Reduce your dependency on synth presets, learn to program any sound you hear or conceive, and begin honing your sound as a producer or beat maker right now…
You’ve come to the right place if you want to learn how to learn sound design or synth programming, but first, let’s start with a fact…
It’s quite ok to utilize synth presets. Indeed, with so many high-quality presets accessible now, it makes sense to save time while working on your song.
There are certain limitations to relying only on synth presets:
- In a track, another producer could utilize the same synth preset.
- You’ll never be able to master the usage of your synth or synthesizers.
- When you don’t know how to program synthesizers from scratch, it’s difficult to generate a distinct sound.
There are no two ways about it:
if you’re serious about your profession as a music producer or beatmaker, the ability to program any sound you hear or can envision is a critical talent to master.
Once you’ve realized this, the next step is to find out how to learn sound or synth programming…
1. Begin with ONE synthesizer
Yes, you read it correctly, ONE. You must concentrate your scope and concentrate on one synth if you really want to master synthesis and sound creation. Get to know it from the inside out. Because an in-depth study of a particular synth leads to a deep grasp of synthesis in general, having a good foundation in one synth makes learning others SO much simpler. It’s less crucial if you continue with this axe over the long haul. Choose ONE if you want to use this initial synth as a learning tool for synthesis.
2. Select the Proper Synth
The issue now is, which synth will you choose? Will you be bringing which fortunate lady/gentleman to the prom?
First and foremost, make sure it’s subtractive. I won’t bother you with a scientific explanation of the term subtractive. Partly because I don’t want to, but primarily because knowing the technical meaning of subtractive will help you select a synth about as much as knowing how to use a soup ladle would help you win a thumb war. Just keep in mind that most synthesizers are subtractive, which means they’ll include waveforms like Saw, Pulse, Triangle, probably Sine, and perhaps a few more. Consult the synth’s website, manual, developer, manufacturer, grandma, next-door neighbor, neighborhood butcher, or OBGYN if in doubt. FM, granular, physical modeling, and wavetable are examples of non-subtractive synth types. Keep your distance from them (for now). You’re probably too young to date them in the first place.
Second, make things simple. Manufacturers and developers of synthesizers prefer to impress you with feature lists. They may put their feature lists anywhere they like. The synthesizers I suggest are listed below. There are SO MANY fantastic synthesizers available. These synthesizers, on the other hand, give a great variety of essential synth characteristics without overdoing them.
- U-He Diva – Fantastic sounding.
- Sylenth1 – Also fantastic sounding. Built-in layering capibility may raise the learning curve a bit, but once you get the hang of it, it’s capable of producing more in-depth and layered patches.
- Sunrizer – Great iPad synth (for you tablet-eers).
3. Become acquainted with your synthesizer
So, you’ve finally made the decision to be monogamous. What’s the best way to get to know him/her/it now?
To begin, go through each preset one at a time, playing each one and storing the ones you like in a separate folder. Do this until you have roughly 50 presets with a variety of leads, basses, pads, and everything else your synth has to offer.
After that, open two instances of your synth and set the second one to simply a normal saw wave sound. Then, one by one, open each of your 50 presets on the first synth and manually recreate them on the second synth by visually matching the settings and referencing the manual as needed. Play the second synth every time you change a control while doing this. You’ll be able to hear how each step takes you closer to the default sound this way.
You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn about your synth this way. You’ll get to know every nook and cranny of your synth, but more significantly, you’ll start to notice which components of it control sound in a manner that you like. After all, these are patches you choose based on your own particular preferences.
4. Put Presets Where They Belong
So you’ve gotten to know each other very well already. Your new boyfriend enjoys destroying eardrums, launching sonic laser beams, and melting brains, while you like sci-fi, origami, and romcoms. You and I are a perfect fit. So now it’s time to start slapping these wonderful sounding presets all over your tunes, right?!
That’s incorrect. Presets are a William Wallace-sized double-edged sword. On the one hand, they may sound incredible. And who needs to know anything about programming synthesizers when Richard Devine has already put his heart, soul, sweat, tears, coffee, earwax, mental health, and knuckle juice into a stunning collection of presets for your enjoyment?
To begin with, they sound fantastic since they often have a lot going on. They may be drenched in effects, or they may have several sources influencing several destinations, resulting in a kaleidoscope of movement and activity. They are, after all, intended to highlight the synth, while usable patches are often simpler, providing more room for the other instruments in the track.
Second, there’s a low chance you’ll locate a patch that sounds precisely like the one you’re hearing in your brain. And if you do find anything similar, you’ll have to alter it, which will need programming abilities, which is exactly what you were hoping to avoid when you opted to pore through a billion presets in the first place.
Are presets, on the other hand, the anti-Christ? No, it’s not true. They may serve as an excellent beginning point for a track since, as I previously said, they frequently sound terrific. This way, instead of attempting to fit it into an already-constructed track, you can create your masterpiece around it.
