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Laroche

Synth Programming

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Im not sure how to exactly phrase the topic, but here goes: Im looking for a tutorial for synth programming. Im not sure that is the word exactly, but i mean starting with just a sine wave (or any other basic wave) and building the sound up from there. So far I've just been using patches with minor tweaks on the subtractor synth in Reason, but I'd really like to know how to go about building my own sounds the way I hear them in my head. How the filer works, what LFO is, techniques such as where to start, etc. Any help would be appreciated! Thanks!

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Puh, very complex field. Start first on bying a good book of digital signal processiong. Filters are really a complex science on their own:-) Then turn over to www.steinberg.net and download the VST-SDK (when programming synths, it's a good starting point to implement a VST instrument - lets say for Cubase 2.x - first). From their on check out the several links for further information (tutorials, etc.). For just a few months I also wanted to start programming audio plugins but left the complex field because I am going to become a computer scientist, not an electrical engineer:-)

But, don't get discouraged! When this is your way, you'll take it!

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Thanks for the info, and the fast reply! What you wrote might be a little too indepth, or low-level for what I mean. Im pretty sure quite alot of musicians know how to start with some simple sound and change it to suit what they want, like in the techno/electronica genre for example.

Im not really interested in building my own VST instruments, but more using combinations of filters, settings, or whatever. Lets say i have a simple piano sound, and I want to change certain settings to make it smoother, sharper, to maybe have tremolo, or gradually increase in pitch. How would I go about setting that up? Im not sure if this is a Reason only question, but Im pretty sure the knowledge would be useful in other applications as well, such as playing around with VST's, and such.

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Practice. A lot. Try to duplicate synth sounds you've heard in popular songs. Ask around on forums like the ocremix.org Remixing board. A year and a half ago I didn't even know what a synth was, but using the methods I just described, I am now pretty skilled in synth programming (I am actually building my own synthesizers using Reaktor at this point).

Definitely not a Reason only qusetion, by the way.

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Quite easy with Reason, really. Just open the Subtractor, open the initial sound (the boring beeb) and start playing with everything (oscillators, filters..) and you'll learn how to make your own sound.

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There's a series of tutorials called "Synth Secrets", by Gordon Reid, right here:

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/may99/articles/synthsec.htm

Buying books such as "The Computer Music Tutorial", by Curtis Roads, and "Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition and Performance", by Charled Dodge and another guy whose name I don't remember, might help too. I don't have them yet, but it's been said that the second one is better for beginners and the first one is great for reference.

Also, in the page of synth secrets you'll find a link to a list of recommended books.

You won't need to learn DSP yet. But, if you're interested in reading something about it, I suggest you go to www.dspguide.com and download the free version of Steven Smiths book on the subject, which explains DSP in a non-mathematical way, which is bad in some sense, since it doesn't give you proper foundation, but it's good if you just want to know what DSP is about without knowing the mathematical foundations of it in detail.

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I'd say, skip the textbooks. I learned about filters by turning knobs on a moog synth. I say, just turn all the knobs on your synth and keep hitting the keys to hear what changes the knobs make...you'll eventually get a useful understanding of it.

But here are some basic elements

oscillator - something that makes raw sound
filter - something that takes a part away from the sound
envelope - something can controls a level of sound over time
waveform - typically the shape of the raw sound, different ones have different sounds...square, sawtooth, triangle, sinusoidal
FM-synthesis - a means for making sounds by having oscillators at different frequencies modulate each other in formulaic ways.
LFO - used for adding vibrato and tremolo to sounds
Cutoff frequency-for filters, where they chop the sound
resonance-for filters, level of activity around the cutoff frequency.

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Not quite correct.

"filter - something that takes a part away from the sound"

Filters don't always take away from the sound. They usually do; but not always.

"envelope - something can controls a level of sound over time"

An envelope does not just apply only to level (ie. volume) of a signal, but virtually any parameter.

"waveform - typically the shape of the raw sound, different ones have different sounds...square, sawtooth, triangle, sinusoidal"

Not different sounds, but different harmonics. A waveform doesn't necessarily result in sound, nor does an oscillator.

"FM-synthesis - a means for making sounds by having oscillators at different frequencies modulate each other in formulaic ways."

Again, not quite. Oscillators do modulate eachother in FM synthesis, but they do not need to be at different frequencies to do so. There are no formulas involved to my knowledge; there is simply a carrier signal and a modulator signal.

