethoven melodies, I’d include them too, lol. Nursery rhymes are more my speed. 😄

So... what are preferences when it comes to “lead sounds”? 🎺🎷🎸

Comments

  • As a side note about synth leads... if I were to offer advice to someone just starting to learn the keyboard, I’d say use a monophonic synth lead patch, maybe a sine or triangle wave. Especially for kids, who tend to mash all the keys in the general vicinity of their hand at the same time creating a discordant noise.😄 Just hearing one note at a time might clarify the sound and learning process. After a while, then introduce a simple bass pattern to play the lead sound with.

    Just a thought... (goes back to mashing all the keys on my piano)

  • I like sounds that evolve during the note duration by use of envelopes or LFOs. That can be quick like a ‘twang’, slow like a string section or somewhere in between, as long as they’re not static. I also like to make the patch slightly random as well as responsive to velocity and aftertouch to make it more expressive. Vibrato is also important to me.

  • I like Minimoogs for lead. Started out with one in the 70’s when I was about 16 that sat on my Rhodes 73 stage while I tried to be a Jan Hammer clone lol. Had two Minimoogs eventually. Now days I still use a Minimoog Voyager Model .. and I’m still working on those Jan Hammer riffs 🙄 I must say though that since I got Moog’s Model D app I haven’t even turned my Minimoog on .. it’s good enough for those single oscillator Chick and Jan tones .. heck even those multi oscillator Lucky Man and Tarkus Keith tones. Would of never even dreamt back in the 70’s when I was breaking my skinny back lugging that Moog and Rhodes around town that someday I’d be coping the same tones from a device the size of a pad of paper ..

  • Joe zawinul’s sound and taste during the solo synth passages on A Remark You Made in Weather Report’s Heavy Weather is something of a standout for me.

  • I like leads that are like sustained lead guitar sounds. Strangely enough, piano sounds on synths always seem to be a good starting point. Automation of parameters is important to get lots of movement in the sustain portion- some subtle, but with the ability to go extreme with after touch or similar when desired - you know, like a kid playing wild air guitar! 😂

    Fx is so important and I’m always on the lookout for new ways of distortion and overdrive - sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Again, automation of the fx is most helpful in creating a more dynamic playing experience. Sometimes this is easier accomplished with the built in fx of some synths.

    Basically I’m a frustrated music maker who can’t play guitar lol. I also do the mouth movements and face distortions along with the sound - just like most keyboard playing wanna be guitar players!

  • Just to add to mine: Most my lead sounds are in Poly, not mono. The best sounds are quite simple if you take off the fx. I use AUM a lot to try out a sound with different fx on each lane.

    As in all iOS music making, I wished there was an automatic convert AUM channel to DAW channel - this one thing would make iOS music making so much quicker!

  • edited February 12

    @Fruitbat1919 said:
    I like leads that are like sustained lead guitar sounds. Strangely enough, piano sounds on synths always seem to be a good starting point. Automation of parameters is important to get lots of movement in the sustain portion- some subtle, but with the ability to go extreme with after touch or similar when desired - you know, like a kid playing wild air guitar! 😂

    Fx is so important and I’m always on the lookout for new ways of distortion and overdrive - sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Again, automation of the fx is most helpful in creating a more dynamic playing experience. Sometimes this is easier accomplished with the built in fx of some synths.

    Basically I’m a frustrated music maker who can’t play guitar lol. I also do the mouth movements and face distortions along with the sound - just like most keyboard playing wanna be guitar players!

    😊👍 Yep! Definitely. (Could have written almost exactly same thing about my experience). I grew up with several family members proficient at guitar. I had the same love of music as they did, but felt stifled in expressing it. It felt like a mute person trying vainly to communicate something vitally important. It was a bottled up volcano, finally bursting out through singing followed by keyboard explorations.

    The classic electric guitar sound (in all its many varieties, from say around the 60’s and 70’s, including all the effects, overdrive, and amplifiers) is (IMHO) one of the most expressive instruments. It’s range, tones, and polyphony help it to rival the human voice in terms of expressiveness. The piano sound alone (as wonderful and enduring as it is) can occasionally seem more difficult to reflect certain moods and feelings. Those that have mastered the piano surely can, but others may struggle.