Even if you already have the track, if you’re stuck for ideas and musically and psychologically constipated, a great preset might be just what your ear canals need (too much with the poop analogy?). Just know that you’ll have to tinker with it to make it work.
5. Develop Your Programming Skills
So gentlemanly be used in moderation, much like fast food, candy, and high fives. What you should actually be doing is hand-programming this mother from the ground up. As though it were clay. Alternatively, mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes, to be precise.
This topic is worthy of its own article. Articles, Youtube videos, DVDs, books, websites, training software, friends, classes, instructors, and plain old trial and error are just a few of the alternatives.
Of course, Syntorial comes highly recommended by me. That’s not simply because you’d be helping me fill my Scrooge McDuck vault by purchasing it. I also feel it is the most efficient method of learning synthesis. But, for the sake of this piece, I won’t attempt to persuade you. Try the demo if you’re interested. That’s all I have to say about it.
Alternatively, before creating Syntorial, I found the following procedure to be useful:
Step 1: Understand the fundamentals of technology. This may be accomplished in a variety of ways. The most frequent factors are covered in several books, films, and articles. While this won’t convert you become a sound designer, it will provide you with a solid intellectual foundation that will at the very least enable you to comprehend how a synth works. Synthesizer Programming by Peter Gorges is by far my personal favorite (not the book by the same name written by Helen Casabona and David Frederick). Power Tools For Synthesizer Programming and How To Make A Noise: Analog Synthesis are two additional choices. Gearslutz and KVRAudio forums are also excellent places to obtain suggestions. ONE of them, whatever you select, should be read. There aren’t two. There aren’t three. ONLY ONE.
Step 2: Now that you’ve taken care of the technical aspects, it’s time to start developing fixes. Sadly, even with all of this information, you’ll probably still find yourself gazing at your synth, idly twiddling like a kid with an iPad. This is due to the fact that you’ve just trained your thoughts so far, not your ears.
You’ll need some guided programming. This is where patch re-creation comes into play. Get your hands on a copy of Steal This Sound. It’s a compilation of how-to-make-this-famous-patch step-by-step articles from Keyboard Magazine over the last ten years. Listen to each patch first, then follow along with the instructions and attempt to recreate it on your synth. Do as many as you can since this will help you relate what each control performs to the sound it produces. When we program patches, we typically have a notion of how we want them to sound rattling about in our heads, but we don’t know how to convert it into knob adjustments. Replicating patches mimics this process, resulting in the formation of a bridge between the ear and the synth, which becomes stronger with each patch.
Step 3: Take it to the next level. Open two instances of your synth, one of which should be initialized. Then, on the first synth, pull up each of your favorite presets and recreate them on the second synth, this time without glancing at the first synth. You’re now re-creating them entirely by ear, without any visual aid. Try recreating patches from some of your favorite records if you want to take it even farther (crazy).
Whatever method you choose, the most essential thing is to TRAIN YOUR EAR!!!! If you don’t start constructing a bridge between what you hear and your synth, all the books and videos in the world won’t help you.
6. Begin to make your own patches
Number 5 was a bit of a slog. Yes, I like hearing myself speak. Or, more precisely, the appearance of my words.
In any case, you are a one-of-a-kind snowflake. As a result, start behaving like one. Start from the ground up and create your own patches. Rules and principles begin to go by the wayside here, but there is one core driving principle that, on the few occasions that I find the confidence to follow it, ensures that I make my favorite patches:
Make the patches that you wish to make.
Isn’t that mind-boggling? I guess I just blasted your head right off your shoulders, so you may want to turn around and check down. What about your socks? I completely forgot about your socks. Those pups were knocked off by me.
Seriously, we all start to have notions in our heads about what our patches SHOULD sound like, what producer styles are popular right now, what sorts of patches FIT a certain genre, etc., etc., yadda yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, etcetera But, at the end of the day, none of it matters. Make your own decisions. Because nothing great has ever come from a copycat. Imitators produced a lot of alright, middling, and bleh. You’ll need to connect with your synth on a deep and intimate level if you truly want to make it dance. Why do you suppose I had you recreate your FAVORITE settings, the ones that stood out because you liked them? Bam, you’ve been Miaggi’d. Thank you so much for painting my fence.
But, honestly, let go of all your BS mental filters and start twisting and turning until you hear noises you like. So be it if that’s normal. That’s the way it is if it’s so strange it’s verging on unlistenable. Whatever the outcome of a patch, your success as a programmer should be determined only by one factor: do you like what you created?
7. Make a recording and then program it
This isn’t always feasible, but when it is, take advantage of it. In the piano roll, record (or click). If you’re like that kind of stuff. Slacker.) the segment that will be played by the synth. Then loop it and listen to it while programming. Now all you have to do is sit back and relax while programming the synth. You don’t have to program with one hand while playing with the other. This may seem like a little point, but removing one item off your brain’s to-do list frees it up to devote more attention to the other. This little distinction may enable a more open and relaxed procedure.
