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The basics elements of deep house music

Published: 11 months ago

Welcome back to another series of House music in Reason. In this article, I want to start off with writing down the basic ideas what the genre Deep House is all about. While I have originally written a complete article about the genre house music itself, deep house borrows elements for this genre while mixing it with a blend of jazz or blues elements. In short, it uses the percussion elements of house, while adding on top of this the usage of acoustic elements like piano's, Rhodes, or Pianets (where the latter two are acoustic electronic instruments). In the early days of Deep House music, it has some bridge between Gospel vocals. In the modern days, the Gospel is replaced with traditional vocals. Deep House is also known as a minimalistic type of House music. It usually consists of a bassline, some chords, and some deep sounding pads with a touch of a groovy percussion set. While using these elements it also comes with a lot of emotion (=deep). The mood for this would be more relaxing, hypnotizing and chill with a groovy element.

The example files in this article are made with Propellerhead Reason 9

The misconception of Deep House music

I could say there is a lot of misconception about Deep House music. While doing a lot of research on the topic itself it has been known that Beatport was kind of the cause of the Deep House effect going all over the place. A lot of songs in the Top 100 of the Beatport Chart sound like an ok track but it is categorized in the wrong genre. While digging deeper into the genre I also posted a snippet on creating a piano tune based on the Deep House thought process and I already got the remark "this ain't deep house". Well shiiiit... If you don't know this genre and the origin of it, then don't give me that nonsense, please. Because of the comment made, I am going to explain to everyone in the world what Deep House is, and what it is NOT. Since there seems to be some misconception about the genre. Ok... Even the Deep House tutorial from Ryan (Propellerhead) got it wrong. No worries, I will set the record straight. 

The tempo of Deep House music

The original tempo of Deep House lies in the realm of 120 beats per minute to 125 BPM, which is a little slower than your average house music track (which lies around 130-135). Due to the slower tempo, it also gives it the sense of being a bit more relaxed and chill. Later on, the genre itself adapted changes to a more relaxed state by adopting the beats per minute down to 100 bpm. This was a trend in the 2004-ish. Since 2016 Deep House has gone all over the place. I will explain this later.

The tone of Deep House music

While this genre itself is a bit more complicated by nature due to the set of chords that are used in deep house music. They will often strain away from your typical triad chords while using a more complicated set of chord sets to make the tonal character of a track work. These chords are known as 7ths, 9ths or suspended even. This is the nod towards Jazz and the blues. Since in those two genre 7ths, 9ths and suspended chords are the more common type of chords. Because of the tonal character of these type of chords, it also sets a whole different mood while doing so. Using it in a combination of a minimalistic style, it becomes more hypnotic. And while a lot of people tend to forget that idea, it is often being overshadowed by some typical EDM influences. They just make a song on 123 Bpm, call it Deep House (because it is "electronic music") and they tend to forget what the origin story actually is.

Which brings me to the following segment of this article.

The origin of Deep House

As it is written down in this book:

Deep house is a subgenre of house music that is revered by its fans for its faithfulness to Chicago house and New York garage. Deep house cooks up a tasty sonic stew from disco, gospel, soul, jazz, funk, Latin, and R & B. Like its predecessors, its simmers at 120 to 125 BPM. What distinguishes deep house from its progenitors is its tendency to overuse shrieking divas, ominous organs, and chord progressions to whip up dance floor drama.

And this track sums basically everything up:

And here is another one

Often you will hear Martin Luther King speeches in these typical tracks. While there are many deep house songs that use a preacher/gospel to accompany the track it was often replaced by acoustic instruments such as guitars, pianos (or the famous Rhodes piano) to compensate with the lack of a vocal track. Later in time, the vocals have been replaced by female counterparts. Just because of... female voices. 

Deep House has a deeper meaning to the track. It isn't about the samples you use, it is more about the story or mood you are trying to set up. This is also one of the reasons where Jazz and Blues come in handy because these are mood driven genres. But then again its just easier to slap together a Beat Tutorial and call it deep house without knowing the proper meaning of it anyway. Yeah, I am having a swing at some people ;)

The current slop of deep house

Nowadays deep house is just everything that is written on any BPM, they just slap Deep House on the Label often link it up with Ibiza (because naming convention means everything) and that results into this:

These type of tracklist often result in blog posts or articles like these:


Which was basically the answer to this:

beatport Deep House Top 100

Just adding, there is a lot of confusion on what Deep House really is, and it shows. Yet the underlying origin story is often forgotten and thus artists slap Deep House on the title just because they just can.

So with that, all said, let's clarify a few things here before moving on.

