- Part 1: What's In A Sound?
- Part 2: The Physics Of Percussion
The first part of this series explained how the tones of most real
instruments can be reduced to patterns of harmonics, which can be
generated using sine, saw, square or pulse waveforms. This month, Gordon
Reid considers the sonic raw materials needed to imitate unpitched
- Part 3: Modifiers & Controllers
Gordon Reid moves on from discussing the harmonic components of sound to
explaining how they change over time, and some of the tools subtractive
synths give you to emulate this process
- Part 4: Of Filters & Phase Relationships
Having dealt last month with the concepts of envelopes, oscillators and
LFOs, Gordon Reid moves on to the subject of filters, and the havoc they
wreak on the signals that pass through them.
- Part 5: Further With Filters
Gordon Reid continues his series on the theory of subtractive synthesis
by delving deeper into the amazingly complex world of the analogue audio
- Part 6: Of Responses And Resonance
- Part 7: Envelopes, Gates & Triggers
You press a key on your synth. It plays a note. That's it, right? Wrong.
Gordon Reid explains the role of envelopes, triggers, and gates in this
deceptively simple process.
- Part 8: More About Envelopes
Gordon Reid reveals some of the limitations of the 'classic' ADSR
envelope with reference to a practical synthesis example, and explains
some of the different types of envelopes found on 'classic' analogue
synths, from AR envelopes right up to highly flexible digitally
- Part 9: An Introduction To VCAs
- Part 10: Modulation
In this month's instalment of his series on the basics of subtractive
synthesis, Gordon Reid considers the magic ingredient that makes all the
other elements sound interesting...
- Part 11: Amplitude Modulation
Last month, Gordon Reid examined the concept of modulation at low
frequencies. This month, he speeds things up a bit. The result is not
just faster versions of the same modulation effects, but a new type of
- Part 12: An Introduction To Frequency Modulation
As Gordon Reid explained last month, audio-frequency modulation of the
amplitude of a signal can be a powerful synthesis tool. The
possibilities expand still further when we consider what happens when
you use one audio-frequency signal to modulate the frequency of another
- Part 13: More On Frequency Modulation
Last month, we examined the frankly scary maths allowing you to predict
the audible effects of Frequency Modulation. This month, although the
maths gets even tougher, Gordon Reid relates the theory to the practical
implementation of FM synthesis on Yamaha's digital synths, as well as
modular and non-modular analogues
- Part 14: An Introduction To Additive Synthesis
Every pitched sound can be thought of as a collection of individual sine
waves at frequencies related to the fundamental. Gordon Reid introduces
a powerful method of synthesis that works by manipulating these
- Part 15: An Introduction To ESPS And Vocoders
Gordon Reid turns his attention to the effects that can be achieved when
subtractive synthesis components are applied not to the output from
oscillators, but to real-world sounds -- such as human speech.
- Part 16: From Sample And Hold To Sample-rate Converters (1)
Gordon Reid introduces the synthesis modules that allow you to create a
number of commonly used 'random' effects, and their close relatives --
- Part 17: From Sample And Hold To Sample-rate Converters (2)
- Part 18: Priorities And Triggers
In these days of 64-note polyphony and 32-part multitimbrality, it's
easy to forget the importance of note-priority systems in analogue
monosynths -- yet they can have a drastic effect on what you hear when
you play or trigger an old synth. Gordon Reid provides a refresher
- Part 19: Duophony
Gordon Reid discovers that two's company, as he investigates how
manufacturers stretched the capabilities of analogue monosynths to offer
the magnificent total of two notes at a time...
- Part 20 Introducing Polyphony
Having explored the way monophonic and duophonic analogue keyboards
work, Gordon Reid puts away his Minimoog and Odyssey and descends into
the complex world of polyphonic synths to a flourish of complex jazz
- Part 21 From Polyphony To Digital Synths
Polyphony is hard to achieve on analogue synths without incurring hideous
expense. This month, Gordon Reid explains how synth manufacturers employed
digital technology to overcome this problem.