You certainly can’t record the segment if you don’t know it yet. However, when you begin to play and program, if you find yourself playing the same or similar item again and again, make a recording of it. Even if it isn’t the exact section you’ll need, it’s worth it to free yourself from the pressure of playing so you can devote your mental abilities to programming.
8. Human vs. Robot
There are several methods to play a synth nowadays. Sequencers, arpeggiators, mouse-clicking on the piano roll, and strange tiny midi plugins are just a few of the tools available. Oh, and there are these other things called Fingers that you may or may not have heard of. They’ve been around for a long time and may be used for a variety of tasks, including putting together Lego sets, painting cave walls, and expressing road anger. More crucially, they can be used to play synthesizers.
Now, since I grew up taking classical piano instruction, I can tear through a keyboard like nobody’s business. I’m not boasting; I’m just providing you with the facts. As a result, I prefer to play everything and seldom use anything other than my fingers. However, this does not imply that you must take years of piano training. After all, the majority of playable synth pieces are quite easy. The trick is to know when you should play it with your hands and when you should leave it to your Commodore 64.
So, what are the main distinctions? A computer, on the other hand, can do some insanely intricate and rapid tasks that most people’s hands just cannot. Consider a very rapid arpeggiator. Alternatively, you may be assembling a large pad with a multi-octave range of held notes, which is most likely beyond the stretchability of your hands. This is an excellent use for a mouse and a piano roll.
When a segment is playable, however, the hands can complete it far more quickly. It can be tiresome to click rather than clicking it in, playing it back, editing, playing back, etc., you can hear the part as you play it, making it a lot more fluid and artistically exciting process.
Finally, if you require a human feel for the role, you’ll have to rely on your fingertips. Yes, many DAWs contain a “humanize” option that allows you to loosen up a computer-precise section. However, technology simply cannot match with a genuine human impression created by a role performed by human hands. All of the little variations in rhythm and velocity (assuming velocity is routed to something like volume or cutoff) may give a synth’s highly electronic and often frigid sound some genuine heart. Alternatively, if you want the super-precise rhythm that only a computer can provide, you may simply quantize the portion after it has been recorded.
In any case, I suggest learning fundamental playing abilities to speed up and enjoy your creative process. I’m not suggesting you take ten years of piano lessons from the elderly woman down the street. Simply learn some fundamental techniques and force yourself to PLAY the more basic pieces you come up with.
9. Provide Me With More Synths!!
Let’s go on. You’ve arrived in the future. And when it comes to programming a subtractive synth, you’re a horrible mamma-jamma. However, your palette is depleted. You’ve exhausted and investigated the sounds available via subtractive synthesis. So, what’s next?
Other methods of synthesis include wavetable, frequency modulation, granular, spectral, and physical modeling, to name a few. It’s now time to choose one
Of course, if you want to experiment with a different form of synthesis, go ahead. In fact, download a demo of each synth, play about with the presets, get a feel for the different sorts of sounds they produce, and then choose the one you prefer. Keep in mind that some of your subtractive abilities will not transfer, and there may be certain settings and settings that are drastically different.
There are a few reasons why you may want to switch to a subtractive synth. Perhaps the one you’re using now is rather basic. In this situation, you may upgrade to a subtractive synth with a lot more features. Keep in mind that you may not be able to get considerably different sounding patches, but it will allow you to go further into subtractive synthesis, refining and producing more subtle distinctions in your sounds.
You could also come upon a synth that resonates with you. Sometimes I’ll try a new synth and fall in love with it for no apparent reason. I’m never sure why this happens. I just pay attention to my gut reaction and go with it.
To put it another way, you should have a compelling motive to purchase your next synth. Purchasing synthesizers for the sole purpose of getting additional presets is one especially terrible reason worth addressing. Now, if you’re happy to rely only on defaults and never intend to learn how to program, by all means, utilize them. However, be aware that purchasing synthesizers only for their presets is a route that will lead to Gear Acquisition Syndrome. You’ll have a boatload of synthesizers before you know it, none of which you can program. On the bunny slopes, you’ll be the skier with the most costly equipment. A tourist impersonating a native. And you’ll spend the most of your creative time scrolling through countless preset options. That is ANNOYING.
So get it to broaden your palette or just for the love of synths.
10. Don’t Use Skill For Skill’s Sake
So you’ve labored and clawed your way to being a sound design super beast before your time. When you learn a new talent, you may get the false impression that you have to utilize it right away. You may feel compelled to program the living daylights out of every patch you create.
Don’t do it. It’s all about the music, remember. And if the music asks for something basic, you should give it just that. It makes no difference how skilled you are at programming synthesizers. It doesn’t matter how much time or money you’ve invested in getting there. It simply matters that you create and choose the appropriate sounds. It doesn’t matter whether they’re basic or sophisticated. So let the music dictate what is needed of you, and embrace the idea that you will sometimes produce patches that a less-skilled you might have done.