Propellerhead Reason tutorials made by Hydlide

Published on Reason Experts

Electric pianos in Reason

Published: 11 months ago

Welcome back to another creative sound design topic. Today I am going to create myself an electronic piano that is based on a wide range of different theories. While some electric pianos (like the Rhodes for instance does) uses hammers that strike a metal plate which then goes through an amplifier. This has a similar character and concept when playing, for instance, a Vibraphone. Major differences there is that a vibraphone uses different sticks, while the Rhodes piano uses a type of hammer and the sound output will go through an amp.

Rhodes internal tuning vorks

The reason why I am bringing up the idea of vibraphone to the table is we can mimic this idea using synthesizers (like the subtractor in Reason or Thor the Polysynth in Reason). It requires a touch of Frequency modulation to pull that one off.

The only thing that does have an odd character (and this is also why I love these type of electronic pianos) while striking the keys a bit harder they sometimes add some form of analog distortion through the sound itself. Amplifiers can be the cause of this artifact. While in the digital realm we have tons of different plugins to create distortion in Reason (like the Scream 4, or the Pulveriser and list a wide range of rack extensions or VSTs in the list). Bottom line is that the distortion usually sounds odd while playing chords on them. And this is something I want to fix with a quick solution.

A lot of electric pianos use a wide range of vibrato or tremolo (vibrator = pitch, tremolo = volume). So yeah, let's throw that on the list as well... And as a challenge, I like to only use sine waves this time. Just to things organized, I will mostly use the subtractor synthesizer for this one.

Let's layer this all together

The Amp in an Electric Piano

First things first, the amplifier inside the Electric Piano. Like I have mentioned before, the Scream 4 or Pulveriser could be used for this approach. The only drawback to this is that they will sound weird with chords. And for this one, I do not feel the need to drop in 88 Scream 4 unit patches that go over the complete keyboard lane. This time I will be making use of a different distortion effect I haven't touched in a while: the foldback distortion. Yeah... that really old one indeed.

Foldback distortion for electric pianos

While the foldback distortion could be seen as a shaper (in Thor that is). It tends to reshape a sine wave more towards a clipped type of output depending on the Amount and the Foldback itself. Since I am only using sine waves, this type of distortion works perfectly for what I want to mimic the idea we are using an amplifier in the electric piano itself.

The only thing is, I only want this distortion to be velocity sensitive. And for that, we have a cool section inside the Subtractor to mimic that idea. The Velocity to Amp.

Amplitude to distortion amount

The Velocity to Amplitude will go to the maximum. Meaning the harder we press the key the more the tone gets distorted. Only one issue with this... I only want this distorted tone to come through very short and brief. The solution to that: Amplitude Envelope.
Amplitude envelope to control the distortion

This makes the distortion level drop very fast. So it is only being picked up very short by using a low decay setting. The sustain goes to 0 since the distorted tone needs to drop while pressing and holding the key. At least, that is the angle I am going for with this patch setup.


The results, a short picky distortion element for the Electronic Piano.

The Tremolo Element in an Electronic Piano

For the first Tremolo Element for this electronic piano, I am going to use the sine to self-cancellate itself using Phase offsets. Inside the subtractor, there is one very good candidate for this while using sine waves: The subtractive Phase. Normally a waveform gets its own duplicate while using the subtractive page. By moving the phase offset it often gets a pulse width modulation type of behavior. While using a sine wave the result is usually a softer or louder waveform depending on the setting of the phase itself. By using, for instance, LFO 2, in this case, we can use phase differences per note (using the KBD setting on the LFO 2). This means that the LFO will have a different rate per key.

Electric piano using tremolo

To make a nod towards the classic DX-2 piano series (FM piano) I am using a little bit of Frequency modulation amount (set to 6) so there is some vibrato taking place inside the sound itself.


Another Tremolo Element

The second tremolo element uses a similar technique as described above. The major differences here are:
- there is no FM being used
- it uses an octave higher
- it is much shorter vs the previous patch
- the tremolo effect has a different rate

Tremolo effect in Electric Pianos in Reason

The velocity to amplitude, in this case, will also play an important role in this patch.


Vibrato change in Electric pianos

The following patch will define the vibrato effect but in a short direction. Normally vibrato is used in combination with an LFO that changes the pitch all the time. I am using 2 different sine wave where one is high, the other one is low. I am using the Mix knob controlled by the modulation envelope to make changes in the sound going from low to high real fast.

Electric Piano using Vibrato to alter the sound

As you can see in this picture is that the oscillator 1 is set to octave 4. Oscillator 2 is set to octave 3. The modulation envelope will change the Mix knob from low to high and goes back to low real fast (the decay of the mod envelope does this). Combine this with a very subtle foldback distortion unit and you are all set.


The harmonic layer in Electric pianos

Last thing, the harmonic layer for a piano. While a sine normally does not contain any inharmonic frequencies it often means that the sound output will be quite dull and boring while processing this. To make the sound a bit more interesting to listen to we can make a sine wave play a more vibraphone/bell type of sound using Frequency modulation while doing so. This means we have to touch ratios that go in the direction of 3:1. To do this inside the subtractor we will need a distance of 19 semitones between two different oscillators. 19 semitones are similar to 1 octave (12) + 7 semi notes (+7). 

Electronic Piano the bell/vibraphone layer

The angle here is to move the frequency modulation amount (using the mod envelope). The modulator, in this case, is non-audible. 

This layer would result in the following sound:


All the sounds combined

While the electronic piano I have been creating is all based on the above ideas and concepts. The whole idea is to combine every layer together inside one combinator patch. Apply a little bit of reverb to it, and you are all set to go.

Electronic Piano


Have lots of fun, and enjoy your weekend! I will type to you later.






Published on Reason Experts
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Published on Reason Experts
Published: 11 months ago

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