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Basic Synthesis, Part 1

Basic Synthesis, Part 1

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a look at basic synthesis/sound creation and exploring the unlimited possibilities this opens up for us in our music creation. I am Jambot, and I will be breaking down some fundamentals of synthesis for you over the next few weeks that will completely expand your palette and open your eyes to the power of sound creation in your production. Then, we will wrap this series on synthesis with a short video demonstration of myself creating a new track by using new sounds I’ve created using the knowledge of basic synthesis.

First, we need an operating definition for synthesis so we can break it down into its individual components and thoroughly understand what it is we will be doing. Synthesis is the combining of separate elements to form a coherent whole. Synthesis, in essence, is the process of using sound generators, filters, and envelopes in combination with each other in order to create and shape new sounds.

In this week’s article, we will take a look at a few of the main parameters that will allow us to start creating and combining sounds as we start to fully grasp all the possibilities these tools allow us to explore.

When you are ready to begin creating, the first thing you need is a sound source that can be shaped and manipulated. Oscillators are the source or the base of the sound in a synthesizer, and these oscillators produce waveforms that run through a synthesizer as a starting point for your sound creation. There are several different types of waveforms to choose from based on which synthesizer you are using, but a few of the more common waveforms found in most synthesizers are Sine, Square, Triangle, and Sawtooth waves. Sine and Triangle waveforms are great for softer timbres and sub-bass sounds, whereas Square and Sawtooth waveforms are great for rich, thick, and full-sounding analog sounds. Another base you can use for your sound in a synthesizer is a Noise Generator, which is exactly what it sounds like… an electric circuit that produces noise that can be used to create and shape sounds.

In addition to these choices in bases for your sound creation, you can also use multiple oscillators together in several different ways in order to achieve even more complex sounds. Phase Offset Modulation, for example, is the creation of new waveforms by the multiplication or subtraction of multiple waveforms. What this means for us is we can use multiple oscillators to combine their separate waveforms with a Mix Knob, which allows us to control how much of each oscillator and waveform we are hearing. In general, turning the knob completely to either side will only allow that specified waveform to come through, whereas turning the knob to the dead center allows us to hear an equal mix of both waveforms.

Another option we have when dealing with multiple oscillators is called Frequency Modulation, which allows us to modulate the frequency of one of the oscillators, known as the carrier, with another oscillator or noise generator, known as the modulator. Basically, this allows us to choose a primary oscillator (the carrier) and use a secondary oscillator or noise generator (the modulator) in order to change or modulate the frequency of the carrier. Whenever you are using frequency modulation, make sure you set the mix knob all the way to the side of the oscillator you are modulating (the carrier) in order to hear the result of the frequency modulation rather than the blend of the 2 oscillators.

Yet another option most synthesizers offer us when dealing with multiple oscillators is Ring ModulationRing Modulation multiplies both audio signals from the oscillators to create extra harmonics based on the sum of and the difference between the 2 audio signals. This can result in some amazing effects, sounds, and tones.

The beauty of synthesis is you have a vast number of tools at your disposal that create and shape sound differently, and as you learn each process, you can apply them in any combination in order to create your own truly unique sounds. Next week we will continue to explore more of the parameters of synthesizers, including filters and envelope generators, among others, that will help you take your synthesis to a whole new level. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @_signaturesound and @iamjambot to stay plugged into everything that is happening over here at Signature Sound, and while you’re at it, come to check out our workshops and new online drum tracking services that will greatly improve your music production. Seeya next week!