Welcome to The Synthesizer Academy

Welcome to The Synthesizer Academy

The Synthesizer Academy is a site dedicated to help you learn about synthesis and the creation of electronic music.  If you’re looking for a synthesizer tutorial, this is the site for you!  You can either start at the very beginning and work your way through each lesson one-by-one, or use the red bar at the top to jump in wherever you want.  We’ll also be adding links to various synth resources to help you learn more and get your hands on some gear to play with.  New lessons will be added frequently, so check back often.

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What is a Synthesizer?

What is a Synthesizer?

Normally sounds are created by an object creating vibrations in the air around it.  These vibrations reach our ears and we perceive them as sounds.  Drums, guitars and flutes are all examples of acoustic instruments that make sounds. In a guitar, for example, the player plucks the string and it vibrates at its resonant frequency.  [...]

Types of Synthesizers

Types of Synthesizers

Synths come in many different forms, shapes and sizes. I’m going to cover a few of them here, but many synths are combinations of several types.   Modular vs. All-In-One There are many different components that make up a synth.  Some of them create sounds, some of them modify sounds, and some of them control [...]

What is Voltage?

What is Voltage?

At a very basic level, synthesis is all about generating and manipulating voltages.  Different parts of the synth are controlled by voltages.  The audio signals themselves are voltages that change rapidly.  But what exactly is voltage? Voltage is a difference in electrical potential energy between two points.  It represents electricity’s ability to do work.  Water [...]

Waveforms

Waveforms

What we perceive as sound is air pressure changing over time.  In electronics, sound is represented as a signal that changes over time (AC waveform).  Speakers are used to convert these electrical signals into changes in sound pressure that we can actually hear. The shape of the waveform (how the voltage changes over time) determines [...]

Harmonics

Harmonics

Different waveforms sound different.  A sine wave sounds different than a square wave, which sounds different than the waveform that comes out of an accordion.   All these waves have unique timbres because they have different harmonic content. A harmonic is basically a multiple of a fundamental frequency.  For example, let’s say you’re playing a [...]

Subtractive Synthesis

Subtractive Synthesis

There are a few common ways to generate the sounds that get manipulated, modified, and are eventually sent out of your synthesizer.  In this lesson we’re going to talk about subtractive synthesis.  This is the type of synthesis primarily used by old-school analog synths. The basic idea of subtractive synthesis is to start with a [...]

Additive Synthesis

Additive Synthesis

Additive synthesis is based on the theory that any sound can be made by combining a series of sine waves at various frequencies (see the lesson on harmonics for more details).  Start adding waves together and you get new, harmonically-rich waveforms.  Essentially you’re deciding at which frequencies you want your harmonics and adding them yourself. [...]

FM Synthesis

FM Synthesis

Frequency-Modulation Synthesis, or FM Synthesis for short, works differently than what we’ve talked about so far.  It uses one wave to rapidly increase or decrease (modulate) the frequency of another, which creates entirely new frequencies that aren’t part of the first two. Don’t worry if that’s not very intuitive; I’m going to break it down [...]

Wavetable Synthesis

Wavetable Synthesis

Most of the synthesis methods we’ve talked about so far produce periodic waves, meaning at some point the repeat.  Simple waves may go up, then down, then back up again.  More complex waves might go up and down a few times, but somewhere there is a repeating pattern. Wavetable synthesis takes advantage of this fact [...]