What is a synthesizer -
Synthesizing process is the heart , blood and soul of making music on the computer.
As we read in the basic chapter, every sound is nothing but a vibration. This vibration can be shown as a waveform.
Each sound has a waveform. Synthesizing is a technique to create our own waveforms by painting the waveforms on computer software. The software that we use to create our own sounds is known as synthesizer.
You have already used synthesized sounds!
Have you ever used any of the following keyboards?
These keyboards contain synthesized sounds!
Most of the electronic keyboards like YAMAHA, CASIO that are sold in the market are synthesizers. The cheap ones come with presets sounds of piano, guitars, strings, sea waves, aeroplane etc. These sounds are programmed and not recorded from a real piano.
More expensive hardware synthesizers however offer the possibility to sample a sound and play the musical notes on it.
History of world of synths -
In older days, synthesizers were used to be big electronic machines. They costed thousands of dollars and you had to earn an engineering degree to learn how to use them.
Today, you can down many basic and advance software synths from internet. Many of them are free and come with great sounds. You can also create your own sounds using the buttons there.
MINIMOOG: >> One of the popular oldest synths used in 1980's - 1990's >>
Minimoog is one of the most popular synths that were used in early days of digital sound recording
As you can notice there are many controls > oscilator, mixer, modifiers, and effects. All these are tools that helps us in tweaking the sound the way we like.
The synthesizing process starts with one of the basic wave forms i.e. a simple sine wave. Scroll down for a video tutorial.
Each wave or basic sound comes through an oscillator. Some synthesizers have single oscilator so you can create simple sounds. Synths with more than one oscilators can combine different types of waveforms and create some nice usable sounds.
Video showing three basic types of wave forms viz. Sine, SAW,
This is a video created using a basic synthesizer that comes with LMMS DAW.
- Sine wave: is the smooth sound wave. It is even shaped and does not have any sharp ends.
- Triangle wave is slightly crisp
- Sqaure wave has echo and sharp sound.
- SAW wave: has a very rich sound.
Sound engineers create their combination of waves with range of effects to create their own sounds. There are many free synths available for both windows and linux platforms.
Parts of a synthesizer
Each car has its own distinctive features, but the basic design remains the same.
Similarly, each synthesizer is made different way. But the basic structure remains the same.
In a synthesizer a sound moves through different sections in a synthesizer before coming out as a final sound . Following illustration explains the different stages >
Synth 1 - an amazing free 2 oscillator synthesizer software
Section 1: Oscilator > you can notice different wave forms and options in this section of the screenshot. Oscilator is the place where the sound starts from.
Notice the waveforms in this section. Some synths have 1 oscillators and others more than 1. You can tweak the oscillator knobs to make changes in the waveform and initial sound.
Section 2: Amplifier > Amplifier makes changes to the velocity of the sounds that are coming. The ADSR envolopes.
- Attack: How fast the sound will gain volume is attack.
- Sustain: How long the sound will sustain. If this is short then the sound would end soon.
- Release: how long the sound should come after you release the key. If this is long the sounds would be longer.
You can use this section to change the way sound will come out when you hit the keyboard.
Filter section helps us in filtering the frequencies in such a way to make it sound the way we want. If you keep higher frequency the sound will have higher pitch. You can also change resonance and other effects here.
Section 3: Low frequency Oscilator > each sound have low frequency. You can change low frequency oscilator to increase or decrease warmth and heavyness in the sound.
It gives you the options to change the waveform and other tweaking options that helps you in changing the waveform of the sound.
Section 4: Arppegiator> can be set here. If you keep arppegiator on, then the synth would play broken chords. For learning about broken chords, have a look at our music theory guide.
Section 5 and 6 : Effects > this part is the most amazing part of the synthesizer that i LOVE. You can add different types of effects like echo, delay, reverb etc.
These effects can make your sounds much rich and professional. Chorus effects can help in making the sound sound heavy and add more feel to it.
Section 7: Presets > all the settings of the knobs and other sections can be saved as a preset file. So if you tweak the sounds and save it on the computer you can come later on and use the same sound. Most synth software come with basic presets to use from.
How does a synthesizer work?
Synthesizers help in creating sounds from scratch. You can create different types of sounds using different types of synthesizer.
It is difficult to explain each and every concept of synthesizing in this guide. It is a huge subject to cover in detail and requires a series of books to cover all aspects of synthesizing.
But in this chapter we have covered the most essential fundamental and basics of synthesizing of sound. You are most welcome to ask me any questions if you have any doubts.
We will learn more about synthesizing by using synthesizers in our music making tutorials .
So for now i would suggest you to complete reading this guide and make your fundamentals stronger and then we will go into the actual usage of synths etc.
with that being said, let us move onto next chapter