    With a synth, using one hand on the keys and the other riding the pitch bend and modulation wheels, there is almost immediate potential for electric guitar-like subtleties of tone and pitch. New horizons open, even for those with a loose grasp of formal music theories, lol. The skies are filled with the soaring notes, dipping and flitting like barn swallows chasing bugs in the twilight...

  • edited February 12

    BTW, i like to spray some whipped cream from an aerosol can onto my synth before playing. This makes the lead sounds extra sweet and creamy. Add nuts and cherries for variety, and hot fudge for a warmer sound. Just a little helpful hint... 😋

  • @haulin_notes said:
    BTW, i like to spray some whipped cream from an aerosol can onto my synth before playing. This makes the lead sounds extra sweet and creamy. Add nuts and cherries for variety, and hot fudge for a warmer sound. Just a little helpful hint... 😋

    While that sounds delicious, I am no longer able to eat in such excesses - I can only dream of such sugary goodness now o:)

  • @Fruitbat1919 said:

    @haulin_notes said:
    BTW, i like to spray some whipped cream from an aerosol can onto my synth before playing. This makes the lead sounds extra sweet and creamy. Add nuts and cherries for variety, and hot fudge for a warmer sound. Just a little helpful hint... 😋

    While that sounds delicious, I am no longer able to eat in such excesses - I can only dream of such sugary goodness now o:)

    That’s the beauty of it though! Only the EARS can sense the unbelievable sweetness. No high blood sugar or brain fog. No doctor bills. But the cost of getting the sticky mess (and the ecstatic ants) out of the synth is steep. Best saved for special occasions. 🤣

  • @TheOriginalPaulB said:
    I like sounds that evolve during the note duration by use of envelopes or LFOs. That can be quick like a ‘twang’, slow like a string section or somewhere in between, as long as they’re not static. I also like to make the patch slightly random as well as responsive to velocity and aftertouch to make it more expressive. Vibrato is also important to me.

    👍 Certainly! No five seconds of playing ever exactly the same, even when hitting the same notes. Sometimes, I’ll have velocity triggering a wah filter effect and combined with resonance gives that wonderful “twang” you spoke of. Vibrato is a great emphasis, like the electric trilling of a saxophone, making that note shine brightly. Couldn’t play as expressively without it. It’d feel like having a hot dog with no mustard or ketchup.

  • @cloudswimmer said:
    I like Minimoogs for lead. Started out with one in the 70’s when I was about 16 that sat on my Rhodes 73 stage while I tried to be a Jan Hammer clone lol. Had two Minimoogs eventually. Now days I still use a Minimoog Voyager Model .. and I’m still working on those Jan Hammer riffs 🙄 I must say though that since I got Moog’s Model D app I haven’t even turned my Minimoog on .. it’s good enough for those single oscillator Chick and Jan tones .. heck even those multi oscillator Lucky Man and Tarkus Keith tones. Would of never even dreamt back in the 70’s when I was breaking my skinny back lugging that Moog and Rhodes around town that someday I’d be coping the same tones from a device the size of a pad of paper ..

    Nice! 🙂 Moog and Rhodes... classic combo, go together like cookies and milk. That is high praise for the Model D app, if it can stand in for the excellent Voyager. We are indeed lucky and blessed to have these sounds in our pockets. As a kid, i had a kazoo in my pocket... 😄 I gotta check out more of Jan Hammer’s work. This is one from the 2006 Moogfest, with some cool riffs.

  • ARP Odyssey
    Billy Currie
    Ultravox

  • The late Lyle Mays, his synth lead parts in Are You Going With Me. Flute and harmonica timbres, then Pat cuts in with his synth guitar brass leads, all this over a pulsing Synclavier plucked string sequence.

  • In a way now that I look back in languor I would have expected the bulk of industry-standard synth leads to be far more based around wind synthesis than has actually turned out.

  • @anickt said:
    ARP Odyssey
    Billy Currie
    Ultravox

    O yes the Monument tour. I met three of them backstage in Nottingham after this tour, but Billy Currie was otherwise occupied and I was gutted. I was a teenager at the time and had this garish scull t-shirt on which the three I met signed. Never got to meet Billy and I’ve seen them since.

