Jeremy Latham

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Using ping pong delay to enhance a melody

Ping pong delay is an excellent tool for enhancing a melody, I use it in many of my tracks. This type of delay ‘pings’ audio back and forth between the left and right channels, creating a wide stereo rhythmic effect.

In this example I’ll be using Nexus as the instrument to make a melody. Nexus has a fantastic built in delay but you can use any synth. If your synth doesn’t have a built in ping pong delay you can use a separate VST effect or your DAW my have its own delay effect. Ableton Live has an excellent ping pong delay, more on this later.

Shown below is a melody I’ve made. The scale is F# minor.

Many producers will get the percussion down first (bass drum, snare/clap, open hi-hats, closed hi-hats, ride cymbal ect), I do the same. Percussion forms the foundations of a track, giving it a groove and rhythm. When writing a melody I recommend having your percussion track playing (looping) while adding or playing melody notes.

Have a listen to the audio clip below, this is the melody shown above in Live’s midi editor. Usually there would be percussion playing at the same time. This melody doesn’t sound right. It sounds static and there’s no groove.

Now listen to the same melody with ping pong delay applied (1/8T). The delay adds rhythm, movement and transforms it into a nice sounding melody.

How would this sound as part of a track with percussion, bass, vocal snippets and pads? Have a listen below.

It’s amazing how delay plays such an important role in enhancing a melody (or any other part of a track). You can download the melody midi file here.

Experiment with different delay note lengths, see which sounds best with your melody. You shouldn’t need too much feedback, and the same applies to the wet/dry mix. Too much feedback or too much of a wet mix will smear the sound across the stereo field, making a messy sound.

It’s important to use the hi-cut and lo-cut filter controls, these work in the same way as a EQ. For example, you might want to limit the delay effect to just the highs or higher mid frequencies.

When writing a melody you will find it easier to have the delay turned on while entering or playing notes (and also have your percussion playing). Delay time is usually set using common note lengths (such as 1/8, 1/16). A delay set to 1/8 will use eighth notes, a delay set to 1/16 will use sixteenth notes, and so on. Some delay effects require you to enter the note length in milliseconds which is more complicated.

Ableton Live has a very good built in ping pong delay. The delay time is set using 16th notes, for example selecting ‘4’ delays the signal by four 16th notes, which is the same as one beat (a quarter note). I’ve shown below how to set Live’s delay to use common note lengths.

Common Note Length Ableton Live Delay
1/16 1
1/8 2
1/4 4
1/2 8
1/1 16

If you want to use dotted or triplet notes you will need to deselect ‘Sync’ and then enter the delay in milliseconds (not the most intuitive). Here is a link to a online Delay Time Generator for calculating common note lengths using milliseconds.

Delay is used on pretty much every part of a track, from very subtle percussion to full on soundscapes.

Have fun!

You may also find these articles helpful

Using call and response notes to make a melody

Scale Midi files to help you play in key

Jeremy Latham

Chillout / Trance

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