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Perfect Pads

Programming Pad Sounds By Dave Gale
Published April 2021

Perfect Pads

Pads are the glue that holds entire genres of music together. We look at how you can improve yours.

We all look to established artists and past masters for inspiration, but in doing so there is one musical device that often escapes attention. The Pad is a term which is often used to describe brass or string‑like synth textures, frequently employed to bolster the texture and harmony within a track. How you approach the use of pads in your track may well fall to the style of the music you prefer to compose or produce, so let’s have a look at some of those concepts.

The Basics

From dance tracks and pure pop, the presence of the pad stabilises a song’s harmonic stance, providing the perfect springboard for melody to run wild, but it’s not just the preserve of commercial artists; take any well‑respected feature film composer, and you’ll find the same notion littered throughout numerous film and television scores. Blending acoustic instrumentation with synthetic‑sounding production techniques, the pad has become a reliable tactic for engineering builds, swells, excitement or pathos.

Creating pads will require the use of at least two notes, and most likely three or more. The most basic of musical chords is known as a triad, which can be transported up and down the keyboard to other notes, to create a chord progression. Utilising the power of these three notes polyphonically will undoubtedly help your cause; it’s a strong sound, and ripe for pad exploitation.

The presence of the pad stabilises a song’s harmonic stance, providing the perfect springboard for melody to run wild.

Trad Pads

Many of the early pioneers of electronic music had a small technical problem in this regard; if we hark back to the mid‑to‑late ’70s, almost all synthesizers were monophonic, meaning that playing chords was out of the question. There were examples of synths such as the Minimoog (equipped with a full three oscillators) being tuned in a fashion that allowed the playing of a triad with a single finger. Incredibly effective as this was, there were immediate limitations to the degree to which a song’s chordal structure could play out. Consequently, some artists...

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Published April 2021