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C. Thunder Dash

What Makes Up This Genre? #4 EDM

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Hello and welcome to the fourth installment of my series: What Makes Up This Genre. 







"Bump, bump, bump-ty bump..." Ah yes...that beat...that beat that makes up the majority of today's electronic music...that beat that makes up nearly 75% of brony music and that beat that's sadly taking over the music scheme today...yes...EDM. Electronic Dance Music has been around since the 80s. Like Eurobeat, you may think it originated here, but it actually originated in Britain. When the synthesizer was developed, it was mainly used as a backup in rock, R&B and early forms of metal. 


EDM is divided into several genres, each with subtle differences.


House: House is the most basic form of EDM. it consists of a straight percussion drive with kick on the downbeat. The downbeat is is the main part of the beat. In conducting, every quarter note lands on the downbeat. Sometimes, there maybe a high-hat on the upbeat. A high-hat is a type of cymbal that is comprised of two cymbals facing each other on a stand. A high-hat on an acoustic set is controlled by a pedal for open hits and closed hits. The upbeat is a half beat found on "and". 


Trance: Unlike House, Trance consists of a more melodic aspect. An arpeggiated plucked lead almost always will be present. Arpeggiated means broken chords. Arpeggios input a more dexterous feel to the piece. Percussion lines may be a bit more complex consisting of synth toms for fills. A fill is a percussion line that consists of a complex rhythm that can end with a crash on the 1st beat of the following measure. 


Hardstyle: Hardstyle takes the basic elements of EDM, but gives it a more intense feel. The most notable element of hardstyle is the fact that it's drop leads into leads into a harsh thumping rhythm that may consist of hard sawtooths and distinguished plucked leads. The drop is the part of the EDM song that leads into the main thumping kick. We will discuss drops later. 


Techno: Techno is a little more complex, as it combined the African American styles with the edm styles to create a hip-hop/edm fusion. In techno, you may hear a mix of open and closed high-hats. In techno, plucked leads may be phat. "Phat" is a term for a plucked lead that is deep in the low end with filter work.



Those are four subgeneres of EDM. Now that we've got those out of the way, let's get into the sounds of EDM. 


Instruments and Sounds


EDM is mainly known for its full-on electronic sound. You can easily recognize it due to that deep pumping kick. The synthesizer is always used in EDM no matter the sub-genre. In addition, some producers of EDM rely on what is known as a launchpad. A launchpad is a special device that is calibrated for creating electronic pieces. Launchpads are very unique because clips of instruments can be assigned to them. Clips are small audio samples of instruments. Clips can be programmed to launchpads. There are other controllers that aid in the production of EDM. Alternatively, a MIDI controller can be used. A MIDI controller is a device that transfers MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) to trigger sounds, create effects and other parameters. Furthermore, a drum machine can also be used. A drum machine is a tool that plays pre-recording rhythms. Early drum machines did not have the capability to add fills and other transitional elements. Nowadays, drum machines can adapt to the way you create your music with modernized technology.


In terms of sounds, the four basic soundwaves are present: Sine, Square, Sawtooth and Triangle. These waves are all characterized by their distinct sound.


The Sine wave is the most basic wave. It is characterized by sounding like a digital "hum". In EDM, sine waves are usually one of the main leads. They are often condensed down to a beep lead. A beep lead is often found in the higher range. It usually takes arpeggiated runs on a quarter beat. 


Here's a sine wave:


The square wave is a very versatile wave. It can act as a solo lead due to it's melodic character. A standard square wave can be somewhat sharp due to its already high harmonic level. A standalone square wave may need to be adjusted. Running it through a very soft low pass filter can help your square wave not sound so sharp. In fact, if you lower the attack (the time it takes for a note to fully sound), you can even convert it to what is known as an LM Square Wave. This variant of the square wave is more mellow than the standard square wave. It is close to the triangle wave but not quite there. In EDM, a square wave can be transformed into a plucked lead for arpeggiated runs. They are often used in slide drops. A slide drop is an element of EDM where a wave is rapidly shifted downward in pitch via a sliding sound. Slide drops are always chromatic. Chromatic means consisting of all half-steps.


