Skip to main content

Synthesis and Sound Design 101

Lesson 1 of 9

Intro to Synthesis and the Nature of Sound

James Patrick

Synthesis and Sound Design 101

James Patrick

staff favorite

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

1. Intro to Synthesis and the Nature of Sound

Lesson Info

Intro to Synthesis and the Nature of Sound

everyone Welcome to sound. Design it, Slam Academy, this is James Patrick, and I'm gonna be your host. Through this course, we're gonna be focusing on mostly just a tour of all the different main languages that are used to create sound. And also especially during this lesson, one focusing on empowering you with the knowledge it's going to require to know which modules and which components of the synthesizer reach for and when in the interests of creating particular types of sounds. So this entire lesson one is going to be all about sub attractive synthesis, which is really the kind of core language that the majority of our popular electronic music today even is made of sub tract of synthesis captured inside of able to live as best embodied inside of the analog instrument. This analog is modeled after classic subtract of synthesizers like the Moelgg mini mode, which was the original keyboard driven instrument that powered bands like Kraftwerk all the way up to like Michael Jackson thril...

ler Parliament. Dr. Dre, the majority of what we know of in the popular world of electronic music was sculpted by the mini Moelgg and able to his analog has all those main components, plus a bunch of extra tasty nuggets. So let's take a look at the device really quick and will recognize that signal flow in all of our devices and live travel from left to right. And I can turn off each of these modules by hitting their power switch or clicking just on an unused part of the module to snap the central detail panel to focus on additional parameters inside of each module. We call it a module because each of these components or modules do or execute a single specific function. And in the world of modular synthesis, we would need patch cables to connect these Now, luckily with the sub tract of since like this, or like a mini moke, everything is connected already. So what we have the ability to do that was just turn on the modules we want, knowing signal flow, travels from left to right and just play some notes. Oh, so that's a real simple kind of marimba style patch, and you can see by looking we have one oscillator turned on. It has a sol wave. We'll explore what those different wave forms are made of, and Why some tuning controls for the wave for him, then we have a filter. The filter. We're gonna give him two more. Especially. This is the most expressive component of the subtracted synthesizer. Because here is where we subtract overtones. Notice all. When I opened this up to make it brighter. Quite a bit different of a Tambor. Of course I can bring this back down. Make it more Doug do. Now I have this nice kind of more marimba patch again. Once I leave the filter, I get into the amplifier. The amplifier simply turns up the signal. I can pan it and inside of this amplifier Now I can start to address modulation. Notice how each of these modules have their own envelope. The filter has an envelope as well as the pitch envelope Here, inside of our oscillator function, I can reset this 20 despite clicking delete. Now I have straight saw way of going through a low pass filter. We're gonna talk about filter modes to again. This is the tone in tambor shaping parameter, and then the amplifiers envelope. Here, this affects its volume dynamics. So a pitch envelope tone envelope, an amplitude envelope also known as this the dynamics envelope. Each of these envelopes are made of some classic functions in particular. Attack DK sustained and release. These were all parameters. We're gonna go over in depth in the next few lessons, but it's good to know that sustain is the one that goes up and down. This is our vertical volume level. So in this case, if this is my amplitude envelope with slow attack and a low sustained level with a long DK and along release, I gonna hold a note down versus inversely like more of a percussive shape, a little more like my Marine by was working with. So if I look, if I investigate, this is essentially the audio signal path with a little bit of modulation. Now that we have taken a look at that, let's take a look at a slide quick. This is the architecture of the sub tract of synthesizer. There's really two different types of signals that get passed around inside of the subject of sent the audio signal path, which you would imagine is the one we just investigated. The oscillator creates the tone with its wave form and sets the pitch with its note from the keyboard. That oscillator tone then gets passed through a filter. The analogy I like to make here is that this is your vocal chord. This is where the tone is generated, and then the filter is the lips and mouth. Imagine if we tried to make words right now without lips and mouths would be like barking dogs, you know? But since we can close our lips and mouth while we can start to make shapes, especially those shapes are aided by our envelopes and our, LF owes We just did an envelope to our amplifier, and we could do it to our filter to for more of a plucky or a swelling sound or a pitch envelope for maybe, like a kick drum that goes, Do starts higher pitching those low or maybe a bongo where the pitch goes down and then up. Boing, boing! So you could get some cool, uh, contours over time generated with our envelopes. And LF owes the audio signal, Pathan heads out, the amplifier gets turned up, which also is a source or a target, I should say for modulation. The only difference we need to remember between envelopes and l opposes that. LFO czar steadily running. Generally they just go up and down and envelopes receive a trigger. The envelope is gonna wait for that trigger message to begin its attacks. Stage um, analogy I like to make for these guys. The modulator says these are kind of like your interns. You have so many controls inside of the synthesizer. It can be really tough to actually be expected to grab onto all these when you want to be expressive with, um luckily, inside of these instruments, I can go to any of their parameters inside of the detail panel here and find modulation depths from the keyboard that's going to make the residence or the frequency of the filter go up and down based on my key position or my enveloped up. That's from right here. I also have LFO noticed. These are great out until I turn on my LFO. Now they're active. So this is a little bit about how the subtracted synthesizer works. Let's listen to what different, enveloped? Absurd. You sound like a filter. Um uh, I can even see in the overtone serious how that saw wave gets opened up after the filter attack makes it all makes its way all the way to the