Synths either play in a monophonic or polyphonic capacity, meaning they will either play one note at a time or more than one. Being limited to one note might sound restricting, but it can open up the ability to create a range of textures.
Try creating trills by placing a long MIDI note and then peppering very short notes on top. This will usually create a very fast sliding legato sound that can spice up any melody.
If your synth patch is tuned to a chord in major thirds, take a close look at the fine-tuning because small changes here can make a real difference to the timbre of the voice. The standard tuning we use for Western music is actually slightly out of tune, so if you flatten the major third, it will become justly intonated, reducing the shimmering, detuned effect usually heard.
Some synthesizers have ‘hidden’ parameters that don’t have a control on the front panel, but that can be accessed via the synth’s modulation system. For instance, Dune CM does not have phase controls for the oscillators, seemingly, but you can access the phase as a modulation destination in the mod matrix.
Are your synth sounds clicking at the start or end of notes? This can be especially noticeable on pure tones like sine waves, but there’s a super-easy fix: just turn up the attack and release very slightly until the problem goes away.
Add punch to any sub bass sound by using an envelope to modulate its pitch by about +24 semitones. With the envelope set to an instant attack and fast decay, you’ll get a kick drum-esque thump to the start of your sub. Oof!
Unison detune can create gnarly bass noises, but you will likely find that there’s noticeable variation in the level of the lowest harmonics, leaving the sub-bass uneven – most undesirable for modern dance productions. Solve this by using high-pass filtering to kill the low end of your sound, then add another track playing the same notes using a super-solid sine wave sub bass to supply the missing low end.
The robotic ‘yoi’ bass heard in countless Dubstep tracks is great fun to play with and very easy to synthesize. Set up a square wave patch with a high-resonance low-pass filter swept by an LFO or envelope. Add a bit-crusher effect after the synth and reduce its sample rate until you get that vowel-like texture. Sugar Bytes Cyclop plugin is a great tool to have for making those Dubstep wobble sounds.
Rock productions get super-wide guitar sounds by recording the same parts twice – or more! – and panning these subtly different (in performance and, sometimes, timbre) parts hard left and right. You can mimic this approach with synths, giving girth to any sound.
Duplicate your synth track, pan the original hard left and the copy hard right, then make a few tweaks to the patch on one – keep it subtle, though, unless you specifically want a lopsided effect. This technique is also known as the Haas effect.
- You can also read: What is the Hass effect
Want that classic FM bell sound? Get started by setting up two operators, both sine waves, using the first to modulate the second. Offset the first operator such that its ratio is around 0.3 (or about -20/-21 semitones).
Increase the modulation amount until you hear a bell-like ‘gong’, then program a suitable amplitude envelope. Add chorus and reverb for further effect, and play the patch in the upper octaves for a glassy DX7-esque bell tone.
Synthesis of a Hammond-style organ by stacking sine wave voices tuned to the harmonic series. Adjust the levels of these voices as you would drawbars on a real organ.
Add some chorus (or even better, a rotary speaker simulator) to mimic the ‘swimming’ effect of a Hammond organ’s Leslie speaker, a dash of room reverb, and you’re done!
If you want to design your own sounds from scratch, starting from a complex preset may well make doing so more difficult than it needs to be (unless it’s already in the ballpark of the sound you’re looking for, of course).
Loading a synth’s initialization patch, often named “Init”, is a shortcut to a blank canvas. If your synth doesn’t have such a patch, set one up and save it: dial in a single sawtooth oscillator, open the filter right up, create a basic amplitude envelope, and disable/turn down all modulation and effects.
Synths often feature a ring modulation control, which works by multiplying the signal with another. This can create weird digital sounds or even strange, bell-like tones. This can be great in pads if it’s a per-oscillator control, as linking a second or third oscillator’s ring mod control to a slow, sweeping LFO can create movement and texture within pads.
The effect can get overpowering, so experiment with how much modulation it’s receiving to create interesting sounds.
When making a lead sound, you’ll often want to give it an evolving quality to keep it engaging. It is, after all, often doing the job of a vocal can further enhance the expressive, lyrical quality of a good synth line, but consider using an envelope to control the vibrato amount so that it’s introduced gradually to the sound, gradually ‘wobbling’ more as the note is held.
This gives an effect more in line with a real vocalist or instrumentalist, where vibrato is often introduced over time.
As well as sounding cool, this approach has the added benefit of making sure every note is initially on-pitch, making it great for melodies that combine fast runs and sustained notes.
Vibrato can further enhance the expressive, lyrical quality of a good synth line, but consider using an envelope to control the vibrato amount so that it’s introduced gradually to the sound, gradually ‘wobbling’ more as the note is held.
This gives an effect more in line with a real vocalist or instrumentalist, where vibrato is often introduced over time. As well as sounding cool, this approach has the added benefit of making sure every note is initially on-pitch, making it great for melodies that combine fast runs and sustained notes.
Methods of Sound Synthesis:
- additive synthesis – combining tones, used for typical harmonics of varying amplitudes
- subtractive synthesis – filtering of complex sounds to shape harmonic spectrum, typically starting with geometric waves.
- frequency modulation synthesis – modulating a carrier wave with one or more operators
- sampling – using recorded sounds as sound sources subject to modification
- composite synthesis – using artificial and sampled sounds to establish resultant “new” sound
- phase distortion – altering the speed of waveforms stored in wavetables during playback
- waveshaping – intentional distortion of a signal to produce a modified result
- resynthesis – modification of digitally sampled sounds before playback
- granular synthesis – combining of several small sound segments into a new sound
- linear predictive coding – a technique for speech synthesis
- direct digital synthesis – computer modification of generated waveforms
- wave sequencing – linear combinations of several small segments to create a new sound
- vector synthesis – a technique for fading between any number of different sound sources
- physical modeling – mathematical equations of acoustic characteristics of sound
Many of these synthesis methods are combined or layered within a single interface for better usability in the creation of unique synthesizers. To better understand these methods, you must experiment, and combine them.
In the modern computer age, all of these forms of synthesis are present in the most common software synthesizers on the market.
You may also like to read: How to Synthesize Drums