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The easy way to program a simple synth bass sound

(Image credit: Future)

Samples and presets are all very well, but if you really want to get the best possible bass sounds for your tracks, then nothing beats being able to synthesise them yourself from the ground up. 

Sure, even a novice can tweak a synth’s factory sounds and come up with something passable, but this sort of ‘luck-based’ approach can waste time rather than save it.

With a basic understanding of the fundamentals of synthesis, you can work far more quickly and get much better-sounding results.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Launch your DAW and load Dune CM or your synth of choice onto an instrument track. Initialise the synth by clicking the Bank B button in the centre panel. By default, Oscillator 1 is set to the sawtooth waveform, which generates both even and odd harmonics. It really fills up the frequency range, but we can turn it into a bass sound with a little filtering.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 2: Turn the Cutoff knob in the Filter panel down to 0%, and the Env(elope) up to 65%. The Filter Envelope now modulates Dune CM’s low-pass filter cutoff frequency. The envelope’s Sustain level is set to 100% by default, but turn it down to 75% and you’ll hear the Cutoff drop quickly at the start of each note. Taking out the high frequencies like this gives the sound a more bassy feel.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 3: This combination of sawtooth oscillator and low-pass filtering gives us a simple synthesis of a picked electric bass sound. We can smooth it out a little by turning the Amplitude and Filter Envelope’s Release times up to 10%. Activate the Mono button in the Output panel so that you can only play the sound monophonically – that is, one note at a time.

(Image credit: Future)

Step 4: You’ll notice that the further up the keyboard you play, the more muffled the sound becomes. This is because the low-pass filter cutoff remains at the same level. However, if you set the Key Track knob in the Filter panel to 50% the Cutoff will follow the note played, giving you a consistent tone across the entire keyboard. 

(Image credit: Future)

Step 5: We can get a generic synth bass sound by setting Oscillator 1’s waveform to a square shape – do this by clicking the Square icon in the Oscillator 1 panel. Square waves only use odd harmonics and have a rounder, bouncier tone that sawtooths, making them ideal for bass sounds. 

(Image credit: Future)

Step 6: The swift filter envelope movement gives the sound a burst of harmonics at the start that makes it feel percussive. We can customise the sound by adjusting the filter and envelope settings. For example, we can create a garage-style ‘reverse’ bass by setting the Filter Envelope’s Attack to 50%.