top way comes back down. You can even track that envelope shape with your eyes. Attack there, Stan. Release. Give it a longer release. The longer decay. Higher. Sustained. Now it dropped off. You don't get to hear the full release because my amplifier was already released all the way. Let's give this amplifier a big, highest sustained level. Now we're gonna really be able to watch and hear that envelope shape on the tone without having the amplitude decrease. Wow. Uh oh. So this is a little bit about how the subtracted synthesizer works. Now, before we get too much more into engaging the LFO and breathing more life into this because I'm already getting really excited. Let's take a little further bit of an investigation into the audio signal path. Here the audio signal path is comprised again. Oven oscillator, filter and amplifier. But inside of the oscillator, let's take a moment to investigate these wave forms. Notice how I have signed with saw wave, square wave and random wave. Also known the sample and hold. Take a little Take a moment to investigate with ease really mean these wave forms really mean? So what these wave forms actually are indicating is how maney overtones are present in the signal when a notice struck. So, for instance, the sine wave, as you can see here in my Acela scope, is smooth and curving. There's no sharp corners. Since there's no sharp corners or high frequency content inside of the cycle, you just get one pure fundamental pitch. No, this is, as you can see, an operator sign way of meaning. It's perfectly clean. Ah, the analog is analog modeled, so it's inherently a little dirty sounding. So when you pull up a sine wave in the analog, you're going to see some additional peaks. But they're just way low an amplitude. We look at a saw wave inversely. We have a very sharp corner here, right. This is about a sharp of a corner as they get inside of a single cycle wave, and this is why we get these extra additional peaks. This corner here is high frequency activity, meaning that we have one fundamental pitch that maybe goes from here to here. This is the fundamental frequency of our way of form that's indicated by this peak. But then, since there's this really sharp corner, we get all these additional overtones. These overtones resonate musically with the fundamental pitch, and this is one of the initial realization is that probably people like Leon Thurman, Bob Moelgg even Don Buchler, the other synthesizer pioneers of the sixties, even before then, probably realized, If I take a symmetrical periodic wave and give it one single sharp corner, I get thes consistent overtones that resonate musically. That's the saw wave. I move on to the square wave. You can see how I left this shadow in here. From the Saw wave, Saw Wave has every integer ordered harmonic, whereas the square wave has every other see how the square waves peaks are in every other shadow dropped from the saw way. That's because due to the fact that this corner is not nearly as sharp, it only evokes half of many overtones. It's kind of a neat little thing about saz versus square waves. Here's the triangle wave. See our shadows from our sod square on square waves earlier. Now we still have odd ordered meaning we skip 135 I'm sorry we skipped 2468 and we have Those are odd numbers to see how they DK or drop an amplitude much more rapidly. Square waves, Odd ordered harmonic Stay hot and go all the way down. Where's the triangle waves? They plummet. In fact, if this is an analog trying away, there would be more and more here. But they would decay down into silence much more rapidly than the square waves. What that means is that the square waves is a lot more bright sounding. Sine wave is pure saw. Wave is the brightest of all of them. So when we look at these layered vibrations, what does this mean in the real world, when you pluck a guitar string, let's say this is our the end of our This is our fret, okay? And this is the end of our string of the base where it gets tied down. But we have here is we have a fundamental pitch. This is where we plucked our string and say, this is an A for 40. Okay, let's just imagine what happens in real life. Whenever you pluck a riel string or vibrate, anything is there are layered vibrations. This is that synthesis realization where they said, Hey, if I take this waveform, that's not a sine wave, maybe a square saiget thes ordered harmonics going all the way up the spectrum. This is what's really happening to the wave form. When it vibrates, layered vibrations are evoked at interred your orders. So what this means is, as long as the string is being held down firmly at the ends and you pluck it, you're gonna get layered vibrations. This year is a 2 to 1 ratio. This is a 3 to 2, right. See how there's three peaks for every two years. to 3, 5 to 4, 65 7 to 6. The neat thing about this is that all Western music that utilizes the active the perfect fifth perfect force, a major third, minor, third major, second is all present. All of those intervals are present inside of a single plucked wave form. So any time you take a saw wave and you hear it ring out me, it's really buzzy and annoying. You can know that this is the fundamental principle of subtract of synthesis that this wave form contains all the notes in the Western scale. So now we're able to actually subtract all those notes. He's in the filter, and that's when expression and dynamics and sensuality really becomes really obvious. Once we start attenuating those overtones, but on a real low level, anytime you pluck a string, you get layered vibrations. So this is why the synthesizer has waves other than sine waves. So we can start layer and pile up all these harmonics and start to stimulate all these different overtones. Leads me to a really interesting fact is that the most popular synthesizer company in the history of Earth, the Moelgg synthesizer company. They don't make polyphonic instruments. You can't play chords on those keyboards. This is because of the way the saw wave and square waves work. They have so many overtones that the synthesizer, the subject of scent and powers, people who don't know how to play chords to still make great sounding music. You can play one note at a time on the keyboard and through sensitive use of your filter and your wave form combinations, you can play huge cords and not even ever have toe no intervals or the circle of fifths or any of that, you just use your ears. This is where electronic music is so poignant in today's market. It's empowering through knowing languages like this, anyone, the ability to make really cool sounding music. So remember all these layered vibrations lead to harmony. Whenever you hear that sound wave your hearing. It's as boring as it may sound, with no filter or no distortion or no modulation. You're hearing many layers of harmony due to that integer order harmonics math that's