  • edited February 15

    @Fruitbat1919 said:

    @anickt said:
    ARP Odyssey
    Billy Currie
    Ultravox

    O yes the Monument tour. I met three of them backstage in Nottingham after this tour, but Billy Currie was otherwise occupied and I was gutted. I was a teenager at the time and had this garish scull t-shirt on which the three I met signed. Never got to meet Billy and I’ve seen them since.

    Cool story! Never got to see them live. Midge Ure is still touring heavily and puts on a great show from what I’ve read.

  • @anickt said:

    @Fruitbat1919 said:

    @anickt said:
    ARP Odyssey
    Billy Currie
    Ultravox

    O yes the Monument tour. I met three of them backstage in Nottingham after this tour, but Billy Currie was otherwise occupied and I was gutted. I was a teenager at the time and had this garish scull t-shirt on which the three I met signed. Never got to meet Billy and I’ve seen them since.

    Cool story! Never got to see them live. Midge Ure is still touring heavily and puts on a great show from what I’ve read.

    Yes, have seen Midge live and he is indeed excellent. Once he had members of his touring band unable to be there, and he did a much more intimate set with only one other musician. He chatted with the audience and it was just a rather special night. He really seems like a genuinely nice guy from what I have seen.

  • @anickt 😲 👍Wow! Thanks for posting the video. That Ultravox performance was INTENSE! Especially the synths. You can feel the electricity even now. Gotta love it when a band puts it all out on stage. It swings the balance away from mere convention and commerce towards art.

  • @u0421793 said:
    In a way now that I look back in languor I would have expected the bulk of industry-standard synth leads to be far more based around wind synthesis than has actually turned out.

    Hmm, interesting. Do you perhaps mean sax or flute samples or physical modeling? Or maybe MIDI wind controllers?

  • @haulin_notes said:

    @u0421793 said:
    In a way now that I look back in languor I would have expected the bulk of industry-standard synth leads to be far more based around wind synthesis than has actually turned out.

    Hmm, interesting. Do you perhaps mean sax or flute samples or physical modeling? Or maybe MIDI wind controllers?

    Nothing to do with the sound, I don’t care.

    Think about it this way. Prior to rock and roll and the biological evolution of skiffle into pop music as we know it, the dominant ‘popular music’ that teenagers bought and danced to was driven by a trumpeter at the front of the band.

    My dad, now well in his 80s, played trumpet in his youth, in the same way people have aspired to play electric guitars in the past 50 years, and for exactly the same reasons. He also saxaphoned. He can’t do that now, the lips, apparently. Now, the sax and the trumpet are generally monophonic lead instruments (alright, several brass or woodwinds together can be directed at less forefront parts, but you know what I mean.) The outward in-your-face or melodic lead line of a trumpet is different to that of the lead guitar in that the guitar has a definite characteristic envelope, whereas the trumpet is far more variable in expressiveness in terms of envelope shape under control of the player. Okay, there was Godley and Creme’s efforts at the ‘gizmo’ to deny the pluck of the string the natural envelope of the instruments and bestow it with infinite sustain. Even that doesn’t allow the expressiveness in the amplitude dimension that a wind instrument can give, all perfect for lead lines and the front person.

  • edited February 15

    @u0421793 😊👍 Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Makes sense. One could possibly say that the sounds of the synth leads are greatly influenced by brass and woodwinds, perhaps even modeled on them. Trumpets, being over 3000 years old, have quite a history and place in music. The saxophone, though more recent, still seems to hold a prominent place in current music. Nothing like a soaring sax solo, which is simultaneously both earthy and airborne. These two instruments (and their close relatives) need no amplifiers or effects to work their powerful magic. Of course, the usual accessory for a trumpet is a mute, to soften and filter the sheer blast of volume. They are forces of nature. And anyone who plays the synth could benefit by studying them.

    Just found out about the fascinating pocket trumpet:

  • Pitch bending. I suppose one could have synth and keyboard leads without bending...
    but WHY? 😅 Here’s a couple interesting and helpful tutorials on bending. The third video is of a live performance by George Duke, and is referenced in the second video.

  • And speaking of sax leads... the AUv3 iFretless Sax (as demonstrated in this video) sounds very good indeed. Has a sine synth included and can also control many iOS synths via MIDI out. Time to wail! 🎷

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