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Creating Legato & Portamento Slide In Synthesizers

Have you ever heard or seen (Legato/slide) or (Portamento/glide/glissando) labeled on your synthesizer's knob, I bet you have seen those names, and you think they are for some crazy random purpose.

When I first started making music, I was crazy to know what those terms mean, and I was even wondering why someone will ever invent that kind of name, to cut a long story short, you will see what those terms mean, why use the techniques and how to use them in your DAW or Synthesizer. Without any further ado, let's get cracking.

What is Legato

Legato implies when notes are played smoothly and connected without any breaks or with no intervening silence.

This is a technique that is very useful and powerful when applied to your music composition, it effectively blends two or more musical notes and also aids in taking your music production skills to another level.

One of the most confusing things about this technique is that it is used in place of Portamento and vice versa, to avoid confusion, let's quickly look at the meaning of portamento.

What is Portamento or glide

Portamento implies the pitch sliding or the gliding (smooth continuously) from one note to another, this is a clear distinction between portamento and legato, simply put portamento involves pitch sliding when smoothly connecting notes while legato connects musical note seamlessly.

Note: This is not always the case in all synthesizers, I want you to know Legato or portamento sounds unique in different synthesizers.

Enough of terminologies, let's get into real experimentation, I will be using Fl Studio, and also the popular synthesizer such as Nexus2, Sylenth1 and Massive for guys that don't have Fl studio. Are you ready? Let's get rolling with spanking different ways!

Native Fl Studio Synth For Legato and Portamento

Load an instance of Sytrus in Fl Studio, for this tutorial I will be using this melody:

Default Melody legato slide image Default Melody Image

also, you can download the midi file here, to follow-up with the tutorial.

Download Midi File below and import into your DAW, you don't know how to import midi file? check out Importing and Exporting midi files 
Download Midi

The name of the preset is Basic Subtracting, located under the short synth section in Sytrus, remember Legato and Portamento make more natural transitions between two or more notes.

To apply the legato technique to your melody, add an overlapping note (below or over) as the image suggests below, double-click on the overlapped note to bring out the Note-Properties box, tun on the legato or slide feature from the pop-up box as the picture below suggested, then click accept

Legato slide notes image Default Melody with notes under

If you got that, you should see the slide icon on the overlapped note, and this is the result you would get :

Slide Icon image Slide Note image

This how it sounds with the legato added

So far, you have learned how to add a legato slide to your melody, now, let's combine legato and portamento glide for better transitioning our melody.

In Fl Studio, before you can use the Portamento glide, you first need to turn on either the porta or mono in the miscellaneous function, don't worry it's easy, just follow the guide along.

To enable the portamento feature Left-click on Sytrus, then click on the settings icon -> Miscellaneous Function, then enable the mono mode, also you might want to raise the slide knob up to about One o'clock as the image suggested below:

sytrus image Sytrus - A Native Fl Studio Synthesizer

sytrus image setings Miscellaneous settings

Sytrus misc alt Miscellaneous function three

lgt and portamento image Notes with lgtand portamento

and finally this is how it sounds:

Sylenth1 Portamento & Legato

Things are different in Sylenth1, but in Sylenth1, legato and portamento are more straightforward to apply than the native Fl Studio way.

To apply portamento in Sylenth1 you need to turn off the slide mode and also the portamento mode in the overlapped note, as this won't work with third-party VSTs.

The only thing you do to achieve the glide feature in Sylenth1 is to turn on the Mono legato mode on as the image suggested below, and also you might want to raise the portamento knob to about Three o'clock.

One last thing, you can switch the button below the Mono mode to either Normal mode or slide mode, I use the normal mode the most, choose what you feel like using, no single way of doing a thing.

Sylenth porta image Sylenth1 porta slide function

Nexus Portamento

Things are even more different in Nexus, and you have the option to apply different types of portamento technique, as well as determining whether the sound will be polyphonic or monophonic. Options that exist include:

  • Off mode: Polyphonic, no portamento.
  • Ply mode: Polyphonic, with portamento.
  • Trg mode: Monophonic, re-triggered envelopes.
  • Lgt mode: Monophonic, legato envelopes, legato
    portamento (i.e. portamento is only applied between “overlapping” notes).

You also have options to determine portamento rate, the available speed values are standard note lengths, which are synchronized to your host applications.

Note: Turn off the slide mode and also the portamento mode in the overlapped note, as this won't work with third-party VSTs.

To apply this technique in Nexus2, click on the mode tab, it is located under library section, for the portamento type, you would want to select lgt if you like and for the speed, you might wanna go for 1/8, if you have trouble in searching for that, the image below is your friend.

Nexus Porta image -Navigating through Nexus Porta

Note: You might decide to lock the portamento mode if you don't want to lose the state when selecting different presets in Nexus2.

Nexus Porta Locked image Locking Nexus Porta as this won't override if selecting another preset

Massive Portamento/Glide

It took me a little while to get things to work through with massive, but after reading the whole manual, I was able to figure it out, you need to move through two section to perfectly creating seamless transitions between two notes in Massive. 

The first section is the oscillation section located under the filter section which is in the middle, and the second section is the voicing section, have trouble finding this, the image is your friend.

Massive slide image The two moving section to achieve the slide features in Massive

Lastly, turn on the equal mode in the osc section, you might also want to raise the time knob to about 11 o'clock, now move to the voicing section, select monophon and also set your trigger as always,

osc tab image Massive oscillation tab

Voicing tab image Massive Voicing Tab

this is my final result:

You might also decide to tweak things around and see the preferred options you like.

If you made it all through this guide, then you are a star, thanks for coming by and happy creating good music.

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