happening. Remember that each of those intervals that are resonating above the fundamental pitch with a saw wave. They represent all the major intervals and my ANA minor interval for of the Western music system. So that's a really beautiful thing to be aware of. So once we look at how these wave forms overlap and contain many layers of vibration, once we know that we might ask ourselves Okay, so what is the difference between there's variations? What are all square waves? The same are also waves the same? No, not at all. Actually, there close and really the They're not the most important component when it comes to getting a unique sound out of the synthesizer, but understanding them in the beginning is a really good place to start. So here's ah sine wave. This is really curving, and this is like a digital square wave. There's just straight lines, sleeves me to really cool point. Inside of the calculator are the computer. There's no such thing as a curve. There's Onley, right angles and straight lines. Because computers speak in binary language on and off messages, curves are only faked. So if you hear something that sounds really smooth and dynamic coming out of a computer, it's been faked. That's what analog modeling is. So now we have this ability to say, Okay, how do we make like a square wave that feels a little more rich than just a digital square wave? We can use what's called the Fourier Transform, and you don't need to worry about knowing that too much. But what is nice to know is that the sine wave in the square way of these two waves that we're seeing overlapped actually have the same fundamental pitch the way it goes from here to here. Whether it has curves or not, we can start to combine these two waves through analog modeling, and we can start to get to like an analog modeled square wave, which is gonna have one fundamental pitch and then a certain amount of overtones. I can tell you by looking right now, this wave form has one to three or 567 overtones. So there's seven additional peaks surrounding this one fundamental pitch. And I can tell you, just by looking, this one has to are three. Pardon me. This has one to three or five dismissed. Five. So 35 and seven was are nice. Odd ordered numbers, aren't they? Remember this, even a nod stuff as we're getting more into sound design and wave for mechanics. Take a look at this. This is a Fourier transform of a 1234567 seven overtone square wave gathers seven peaks for everyone. There's Ah, 14 maybe 12345 614 14 little waves inside of one fundamental pitch. This is where the different variations on square and saw waves lie. And this is how analog modeling also works. We'll get this guy. This is a three overtone. It's always How about in eight so remember it all comes back down to starting with an oscillated. These are vocal chords. We choose the wave form, we attenuate it with our filter and then we turn it up with our amplifier. Last but not least, we add modulation. Let's talk for a few minutes about modulation. Here's our Marambra patch. Uh oh. What can you tell me about that? That's not a marimba. The amplitude is sustaining for a really long time. Good. This release to get back down to more of a percussive shape and once hit our filter envelope, give this also a nice attack and bring its depth down. This is the strength or amount of envelope. No watch. This is a simple little patch We already adjusted are enveloped up. Let's add a little modulation of this. Let the sustain a little longer. Maybe I'll go here. I'm gonna add a little lfo librato Turn up my rate of my LFO. It's the modulation speed and then I'm going to go to the target, gonna turn up my pitch modulation from L s o E. So my sound a little nerdy, right? It's very nerdy sounding. Why? Because the LFO is free running all the time. It's just like frantically vibrating. Let's trigger it from a note message that's going to keep the phase of the wave form generated by the LFO locks to our note message as well as we're gonna be able to slow down its attack and its delay. Make it wait before it kicks in. Let's go. Maybe a second and 1/2. Oh, fun to watch if nothing else. Right. So now we have a broad. Oh, I'm gonna slow that down a little on Give myself even a little less step e You can really hear that modulation. Let's link it up to the filter as well. Way get modulation to our amplitude and they're filter. We could even add tremolo as well. That's panel Oh, his level modulation. Get some stereo image as well. So now we have this one in a left bow modulating our pan, our volume tone and our pitch Pretty cool, huh? So that's how modulation works. We get telephones and envelopes, so keep in mind, guys were only addressing a simple single path up here inside of the analog. We get a whole other set of these guys as well as each oscillator having its own sub active or oscillator sync functionality as well as additional tricky routing components. Oscillator one and two Congar Oto filter one and two both in parallel. Or maybe they both want to go up through Filter one and then, with this amount, also gets split down to filter to. So now we have filter one filter to in Siris, and they're both going out their own unique amplify. Or maybe I have them panned to different locations. Give you one is the high pass in one is a low pass. There's all sorts of fun you can have here. That attack. Let's give this a smooth I e. Left adapts here a little hot. You come around here and back these guys off a bit, I've got myself a cool dual filter dual oscillator patch. If I wanted to add any thickness or make this even more complex, I could maybe give him a little D tuning, take them out of phase of each other or even I could offset them by an entire active. I could rout them out in parallel up to their own signals. Now filter one and filter true are truly in parallel. This is just the left and right single band pass filter down past filter works like a guy, low pass and high pass filter in Siris. Wow! Ah, a little of this. Let's modulate this too slowly. We owe vocal cords Tambor's tone control modulation stereo image. They're all fun things to play with in the interesting in the interest of generating ingredients for your compositions that are gonna stay rich and full of life and really have your own unique thumbprint on them. Um, starting with just voltage, you're inevitably going to be running into new results that maybe aren't going to be as easily harvested out of your preset list of the library that you recently purchased. Staying true to all these little level concepts is going to help us move forward as we get into the more advanced topics and upcoming lessons. And just remember, it always comes back down to signal flow and understanding the audio signal path versus the modulation path and how that all relates to harmony. That's less than one and sound design that slam academy. I hope you've enjoyed it. Thanks a lot

