Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Stab In Electronic Music

In this posting I'm going to be looking at the stab, which as I'm sure everybody knows is a chord played in a staccato fashion. Musical traditions from ska to house utilise these abbreviated bursts of sound. In production terms the sound has an almost percussive envelope i.e an immediate attack, a relatively short decay and no/a little sustain and no significant release. The waveform(s), type of synthesis and effects used, all combine to give the particular sound its characteristic qualities. In this assortment of video tutorials I will be looking at emulating some stabs as well as developing original sound designs. I will, I hope, give an insight into how to produce a sound that is appropriate to a particular genre but also show techniques that will allow for novel sound design and enable us to avoid a slavish adherence to a given set of genre boundaries.

Electronic music of the club centric variety tends not to be intensely melodic. The stab often provides a timbral richness, as well as contributing to the groove when used as a rhythmic element. Sometimes it's up front in the mix, other times its sitting out back, residing on an off beat, staying out of the way of the kick, but providing a lilting rhythmic forward movement to the track. The idea that electronic music and in particular its sequencer based work flow allows people who are not virtuosos, or classically trained musicians to actualise there ideas is not original one, but I would suggest the existence and longevity of the stab in electronic music is in some part, borne out of the same deficit of virtuosity, why bother with beautifully resolved chord progressions when that what minor chord every four beats conveys all the meaning that you want? And please don't construe this as a criticism, as it's not, in my opinion some of the worst electronic music is made by people who are 'classically trained' such as BT or Moby, or however you care to mention, and genre's that are music theory heavy or stick to the rule book all the time, such as trance, are just plain awful - to my ears at least.

If we take a look along the house-techno spectrum we can see how the various genres/sub genres typically use/have used stabs, check out some of the randomly selected examples below.

This blog is focused on sound design using software and not hardware, but indisputably hardware is key in the evolution of the stab. Instead of analysis into which particular vintage synth was used to create a certain seminal sound I will be looking at attempting to emulate/reproduce some stabs from tracks i like, as well as producing some of my own.

In researching this post i have come across lots of posts on forums where the question "how do i produce stabs like…." is often posed, and so I have taken on the task of producing a fairly comprehensive set of video tutorials. As well as posting up the accompanying set(s) I have also put together some links to interesting forum discussions and useful web pages.

cheers and enjoy

the stab in electronic music - video 1

In this video I attempt to emulate a stab from Nikola Gala's track 'Broken Chords'.

the stab in electronic music - video 2

In this video I attempt to emulate a stab from Sven Weissman's track 'Activity Chain'.

the stab in electronic music - video 3

In this video I attempt to emulate a stab from Eric Borgo's track 'Mopti'.

the stab in electronic music - video 4 - downloadable stabs in a variety of keys

fleet music blog - the stab in electronic music, downloadable files by louis fleet

the stab in electronic music - video 5 - 3 house stabs

CORRECTION - at 5:00 I forget to hit the solo button on the required frequency bands of the two multiband dynamics effects, make sure you do this otherwise it doesn't work properly!

the stab in electronic music - video 6 - dub techno stab, using square waves

the stab in electronic music - video 7 - dub techno stab, using saw waves

Useful links and downloads

for nemaja's patch check out these links. The download is located in the posting by 'misiu', its also in the link that I have here.

Links to ableton live set
The ableton live pack (.alp file) has all the audio files that I have shown in the videos (apart from the case study tracks, the .asd files are there so that if you buy the tracks they will be good to go). The zip file is the smaller of the two, as it doesn't contain the audio files just the midi tracks


  1. Very interesting, good tutorials. Keep it up! consider me as a follower. I liked the dub techno stabs there similar to the "Weekend Heroes" sound.

  2. Dont know why i cant post on the older post you about comprehensive resourse about ableton & sound design but here are some links design

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hi man, nice post, some really nice stabs, and chords.

    I'm very glad that you liked my patch ;)

  5. Hi Nemanja

    really appreciate your comments....your patch is great, when I found it on the ableton forum and saw how you had programmed it was a bit of a revelation i must say...

  6. Great tutorials, Many Thanks!!!

  7. thank you for sharing your experience, superb tutorial.

    Fingers in the Noise

  8. thank you my frend!!

    Retrospective Zoology

  9. Wowowwo What a cool idea! I really like the approach of attacking on technique from multiple angles. You've got yourself a new reader, my friend.

  10. Awesome, this is really helpful. :)

  11. These are fantastic. Great to watch your technique and the end results are amazing. Inspirational stuff! Thanks very much! :)

  12. Wonderful blog you have! Thanks so much for sharing this one to us.

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  13. Thank you so much for these wonderful tutorials! Very informative and inspirational, I owe you one! I made a track containing at least three of these stabs :)

  14. Outside of the US, especially in the UK,  electronica music is defined loosely, but is associated with non-dance-oriented music, including relatively experimental styles of down tempo electronic music such as IDM.

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