Reason Tutorial: 25 Pro-Tips

Propellerhead’s flagship software is famously easy to use, but there are plenty of hidden gems to be found beneath the surface. Hollin Jones reveals all.

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Propellerhead’s flagship software is famously easy to use, but there are plenty of hidden gems to be found beneath the surface. Hollin Jones reveals his tips in this Reason Tutorial

Quickly Create Automation Lanes

Practically any parameter in Reason can be automated, but normally you have to start recording automation to activate an automation lane for that particular control. However, if you hold down [Alt] (PC/Mac) while single-clicking on a knob, fader or other control, you will instantly create a lane that is primed for automation. This saves time when, for example, you want to draw in automation manually with the Pen tool or copy and paste automation data from another sequencer track.

Combine Devices Easily

You can load up a Combinator and then load further devices into it to create multi instruments and effects. It’s also possible to multiple-select modules that are already in the Rack: right-click or go to the Edit menu and choose Combine. Reason will place the selected devices into a new Combi, complete with correct routing. The reverse is also possible – select one or more devices within a Combi, right-click and choose Uncombine – they are placed back into the main Rack, with their routing adjusted accordingly.

Use Your Own Samples

Any device that can load an audio sample can now record audio samples. On the NN-19, for example, hit the New Waveform button to open the Sample Record window. Once recorded, hit the Edit button and you can perform all kinds of operations on the sample, including cropping, normalizing, looping and naming it. Samples are stored inside the project file so you don’t have to worry about saving them. In the Tool window, there’s a sample management section from where you can go back and reopen a sample in the Editor at any point, as well as duplicating it and exporting it out of Reason to your Desktop.

Route Audio In

Reason now has audio input capabilities, which are, of course, required for its sampling features. They are managed from the Audio Preferences section, and at the top of the Rack the Audio Out section has become an Audio In/Out module. From here you can activate the inputs that you need from your audio interface and set a level for the incoming signal. Every module that can sample will take its cue from the setting you make here, so you don’t have to waste valuable time configuring each module individually.

Zooming Shortcuts

Reason’s Rack can get quite unwieldy fairly quickly once you start layering up 10, 20 or more modules. The small arrows in the top-left corner of each one can be clicked to expand or minimise a module, but if you hold down [Alt] (PC/Mac) while clicking on a single arrow, every other module will follow that behaviour. Perform this once to expand all modules and again to shrink them all in one go. The same behaviour also applies to sequencer tracks.

Manage ReDrum Samples

If you have loaded a patch into a ReDrum or created your own by loading up samples, you can right-click on the device and choose Manage Samples. This opens the Tool window and a list of the samples in use, as well as giving you the choice to edit or export them. From this window you can also view and edit the samples loaded into any other devices in the Rack. If you save a new version of a sample that’s part of a ReFill it is duplicated and stored separately within the project file.

Get Creative With REX Loops

The new DrOctoRex loop player has a programmer section that can be expanded to give you control over many aspects of a loop’s slices. Choose a slice in the waveform display and use the row of knobs along the bottom to change parameters for individual slices. A good use for this is to change the pitch of a slice, which will give the loop a new feel without altering timing. To preview loops in the module, activate the Enable Loop Playback button.

Use Blocks Mode

When working in Blocks mode, the data that you draw into the Blocks lane is freely assignable. This means that by clicking on the downward-facing arrow above a Block’s name you can choose to assign it to any other Block, enabling you to quickly alter the structure of a track by substituting, say, another instance of the verse for a chorus. Hold down [Alt] (Mac) or [Ctrl] (PC) to toggle the cursor into a Pen tool and quickly draw Blocks in the lane.

Get A Groove

Activate the ReGroove mixer and you can assign any sequencer track or note lane to use it and apply custom, non-destructive, real-time groove quantization to the part. This is a good way to get a more natural and realistic feel than simply by quantizing using the regular command. You can route any number of tracks or lanes through the same ReGroove channel, so it’s easy to match up the feel of, say, percussion, bass and drum parts through the same groove. From the Select Groove menu on a track, choose Commit To Groove and the part will be rendered into the sequencer.

Take Control

Choose Options>Remote Override Edit Mode and the Rack should appear greyed-out. Now choose any module and a series of arrows will appear over the controls. Double-click one of these arrows and move a controller on your MIDI keyboard or control surface. The hardware and software controls will be linked so you can alter things like levels, filter cut-off, effect amounts and so on without using the mouse. This is handy both for live shows and in the studio if you set up a template file complete with assignments. The Remote system supports certain hardware controllers directly and will auto-map hardware to software controls where possible.

Record Automation To Note Clips

Select Options>Record Automation into Note Clips. Now, when you automate a parameter for any given module, the automation will be placed not into a separate subtrack but into the clip itself. The benefits of this are that it makes it easier to move and copy clips around in the sequencer, complete with their automation. It also makes the sequencer considerably less cluttered. If you deactivate this option, automation will be written separately, making it easier to edit but more fiddly to copy and paste.

Program Kong

You can trigger the Kong Drum Designer using regular MIDI notes, but you can also attach a Matrix pattern sequencer to it and the CV controls will be routed so that the notes you program in the Matrix will trigger different drum channels. Since it’s monophonic you can play only one drum hit at a time, but for more electronic beats this can sometimes be desirable. Alter the Resolution settings to play back with a different feel and experiment with mixing parts of different resolutions.