Class Description

This course is SLAM Academy's introductory offer for people who want their music to stand on its own. In Sound Design 101, we'll uncover each of the main elements of what it takes to be a cutting-edge electronic sound designer. After an explanation of analog synthesis, we'll feature demonstrations of techniques and tools for FM, granular, wavetable, physical modeling, multi-sampling, and signal processing. Students can expect personalized technique demonstrations from Ableton Live, Max for Live, U-He Instruments, Applied Acoustics Systems, Glitchmachines, Native Instruments Systems, and Eurorack Modular Synthesizer components.  



This is a great, fast-paced introduction to producing sound using various popular software choices. James Patrick is super knowledgeable and presents the material in a patient (but fast), systematic way. This course is meant to be a high-level preview of a full-blown 6-month course at Slam Academy (taken online or in Minneapolis) so the pace of the material presented here is quite fast. In other words the tone is to show you what you'll learn if you take the full course. James suggests taking this course over 3 weeks to let things sink in. A dedicated student can follow along and review the material and then practice on their own software although it takes some focus! And while much of the course is incredibly well explained, there are also some sections where James works the controls without much narrative but making cool sounds. I ended up hitting pause every 30 seconds or so during some of the key sections so I could watch what he was doing and play around with the same controls. Ultimately the way to learn the software is by getting hands-on, so when I followed along this way, I learned a ton. Great course, be aware that it is a super high level survey of a longer course but this is still absolutely packed with information

a Creativelive Student

love this course, and i like it for my liking.

Jose Freitas MElo jUnior