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Reverb is an inherent part of modern music, and has many capabilities for enhancing sound. Whether you are a musician, sound engineer, or listener, reverb is a sonic tool that is worth exploring.
Going hand in hand with the physics of sound, and the echoes of our environment, tasteful reverb can be a real pleasure to hear.
Reverb Functions and Settings
Audio technology enables you to use reverb in many ways, and it can really add depth and texture to your music.
When using reverb plugins or effects pedals, two of the most important things to consider are:
- The actual sound of the reverb tonally.
- The settings and parameters that are available to further shape the reverb.
Experimenting with settings of reverb plugins, and effects pedals, can be one of the best ways to begin understanding exactly how reverb can affect your music.
Exploring Your Options
Most reverb units will have similar options for adjusting the reverb to shape the sound.
Many will have settings or controls for pre-delay, time, diffusion, reverb type, early reflections, and even EQ functions. The Lexicon PCM reverb plugins use faders to display and utilize these settings, and their plugins are also great to use tonally.
There are reverb pedals that will have less controls than many mixing plugins, but still have great reverberatory tones and are intuitive to use. TC Electronic’s Hall Of Fame 2 Mini (link to Amazon) pedals are some of my favorite to use with guitar and pedal steel, and are nice for quickly dialing up some quality sounding reverb.
The Tasteful Use of Reverb
Reverb can sound so sweet and ethereal to listeners, that it is often tempting for musicians and sound engineers to add more reverb than is actually needed.
This can be an illusive perception that it is enhancing the music, while it is actually making it more swampy, which takes away purity and clarity from the sound.
Most of the time however, you can achieve the same desired result by using reverb in a way that adds more definition and depth. This way the listener will perceive the sound as having just as much of the reverb that you were initially tempted to use, however it will have more character and texture to it.
7 Ways To Use Reverb
Let’s take a look at ways to tastefully use reverb to enhance your sonic environment…
1. To Create Depth
Have you ever heard a mix, or a band on-stage, that sounded dull? Sometimes what is lacking is depth in the sound you are hearing.
The depth of sound is all about perception, and so much can be done with reverb to make things feel deeper and more substantial.
This is similar to balancing a mixture of instruments, but try thinking about it from a different angle.
Adjust Your Pre-Delay Settings
A great way to add or take away depth with reverb, is to experiment with the pre-delay settings.
As pre-delay time is lengthened, it takes longer for the reverb to kick in after hearing the initial dry sound of the instrument.
Listeners can perceive this as hearing the true definition of the sound first, then hearing more texture and feeling at the tail-end of the sound.
As you hear this, you’re usually not aware of these two aspects of the sound happening separately, as they combine in a pleasingly natural way.
However, we all know that feeling when the reverb control on an amp is suddenly turned all the way down, and we feel like we’re getting our ears sucked into a vacuum.
An effective use of pre-delay can help bring out the best of both worlds: the dry sound, and the reverberated (wet) sound, to add more depth to the listening experience…
How You Actually Hear
Let’s say you’re walking on a path, or hiking through a forest. As you survey the landscape with your eyes, you visually focus on things that interest you.
The tree near you may have a neat texture on its bark, while the sun may make a notable color on the skyline.
You appreciate the depth of your surroundings with sight, and our ears are no different.
Try to think of using reverb in a similar way, and you’ll be amazed at how much depth can be created sonically.
2. To Create a Space or Sonic Environment
Sometimes perception is everything, and when a person walks into a room, there are new sensations and stimuli to detect. Your music can have this same effect on a listener.
As soon as they begin listening, they can be transported into a new environment that is filled with interesting sounds. It’s almost like you are leading them into a new room of a house, giving them a tour of everything the home has to offer.
Try to find a particular use of reverb for each sound to make it stand out with character. With reverb, you can take multiple instruments and make them sound like they’re in a particular space.
Many reverb plug-ins simulate this during audio production, and throwing a certain room type or setting can be an easy way to do this digitally. But this can also be done tastefully by ear, and is not just limited to recorded music.
A band can be practicing in a small space, and with the manipulation of reverb on their amps and PA, they can sound like they’re in a whole new room.
Shaping Your Sonic Environment With Reverb
Using varying amounts of reverb on different sounds can have the effect of creating a sonic environment.
What was once just a bunch of instruments sounding together, is now an environment of sound that the ear can latch onto.