What elements belong in a Deep House tracks

  • sampled recording of acoustic instruments
  • Acoustic Instruments like guitars, pianos and anything that is Blues / Jazz related. I would be careful with the trumpets though.
  • sampled drums (or portions of a loop)
  • groove
  • vocal tracks or gospel
  • no climax
  • minimalistic by design (keep it simple)
  • breaks
  • Low bass lines (synthetic, sine + triangle)
  • Picky bass lines (Pick Bass, Gibson stuff, Hofner Picks those things. Remeber Gibson?)
  • repeating elements of the score but layered different

What does NOT belong in a Deep House track

  • Everything coming from EDM (thus we can scratch 98% of all tracks marketed as Deep House)
  • Everything coming from Trance music (eg: the super-saw)
  • Everything that sounds like and feels like an analog synthesizer
  • Everything that sounds like modern moving wavetables (like Massive Presets. No... please no...)
  • Basically, everything made with Europa in Reason 10 (since I am on the topic, why not)
  • Vengeance Sample packs. No... Simply... No. Stay away from this evil while making Deep House
  • Triads Major and Triads Minor Chords. If you don't know what a major triad is, google it.

And if you are using the more modern sound, keep them subtle. A pad can be flat, it doesn't need to move all over the place in frequencies. This is usually where things tend to go wrong. Because Deep House is not about making it sound like an electronic set piece. It is more about using acoustic sounds rather than having Mr Fat Lead over here as a Thor preset bursting at 127 Velocity while trying to hit the 88MPH mark. And no ... you do not use a Moog Synthesizer in a Deep House track. And if you use it you use it very subtle and NOT UP-FRONT AND IN YOUR FACE LOUD.

Ok... I hope I made my complaint clear by now.

It is about them Chords

As you may have read between the lines, Deep House music is all surrounding complicated chords. In case you don't know the theory about this, there are some basic chord builder tools that might be handy from time to time. Inside Reason, for instance, there are two applicable usages for setting up 'weird' chords. The first option would be using Scales and Chords. While normally these things play a triad by default (3 notes based on major minor scales). With a flip of the Number of Notes to 4, you can create 7ths really fast.

7th Major C in Reason

I personally like the idea of using wide chords, since they make them sound 'bigger' and wider at the same time. If you do not like this idea, you can always get rid of the options of Open Chords, Octave Up and Octave Down. I am using the Wurlitzer in this particular context because I like the Acoustics sounds coming from the Wurlitzer, Pianet or Rhodes Pianos. This is what defines my watermark more or less in this genre. The character from these sounds are quite 'relaxing' from my point of view. Hence I like to use them in my Deep House productions.

Another trick is to use the Note Echo to trigger a single chord. This can be handled by using the following steps:
- Create an instrument
- Attach a Note Echo player
- Set the Step Length to 0
- Set the Repeats to 12 (or higher)
- Set the Pitch to +1 semitone
- turn on the notes for 3, 7 and 10 (minor)

Minor Chord

With setups like these, you can create manually those awkward type of housey chords with a switch of a few buttons.

It is all about them basslines in Deep House

There are two variations of basslines which play an important role in this genre. The first one is a monophonic bass line surrounding the subtone frequencies. The second one is the more upfront picky bass line. The first one is for adding the oomph (the feeling). Often the monophonic bass line is playing in long strokes while sometimes moving up or down (depending on how things flow).

For instance, if a chord progression is all based on the C minor scale this means that only the notes C, D, D#, E, F, G, G# and A# in the scale. The long bassline could play C, D and, D# to make the transaction work. Sometimes a different route could be taken that the first segment plays C, D and, D# while the second half plays C, D# and, D.

To set up the main monophonic synthesizer (yes, this is often where synths play an important role) is to have it set to Sine or Triangle or a mixture of both. For this article I will be using the Subtractor Synthesizer to showcase how this would look like.

Monophonic Bassline Deep House

The basic settings are:

- monophonic (polyphony goes to 1)
- legato (so ge can glide through the different notes)
- No Filter
- ADSR with Sustain to full (=constant tone)
- Osc 1 set to Sine
- Osc 2 set to triangle

And that is basically it. The only thing that could be up for debate is the Oscillator tune or the way that the sine / triangle are mixed. Sometimes I like the Triangle (more harmonics) to be upfront, sometimes I like the sine (less harmonics to be upfront). It just depends on the context of the song itself what works and what doesn't 

A sequence using a bassline like it could be looking like the following:

Deep House Subtone Frequencies

The second bass line has a more important role while using it in Deep House. Since this bass line will define part of the groove. It often has a more tonal character. Most of the time the bass lines in this context is a real bass line (like an acoustic bass guitar). Not a synthetic one. Sometimes these things are sampled sometimes they are not.