Use Arpeggiated Sequences

Even if you’re not a natural player you can still get great results by using the RPG-8 arpeggiator. Connect it to a device and select the RPG-8 so it has MIDI focus. Anything you play from your MIDI keyboard or program into the RPG-8’s MIDI track will be interpreted by the arpeggiator before being sent to the device. So, even by holding a single note, by setting up the arpeggiator to play different kinds of patterns you can get many variations and sequences. This is also a good way to program electronic music.

Use Virtual Keys

Even if you are on the move and don’t have a MIDI keyboard to hand you are not restricted to programming MIDI using the mouse. Press [F4] or choose View>Show Onscreen Piano Keys. The resulting keyboard is expandable and can be scrolled up and down, plus there are hold and repeat options. Switch to Computer Keys view and your keyboard becomes a programmer, with sustain, velocity variation and octave change options. It’s surprisingly flexible and once you get used to it can substitute for real piano keys when you’re in a jam.

Explore The RV7000

The RV7000, although primarily a reverb unit, has some really good delay effects as well. Dig into the presets and look for the ones starting with the letters EKO. There are some really convincing dub and space echoes – better, in fact, than any you will find on the dedicated delay unit for these kinds of effects. In Edit mode you can use controls like Diffusion and Disp Amount to alter the characteristics of the delay, as well as controlling the EQ and gating applied by the effect.

Cut With The Razor

Editing is easier in Reason 5 and the Razor tool can be used to drag around clips on multiple tracks and cut them all at the same point, regardless of their original length. This is particularly useful for copying and pasting sections of a track, where some clips may originally have been longer than others. As the Razor cuts every clip at the same point it doesn’t matter what their original length was. The Razor obeys the Snap setting, so set snapping to a more precise value to make smoother and smaller selections.

Save Space With The Dr Octo Rex

The DrOctoRex module can hold up to eight REX loops, so it’s perfect for loading up a series of related loops. Many REX collections come with variations on a loop: a drum beat that slowly gets more complex, for instance. By loading these in a single module you can use one sequencer track instead of eight. To trigger loops, either use the pattern lane to tell DrOctoRex what to play using blocks of data, or automate the Notes To Slot dial so that a MIDI track directs its focus to different slots at specific points in a track.

Create Effect Combis

Often you will want to use effects chains attached to a module rather than just a single effect as these can be more creative and interesting. To be able to use an effects chain in any project, first create a Combinator and then load up the effects inside it. Save the Combi as a patch and it can be accessed from anywhere. It’s common to set up a ‘go-to’ effects chain for vocals, guitar or drums that suits your way of working – this is the quickest way to work with them. The same goes for multi-instruments, which can also include things like pattern sequencers.

Mangle Your REX Loops

REX loops are really flexible and will stretch their tempo to any project. Once a loop is in a sequencer track you can edit it in a number of ways. Double-click on it to enter the REX lane, then you can manually shorten, lengthen, cut, copy, paste and move slices around to completely change the structure and feel of a loop. Select either an entire clip or notes within a clip, go to the Tool window and from the Tools section choose Alter Notes. This will randomise the notes without changing their timing, making it a good way to create variations on beats or melodies. Keep clicking to try out different variations.

Edit MIDI In Detail

Double-click on any MIDI clip to open it in the Key Editor. Now you can multiple-select notes and perform operations on them, such as moving or duplicating them to a new lane, picking them up and moving them all by the same amount, or dragging their right-hand edges to lengthen or shorten them by the same amount. At the top of the Sequencer window you will see boxes into which you can enter numerical values to alter the notes, or equal signs to make a certain parameter of every selected note the same, such as velocity or length.

Use Your Own Samples In Kong

The Kong Drum Designer gives you the option to choose from a range of drum modules to generate sound, and by clicking on each pad you will see the corresponding module appear in the Programmer section. To choose a new module, click on its selector arrow. Try the NN-Nano sampler, as this enables you to import or directly sample sounds into your kit, which is a good way to create unique drum kits. Once there they can be routed through Kong’s great effects, just like the sounds from other drum generators.

Master Routing

If you hit the [Tab] key to spin the Rack around you will see that Reason allows free patching of cables – audio to audio and CV to CV. However, as soon as you have more than a few modules loaded in the Rack the choices can start to get a little overwhelming. If you right-click on any port on a module you will see a list of available destinations for that signal and can then assign it quickly. This is much quicker than scrolling up and down. The same method also works for reassigning existing connections.

Quantize During Recording

There’s an option in the Transport panel (and also the Quantize section of the Tool window) called Quantize During Recording. This will monitor what you play and apply the quantize settings specified in the Snap menu to the notes as they are recorded. This is useful for less skilled players as well as for mechanical parts such as electronic beats. Remember that you can always apply ReGroove quantizing afterwards to add a human element back to the parts.

Explode Notes To Lanes

When you have a MIDI clip that is triggering different sounds rather than different musical notes – a drum or percussion part, for instance – you may sometimes want to alter the feel of a single element within the part by groove quantizing. Selecting notes within a part can be tedious, but there’s an option in the Tool window called Extract Notes to Lanes. With this you can extract a single note, a note range or every note that has been used to a separate sequencer note lane. In fact, you can either move or duplicate them. They can be worked with much more easily once separated, but the part will still sound intact.

Integrate Your Mixer

If you have a hardware mixer or an audio interface with lots of inputs you can activate any or all of them in Reason’s Preferences to enable you to connect different sources and sample them without having to keep unplugging things. You can also route channels directly from modules to the audio interface for mixing in hardware. This is all managed by making connections in the Audio I/O section at the top of the Rack, plus activating the relevant channels in the Preferences>Audio section.


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