Perhaps the best way to create a sonic environment with reverb when mixing, is to use the same reverb type on each instrument, so that all the instruments are perceived to be in the same room acoustically.
A great way to do this is to setup a stereo Aux track, and put your reverb plugin on this track with the reverb type that you’d like to use.
Use a Stereo Aux Track and Buses
After you’ve created your stereo Aux track, for every instrument track in your mix, create a bus that goes to this Aux track (the Aux track’s input should be set to the same bus that is used for the instruments).
With this setup, each instrument is running through the exact same reverb type, settings, and “vibe” from the plugin that is on the Stereo Aux’s track.
All you have to do now to finish your reverb environment is to use each instrument track’s bus fader (that goes to this Stereo Aux track) to control how much reverb it will have on it.
Every instrument will now sound like it’s coming from the same room, with varying levels and depths of reverb that you can choose for each instrument.
3. Create Ambience
With the digital music age, using technology to create reverb has never been easier. It is simple to dial up as much reverb as you’d like instantly.
While too much reverb can often sound clamorous, having it at a higher level to make ambience can be an awesome listening experience.
Many styles and genres of music are beginning to employ this, giving listeners a taste of just how effective reverb can be sonically.
Feeling The Reverb
A great way to get sonic ideas for creating atmosphere with reverb, is to listen to some music created just for the ambience. Like music that is made to create a relaxing mood, or an environmental soundscape.
There’s a good chance you’ll hear a lot of reverb action, and these can be great ways to discover just how reverb affects the listener’s ears.
Listen to The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd for a reminder of just how effective reverb can be to create ambience. This production is considered a sonic masterpiece, and the ambience of it enhances the feeling and texture of the music.
When creating ambience with reverb, it can be nice to have more parameters, types of reverb, and settings to use for experimenting. Check out Strymon’s BigSky Multidimensional Reverb (link to Amazon) for a stompbox pedal that has plenty of options for shaping reverb.
4. To Balance A Mix of Instruments
When multiple instruments are mixed together in a recording, or live in a room, it can feel like they’re competing for attention. Reverb can be a great way to give them balance and space to work together in, making everyone happy.
Although there’s a lot involved with the various aspects of sound, reverb can definitely be a focal point in making the instruments sound better together.
One of the best ways to use reverb, to create a good sonic balance between instruments, is to be aware of the amount of reverb on each instrument in the mix.
Varying the amounts of reverb on each instrument will allow them to sound more like an ensemble, and less like a wall of sound.
A Balanced, Yet Dynamic Perception of Reverb
Let’s say you want one instrument to be more present, and another to be more in the background. Having a little less reverb on the instrument that is front and center, and more on the background instrument, can create a certain perception to listeners.
It can feel like you are hearing the first instrument directly, while the other seems to float on top of it. With a higher amount of reverb and decay time on the second instrument, the listener can hear it just as well, but as more of an ending to the sound.
The Cherry On Top
Think of using different amounts of reverb with instruments as being similar to eating an ice cream sundae. The ice cream is a main ingredient to enjoy, while the cherry on top is enhanced by being less prominent, and a subtle treat at the end.
If every instrument has the same amount of reverb, then it can feel like an ice cream sundae with equal amounts of ice cream, cherries, bananas, and whipped cream. This may still taste delicious, but it wouldn’t have the same balance, which would probably make it less enjoyable.
But before you start craving sweets too much, let’s look at more organic ways to use reverb…
5. Make It Sound Natural
It almost seems too simple, but making your reverb sound natural is one of the best ways to use it.
The human ear has evolved to hear sounds a certain way, in large part due to our natural environment.
Reflections, absorption, and diffusion all play a large part in how we hear sound, and reverb is an extension of these principals.
The Echoes and Absorption of Sound
Have you ever shouted loudly after a snowstorm? You probably didn’t hear much, or noticed that it definitely sounds a lot different than normal. Snow is one of nature’s best absorbents of sound.
Everyone knows the classic cliche’ of shouting off a mountain top or into a cave. The echoes are fun to hear, and an enjoyable part of experiencing sound naturally.
Try to make your reverb sound pleasing to the human ear. Overusing it can make a listener feel like they’re lost in a cave. Also, not using enough of it can make you feel like you’re in a field of snow.
Hall and Plate Reverbs
Use an amount that has more of a concert hall vibe to it. Try to imagine yourself hearing a beautiful symphony, or being in a room that has a sweet, rounded sound to it.
