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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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