In reason itself (since well, this is a Propellerhead Reason site), we have a few good options in the form of the NN-XT (factory soundbank > NN-XT -> Bass). A different option would be using the ID-8 device. If I have to take a pick between the two, I would use the NN-XT because of the way it can be manipulated. Another alternative option would be getting the Bass Refill from Propellerhead.

Plucked Guitar

In this case, I will also borrow a guitar from the guitar section (Jazz Guitar with Mutes). Just because I like the character of this combination. An alternative would be using a picked bass like the J-Picked bass.

While this guitar plays much more upfront it will also have the role to emphasize the groove element within a deep house track. Sometimes these elements are needs and sometimes they are not. It depends on the tonal character of the song itself. Just saying that most of the upfront basses are often an acoustic type of bass lines.

Deep House picky bassline

A sequence in Deep House often uses short transition notes. This emphasizes that "groovy" feeling more or less.

Deep House groove meets regroove

In case you haven't seen me writing down the word groove. Or groovy. I can add that Deep House is a groovy kind of love. You eat it with ketchup and a regroove mixer is like pepper on top of the sequencer. Sorry, I just had enjoyed a barbecue. Anyway, the regroove mixer is in Reason an easy way out to get an instant groove going on. For this, we can set the shuffle amount somewhere between 55% and 65%. 

Deep House Regroove mixer

In this article, I will only be using channel A1, which is going to be the used as a 'global' shuffle. I will not be using the Global Shuffle setting because it has no "slide". While sliding can be handy from time to time.

To set up the channels to use the groove we can use A1 on all Sequences and keep setting A1 as the main groove (even while adding new sequences).

The beat of Deep House

In terms of beat creation, I would use the method as they created the old school Chicago house. Pick a few recordings, chop them up and re-arrange them in a sequence. For this purpose using Rex, loops can be a good source for this. An alternative would be looking up vinal samples that only contain a drum track. There are just a few pointers I can make when looking up percussion elements:

- a bass drum should be low and have a lack of tonals (high) frequencies in them (hence the Vengeance comment I made before).
- snares should be layered with one or two additional layers. Playing with the velocity is key!
- Have a wide variety of hi-hats

For this idea, I am going to use a wide range of loops sitting in the Club / House / Hip-Hop section and throw those inside of Kong.

I know I am not going that much in depth about creating a beat in Deep House. Since a lot will depend on the samples you will be using and the direction you take it. For me, I am going more towards the "Jezus hallelujah" type of angle.

Laying down the Track

The idea behind Deep house is that it is a genre well written down for mixing purposes. This is one of the reasons why they contain 3 major elements:
- long and empty intro (approx minute long)
- the main course
- the long outro (also approx a minute long)

The build-up to a song starts with the basic beat, some percussion elements can come in to play while the intro progresses. After the intro has done its thing it often starts progressing with the main chord progression. While minimalistic the whole song is built around this chord progression. This results in the hypnotizing effect. Sometimes gentle elements are thrown in (like a second stem, or a different key element or some pad playing some chords). Sometimes these elements are taken out. Which kind of results in to the following build picture:

Deep House Song build

As you can see it is quite simplistic as a build. Since there are no drastic things taking place in something like Deep House. It is very anti-climatic even. It could be summed up by: add an element, create a break add a different element, add a break, take an element out, add a break and move on to the next.

Builds like these can be done in let's say 30 minutes of time.

If you slap in a vocal track on this one (like the famous Martin Luther King speech) you are all set.

Just for fun, I made a fun song this morning about "the wall". All this is made of the above-mentioned ideas and principles.

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

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28 Apr 2018 


Nice and very informatiive article.I agree most of things in the part where you define the genre. Taxonomy of the musical genres and sub genres (and also sub-sub genres) is always a mess, involving also commercial aspects.For example tracks like Mr Fingers and Jesus Loves you were labeled at the time like acid house but also Samantha Fox tracks (Love house) were labeled like that; commercially everybody wanted to make acid house at the time so everything had to be acid house. It happens many time when a genre is mainstream. For example in the 90s i hated many mainstream italian djs and producers because they tended to make mellow of every musical genre they touched (this is very italian I think). Maybe on beatports is the same.Another issue is that many djs (and also producers) tend to identify genres basing on BPM and not on the feel of the tracks.I think acid house had a role in the inspiration of early deep house but at some points i think also Balearic house had some contact with it.Just my opinion not "the Truth". :)
 28 Apr 2018 


Your input is appreciated. ;)

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