"LFO - used for adding vibrato and tremolo to sounds"

That definition is too specific. An LFO is just a Low Frequency Oscillator; it can be used to modulate just about any parameter. Vibrato and tremolo are modulations of pitch, but LFOs on most synths can be assigned to parameters like phase modulation, frequency modulation, filter cutoff, and so on and so forth.

"Cutoff frequency-for filters, where they chop the sound"

Sort of, but again, not all filters simply cut sound above or below a certain point. A bandpass filter, for instance, allows sounds near the cutoff frequency only, and a notch or shelf filter acts in a completely different fashion. For simple lowpass, it cuts all frequencies above that point; for simple highpass, all below that point. Also, a cutoff is rarely sharp; they come in varying slopes based on the filter type. Common types are 12db/octave (smooth rolloff) and 24db/octave (sharp rolloff). 6db/octave makes for a very relaxed cutoff. 18db/octave is worth noting because it is the erroneous rolloff value of the Roland TB303, and, interestingly, the main reason why that synth sounds so unique.

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here's some tutorial and discussion sites:
http://www.dogsonacid.com/forumdisplay.php?forumid=4
http://studioheadz.com/forum/
http://www.funk-station.co.uk/tutorials.htm

and here's a program that lets people that don't know how to create their own synths ... well, create their own synths:
http://www.synthedit.com/

you will probably find the most useful info at the first two sites above. cheers.

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You can get a TON of help from the Reason forums at http://www.propellerheads.se if you're registered.

In my experience, the most important thing when building up a synth sound is to have some idea what you want it to sound like. Just messing around with no direction sometimes yields interesting results but is more often than not tedious and unproductive.

Once you have a sound in mind, consider its ADSR characteristics. That's Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, and on the Subtractor the main ADSR envelope is located near the middle (there's also one for the filter and one for the LFO I believe, don't worry about those for the moment).

Attack is how long it takes the sound to go from silence to full volume. Slow strings and pads have a slow attack while punchy piano stabs would have a quick attack. Move the slider up to slow the attack.

Decay is how much time it takes the sound to go from full volume to the Sustain level, after completing the Attack phase.

Sustain is the volume at which the sound will continue to play as the note is held. I don't usually use the Decay/Sustain sliders much but they can be useful for certain sounds, like if you want a really sudden, "stabby" sound that falls off into something more padlike... I don't know, I'm pulling this example out of nowhere. ;)

Release is how long it takes the sound to fade out to silence after the note is released.

Once you've got the ADSR envelope set up to emulate the sound you're making, then you can tweak the waveforms. Again, consider the final sound you want. There are four basic waveforms: sine, saw, square, and triangle.

Sine waves work well for woodwind-type sounds. Saw waves are excellent for brass instruments (and of course trance leads!) Square waves have a very old-school electronic quality - think Super Mario Bros. here, and triangles are, well... ok, I don't really use triangles, but they're like a brighter square wave I guess. :P

The Subtractor has like 30 other waveforms that are just numbered so you'll just have to experiment with those. Once the waveforms are adjusted to your liking, you should be getting pretty close to the sound you want. Now you can mess with modulation, noise, etc. Maybe use the LFO to add a rhythmic punch to the sound, or filters for minor adjustments. But the ADSR envelope and waveforms are the two key things in sythesis.

I am not a professional, this is just what I've learned from about eight months working with Reason. I've produced a few tracks at http://www.third-helix.com/mr_music.html if you want an idea of how my approach works (this is of course a shameless plug!)

Good luck! If you drop by the Reason forums, I'm known there as Mad Rabbit.

That is all.

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Hi. I learned by reading the manual for my synth. I have a virus b, and the manual that comes with it is really useful for learning how to program a synth. There is an introductory section that assumes you know nothing. Although it assumes you have a virus, a lot of the parameters are common and will be on almost any other (substractive synthesis) synth.

http://www.access-music.de/downloads.php4?product=virusb#cat4

At the very bottom is a link to the virus b manual in english.

-j

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If you're a coder, you might be interested in tools like Csound or SuperCollider, although the latter is only available for Linux and OS X. Both have quite active communities, though, and are very versatile synthesis languages. Csound also has an excellent accompanying book, which would be very worthwhile if you're interested in that language. Anyway, you might want to check those out.

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