Here's a square wave: 

Notice the very sharp sound


The triangle wave is quite similar to the square wave in sound, HOWEVER, there is quite a difference. The triangle wave has a more mellow sound due to the fact that it's harmonic level is not as high as the square wave. In fact, the triangle wave is often used in making synthesized wind instruments such as clarinets. In EDM, the triangle wave can be transformed into what is known as a popcorn lead. A popcorn lead is very short sounding. It sounds like popcorn popping. Popcorn leads are rapidly arpeggiated running on 16th notes. Triangle waves can also be transformed into slow ascending sliding leads. An ascending sliding lead is found mainly in the build-up section of an EDM track just before the drop. Sometimes, smooth gating is applied. Gating is an effect that rapidly adjusts the volume of the sound. In EDM, gating is done to the beat of the song. Smooth gating occurs when there is a soft cut in volume, sort of like someone adjusting a volume knob. It has a very natural sound. 


Here's a triangle wave:


Finally, the sawtooth wave, the brightest wave of the four, is the most popular wave used. Due to it's bare sound, it almost always has to be tampered with to get that bright sound. For details on how to get the bright sawtooth wave, you can visit the second installment in this series, which is eurobeat. After the equalization and transformation of the sawtooth wave, you can make it into a backup lead or plucked lead. A backup lead is any lead that performs chords on rhythms and other elements. In addition, sawtooth waves can be run through harsh gating. In comparison to smooth gating, harsh gating is very choppy-sounding. 


Here's a bare sawtooth wave:


Well, are you overwhelmed? It's not over yet...we still have one more section to tackle...and it's the most important



Song Formats and Chord Progressions


In EDM, there is much repetition, and sadly nowadays, producers limit themselves in chord progressions. For best results, it is best to use 4 chords, since you have 24 ways of ordering them. 


EDM does have a specific order. It is comprised of phrases with 8 bars. A bar of music consists a certain number of beats. In EDM, it is 4 beats to a bar.




Study this beat chart. Now, focus on bars 5, 6 and 7. These are the most important bars in EDM. This is where most of the transitional elements, drops and other stuff appear. When an EDM song starts it may start softer, but it all depends on the producer. In bar 4, a small fill may occur with synthesized toms. In the early part of the song, bars 5, 6, and 7 stay normal. Bar 8 is reserved for a larger fill with more activity. This repeats until the drop-prep phrase begins. The drop-prep phrase is the part of the EDM song where there is a setup for the drop. In bar 5, a noise sweep rise may begin. A noise sweep rise is a sound where general noise is run through a filter and swept out of the filter. A snare may begin on quarters as well. In bar 6, the snare converts to 8ths, and then 16ths in bar 7. Bar 8 contains the drop. The drop is the most important element of an EDM song, as it's the transition between the main phrase and the breakdown. The breakdown in an EDM song is the loudest part of a song, which contains many elements. Anything can happen in a breakdown. There are endless possibilities. Outros vary as well. Sometimes, everything is swept into a filter, or it just ends abrubtly. A more unique approach is the subtraction element. Here, an instrument is taken away after every 4 bars, until there is nothing left. 


To hear this all come together, take a listen to one of the most famous pieces that even earned a meme on youtube. guessed it. Sandstorm - Darunde



Notice how all the elements come together. Also, listen out for the drop. Keep count using the chart I provided you above so you can listen out for the drop. 


Miscellaneous Info


Synth Strings are also used in EDM. They can be created with a sawtooth wave equalized, chorused and with a higher attack time. 


reverse cymbal can be used for short fills. To make one, all you have to do is collect a crash cymbal sample and reverse it in any audio program. 




Well, I hope you've learned a lot from this guide. Remember, I'm always here if you got any questions. Just shoot me a PM and I'll get back to you ASAP. 

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