In this article, we will explain to you what is a synthesizer?. This musical instrument has allowed various artists to create unique symphonies that, at another time, they would not have been able to imagine. Read on to learn about these devices’ history and the types that exist.
Synthesizers: what they are, their types and what they are for
It could be said that synthesizers are electronic musical instruments that are used to produce different sounds from an electrical signal. Sounds range from emulating acoustic instruments to weird basses, leads, and percussion tones.
The electrical signal passes through a signal path to an amplifier. The amplifier then sends the signal through a speaker to create vibrations in the air that we hear as sound. A synthesizer mimics those vibrations through an electrical signal and digital or analogue processing.
Although strange instruments like the theremin existed at the end of the 19th century and the first synthesizers appeared in the 1950s, it was in the 1970s that a synthesizer similar to the ones we use today saw the light. Bob Moog introduced the Minimoog, which became the foundation for all subsequent synthesizers.
How does a synthesizer work?
Synthesizers may seem complicated, but once you understand the basics, it’s easier than you think. Let’s see the basic components of audio synthesis:
- Oscillator: Synths can have one or multiple oscillators, and that’s where the process begins. The oscillators generate the raw sound, which is then shaped by the other synth elements. This is the signal generator. Oscillate means something moves from one side to another, and in this context, it refers to voltages moving from one side to another. You’ll often see oscillators labelled VCO, which stands for “Voltage Controlled Oscillators.”
- Filter: A filter or VCF (voltage-controlled filter) removes certain frequencies from a sound. The cutoff frequency is the frequency at which the filter kicks in, and you can adjust the cutoff as desired. It is a tool that can be readjusted on the fly during a performance to create changes in pitch. Some synths allow you to switch between different types of filters, so these are the most common types.
- Amplifier – An amplifier or VCA (voltage-controlled amplifier) is the easiest piece of the puzzle to understand. Boosts the signal to increase the volume and vice versa.
- LFO: A Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO) is not a sound generator like the oscillators described above. Instead, you can affect the sound by using a frequency below 20 Hz.
- Arpeggiator: This tool is included in many beginner keyboards. An arpeggiator creates a repeating sequence of notes in which you can control the messages, pitch, and tempo. Most arpeggiators offer various playback patterns, such as forward, backward, shuffle, etc.
Each phase of a synthesizer’s signal path plays a role in shaping the output. Instead of starting with something too complicated, start with the simplest fixed signal path: from an oscillator to filter to the amplifier. Then to your speakers. You be interested in 5 Best DSLR Cameras In 2022.
Synths come in all shapes and sizes. It is common to think of a synthesizer as a keyboard instrument because it is one of the most prominent formats. However, many others are desktop or rack-mount units without a keyboard.
If a synthesizer has a keyboard or you connect a keyboard controller, pressing different keys sends different control voltage values to the oscillator to determine the pitch produced. The underlying process is the same with no keyboard: the control voltage value you set via the onboard controls will determine the rise.
That said, on the market, we find:
- Modular: Modular synthesizers are expansive and are built by connecting modules together. Combining individual modules means you can set up whatever configuration you prefer, and there are no limits to their complexity.
- Semi-Modular: These offer a set signal path and the option to connect other modules. However, the modules are fixed in one location.
Analogue or digital? It’s a dilemma, a common argument among fans of synthesizers. The truth is that, whatever your preference, both have their place.
- Analogue: They use sound-generating circuits and modulators.
- Digital: These use numerically controlled oscillators and function more clinically, as one would expect from a computer.
Analogue synths, in certain cases, sound warmer and sometimes less consistent, which is part of their charm.
How to get the most out of a synthesizer?
Synthesizers can be overwhelming to a novice, even one with musical experience. There are many parameters to think about and controls to master.
In any case, the idea is to have fun and promote the user’s creativity. In this sense, synthesizers encourage experimentation. So instead of telling you exactly how to use a synthesizer and listing an impossible number of options, we’ll highlight a few things you should avoid.
You are making a patch when you create a sound you like by adjusting oscillators, filters, envelope settings, etc. Many synths will allow you to save your favourite patches as user presets for easy recall.
On the other hand, if you are in a band and want to introduce a synthesizer in your live shows, you have to be careful. If you’re a beginner, starting with a model that offers preset patches might be a good idea. And remember, you can make very subtle or drastic changes to a sound with small adjustments – ensure you have your settings under control so you don’t surprise your viewers negatively.
In short, you have to be patient when you start using a new synthesizer. If you are constant and experiment a little, you will see how you get the most out of this versatile instrument that has given us such good times throughout the recent history of music.