1. Music & Audio
  2. Sound Design

Synthesizing Beats from Scratch in Propellerhead Reason

Scroll to top
Read Time: 6 min

In this tutorial we cover how to create synthetic drums perfect for a house/trance track. We're going to create a drum loop with only the synths and effects included in Reason. No drums from the Reason Soundbank will be used: we will be creating these drums from scratch in Reason's Subtractor. A couple of known artists use this technique, as you can create your own sound and reuse your signature kit in future tracks.


This technique dates back to the 80s when artists began to use electric instruments and tape recorders to sample sounds, which they later used to construct kits. We will use only Subtractors to create a kick sound, a snare sound and closed and open hats.

Step 1

Create a new empty rack by hitting File > New ( Ctrl-N ). This will create a default workspace, with a default mixer as in the picture. Add a Subtractor device by right-clicking and choosing Subtractor Analog Synthesizer.

Step 2

Right-click on the Subtractor and choose Initialize Patch to reset the synth to its default values.

Step 3

First, sequence a low sound in a 4/4 pattern in the Sequencer window. Make sure you sequence the sounds in a low octave, as we're create a bass sound.


Step 4

Let's begin tweaking! Set the following values to the pitch section of the Subtractor:

  • Set the shape to a sine wave
  • Set the octave to 4
  • Set the phase all to the right and the Phase mode (the little button that says Mode) to linear
  • Set the Mix knob to 0 as we will only use the first oscillator

Step 5

In order to have a good house kick, we need to use a little trick. The modern house kick has a fast drop of pitch which creates that boom. Listen to a
couple of kicks taken from the Reason Soundbank:

So far, our beat looks more like a bass, but we'll change that in a bit. We will try to generate the fast drop of pitch with the use of the Mod Envelope on Subtractor. Here are the settings for the Mod Envelope:

  • Attack: 0
  • Decay: 34
  • Sustain: 0
  • Release: 0
  • Amt.: 91

Step 6

It's time to make the drum sound a little more powerful! Set the filter cut-off frequency to 54. Later, we can tweak the filter to muffle the drum more
or less.


Step 7

The drum kick sound is almost there, but we can add some compression and some equalization to boost the low frequencies. Add an MClass Equalizer and set the following parameters:

  • Parameter 1 Freq.: 94.1
  • Parameter 1 Gain: 12.9
  • Parameter 2 Freq: 7.5
  • Parameter 2 Gain: 13.1
  • Parameter 2 Q: 2.7

Add an MClass Compressor and set the parameters as follows (or go with your own taste):

  • Input Gain: 3.4
  • Threshold: -7.4
  • Ratio: 1.95:1

There you have it: a super punchy kick drum perfect for tweaking in your own house loop.

Let's continue with the rest of the drums.

Step 8

The second drum we will generate is a snare drum. Snare drums are created with tight drums, and sound more like a noise, so we will use the noise
generator in Subtractor to create the snare patch. Create another Subtractor and initialize the patch as we did in step 2.

Step 9

First, in the oscillator section, set the Mix to the right to activate the noise oscillator. You need to enable only the Noise Oscillator, otherwise the second oscillator will be heard, and we don't want that? Anyway, set all the noise parameters to the right:

We'll also tweak the filter and amp section:

  • Filter Freq.: 83
  • Filter Env. Decay: 49
  • Filter Env. Amt.: 62
  • Amp Env. Decay: 36
  • Amp Env. Sustain: 60

Step 10

The snare sound is not quite what you'd hear in a commercial song, but it's close. We still need to add reverb to make the snare sound snappy and loud. I've added a RV-7 Digital Reverb and I have used the preset ALL Medium Stage with a dry/wet of 14.

In the sequencer window duplicate the kick beat and erase the 1st and the 3rd beat to create the snare rhythm and move it to C5 so it's higher.

Step 11

It's time to duplicate the technique we used on the snare and apply it to the hi-hat sound. The hi-hat is almost entirely built with noise, so these are the parameters:

  • Noise Decay: 46
  • Osc Mix: 127
  • Filter 1 Freq.: 119
  • Filter Env. Decay: 34
  • Filter Env. Amt.: 83
  • Amp Env. Decay: 70
  • Master Vol.: 66

In order to hear the hi-hat I've duplicated the kick and snare parts and also the sounds so as to build a hi-hat arrangement. You can also try quantizing the notes for a more human feeling.

The next step is optional. I've added an MClass Equalizer to boost the high frequencies and a RV-7 Digital Reverb with the preset ECO Space Echo 1 and a dry/wet of 32 to create a bouncy hi-hat, but that's only if you go for that sound.

Step 12

We are going to create the final drum, an open hat drum that will go in counterpoint with the kick drum on the middle of the beat. Create a new
Subtractor and initialize the patch like in step 2. Duplicate the kick part and move it onto the open hat track. Inside the part, offset the notes
1/2 off the beat to place the hat in between the kicks.

Step 13

We need to set the following values in the Subtractor:

  • Noise Decay: 86
  • Noise Level: 107
  • Mod Env. Decay: 38
  • Mod. Env. Amt. 23
  • Filter 1 Freq.: 30
  • Filter 1 Res.: 16
  • Filter 1 Type: BP12
  • Filter Env. Decay: 66
  • Filter Env. Sustain: 28
  • Filter Env. Amt.: 60
  • Amp Env. Attack: 12
  • Amp Env. Decay: 48
  • Main Volume: 66

Step 14

I've created a short house/techno track to show you how these synthetic drums sound in action. Sellers of items on will recognize the Envato watermark! It's vocoded with the BF512 Vocoder.

Step 15

We are done! I recommend you save the sounds as presets so you can use them in your own compositions. There is also a way to save the whole drum kit along with the effects, if you own Reason 4. Just select all the devices used in the kit, right-click and select Combine from the menu and you have a Combinator patch which you can save as a whole preset. Everything inside the Combinator will be saved, along with the presets and tweaks you have created.

border="0" />

Soon you'll be constructing your own drum kits and sound libraries! Good luck and if you come up with a better kit post it as a comment so we can all use the sounds in our next hit.

Download the Play Pack for this tutorial (179KB)


  • Reason source file
  • Reason patches
Did you find this post useful?
Want a weekly email summary?
Subscribe below and we’ll send you a weekly email summary of all new Music & Audio tutorials. Never miss out on learning about the next big thing.
Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.