I find that plate reverb has more of a tendency to sound pure to the ears, especially with vocals.
Plate reverb also has a certain clarity to it that can help with dialing your reverb in, without making the instrument sound swamping with echoes. Sonnox’s Oxford Reverb has a nice EMT 140 plate emulation on it, which sounds sweet with vocals, guitar, and many other instruments.
All in all, dialing in the amount of reverb that creates a natural and pleasing sound can be much easier if you focus on using your ears and intuition.
6. Lose The Reverb
Sometimes less is more, or nothing is better than something. Believe it or not, some situations may call for not using any reverb at all.
Maybe the room you’re in is providing enough reverb naturally that adding more just doesn’t make sense.
Or you may find that adding reverb at a later time is a better method, and controlling the sound now is a way to achieve this.
Studio or Live Musical Environments
Adding reverb after the musical performance is common in many recording studio environments today.
Having a low amount of reflections and higher absorption rates of sound in the studio, can make adding reverb more desirable in the mixing stages.
Also, if you’re playing live music, and you’re in a huge room that has many reflections and echoes, then there may not be a need to add anymore reverb to the situation.
However, if you’re playing in a large open outdoor area, then reverb may just be the ingredient that is needed to give the sound more life and direction.
It’s amazing just how much your musical environment affects the use of reverb. Deciding not use any reverb at all can sometimes be the best solution, however be careful that it doesn’t take away from the depth of the music.
7. Use it for Special EFX
Another great thing to use reverb for, special effects can really make sound and music come to life.
Just like in movies, where the sound EFX generate a certain mood and feeling for viewers, reverb can add so much to what was once an ordinary sound.
Perhaps drenching the lead vocals at the end of a song, when no other instruments are playing, can be a nice effect to segue into the next song.
Try to see if you can transport the listener into a sonic space that they’re not used to, or that catches them by surprise.
Experimenting with Plugins or Effects Pedals
Oftentimes when using plugins, you can experiment with the settings by drastically altering certain aspects of the reverb to see if you can find hints of certain sounds or feelings that you’re trying to create.
When using an effects pedal for tracking, Strymon’s NightSky Time-Warped Reverberator (link to Amazon) can provide many modulated types of reverb for creating sound effects.
Using reverb for sound effects can be a lot of fun, since you can throw reverb’s conventional uses out the window.
If you experiment with reverb when creating EFX, then it will also be a great learning experience for using reverb in various ways.
Reverb is perhaps one of the best tools to have sonically, and these are all great ways to use reverb in your next musical scenario.
Try some of these reverb methods out, your ears will thank you!
Thanks for checking out this page, hope it is helpful and makes playing more enjoyable! If you’re interested in diving deeper into playing chords and scales on E9 pedal steel, check out these guides…
The Chord Guide for E9 Pedal Steel (E-Book, Digital Download)
Learn the chords on the E9 neck in a way that makes playing simple and enjoyable…
- Almost Every Chord You’ll Ever Need for E9
- Intuitive and Easy to Use
- Make Use of Pedal and Lever Combinations
- Example Tabs of Chord Movements
- Easily Utilize the Nashville Number System
- Great For Any Key and Style of Music
Includes a bonus section of over a hundred pages of extra chord charts, key references, and more!
More Digital Downloads for Pedal Steel…
The Scale Book for E9 Pedal Steel
Over 1,000 Pages with Tabs and Diagrams!
- Easy to Use Reference for Practicing
- All Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales, Modes, Major Scales
- All Keys, and Covers the Fretboard
- Includes Pockets of Scales
The Art of Right Hand Technique
A detailed look at one of the most challenging and mysterious aspects of steel guitar playing: the right hand…
- An In-Depth Guide to Picking and Blocking
- How to Efficiently and Accurately Play Notes on Steel Guitar with Info, Advice, and Tips…
- Great for Pedal Steel, Lap Steel, and Console Steel Guitar
- Over 100 Pages with Graphics, Illustrations, & Practice Exercises
200 Country Riffs & Licks for E9 Pedal Steel
Add these country licks to your playing repertoire…
- Easy to Read Format
- Includes Rhythmic Notation
- Playing Over Chord Changes
- Great for Country, Alt-Country, & Honky-Tonk Styles
The Elixir of E9 Pedal Steel: Harmonized 6ths
For ideas on using compressors, check out the page below…