- Part 22: From Springs, Plates & Buckets to Physical Modellin
Onboard effects may seem like a relatively recent synth innovation, but
even old modular synths offered analogue effects. Although they were
basic, the freely patchable nature of modular synths allowed them to be
used to create convincing acoustic instrument sounds . thus effectively
physical modelling. Gordon Reid explains how.
- Part 23: Formant Synthesis
- Part 24: Synthesizing Wind Instruments
Gordon Reid embarks on a journey to synthesize convincing woodwind and brass. This month, he considers how these instruments make their sounds in real life.
- Part 25: Synthesizing Brass Instruments
Gordon Reid builds on the acoustic theory of wind and brass instruments he introduced last month, and explains how to produce a convincing analogue trumpet sound.
- Part 26: Brass Synthesis On A Minimoog
Last month we looked at how analogue modules can reproduce the sound of a
real trumpet. All very well if you own a wall-sized modular system . but
what if your means are more limited? Gordon Reid adapts theory to practice
with a Minimoog
- Part 27: Roland SH101/ARP Axxe Brass Synthesis
Gordon Reid concludes his attempts to adapt an idealised analogue brass
patch so that it can be programmed on real synths. This month, he looks at
the Roland SH101 and ARP Axxe.
- Part 28: Synthesizing Plucked Strings
Having dealt exhaustively with the mechanics of brass instruments and how
to go about synthesizing them, Gordon Reid turns to instruments that use
plucked strings to generate their sound, taking the complexities of the
acoustic guitar as an example...
- Part 29: The Theoretical Acoustic Guitar Patch
Having explained last month the reasons why analogue synthesis of guitar
sounds should be well-nigh impossible, Gordon Reid puts the theory to
- Part 30: A Final Attempt To Synthesize Guitars
Having proved that subtractive synthesis of an acoustic guitar is
completely impractical, Gordon Reid tries his hand at the electric
variety, and deconstructs some past attempts to emulate the sound via
- Synthesizing Percussion
Synth Secrets turns its attention to the synthesis of percussion instruments, beginning with pitched drums
- Practical Percussion Synthesis
- Synthesizing Drums: The Bass Drum
Ever wanted to synthesize unpitched membranophones? No? Well, you might
if you knew that bass and snare drums are of this percussion type. We
show you how
- Practical Bass Drum Synthesis
Moving from last month's theoretical bass drum synth patch to its
practical application on affordable analogue synths, we also take a look
at how the world's most famous drum machines produce this fundamental
- Synthesizing Drums: The Snare Drum
If you thought synthesizing realistic bass drums was complex, that's
nothing compared to snares. So how is it that the analogue snare sound
is so well known? And how do you go about creating it? We find out...
- Practical Snare Drum Synthesis
Last month, we revealed just how hideously complex the sound-producing
mechanism of the snare drum can be. Nevertheless, synthesizing the sound
is not as hard as it seems, as we find out with the aid of a Roland
- Analysing Metallic Percussion
- Synthesizing Realistic Cymbals
- Practical Cymbal Synthesis
- Synthesizing Bells
Having come up last month with a reasonably realistic cymbal patch, it's
time to take the principles of synthesizing metallic percussion one
stage further, and produce bell sounds. But there's more to this than
you might think
- Synthesizing Cowbells & Claves
Having learned last month how to synthesize tuned bells, we turn this
month, in the last of this series on the subject of percussion, to
untuned bells -- in the form of the humble cowbell -- and claves.
- Synthesizing Pianos
Surely the only convincing synth pianos are sample-based ones? A sound as
rich and expressive as that of an acoustic piano is far too complex to be
rendered by subtractive synthesis... isn't it? We find out...
- Synthesizing Acoustic Pianos On The Roland JX10
As explained last month, synthesizing the sound of an acoustic piano is
difficult, but it can be done reasonably realistically, as the
1986-vintage Roland JX10 shows. We find out how Roland managed it...
- Synthesizing Acoustic Pianos On The Roland JX10
How did they make that sound on a subtractive synth? We continue to
dissect the analogue 'Acoustic Piano' Perfomance from Roland's
- Synthesizing Acoustic Pianos On The Roland JX10
When trying to copy a real piano with an analogue synth, if one patch
doesn't quite do it, two just might...
- Synthesizing Strings: String Machines
Analogue synths can't synthesize every sound, but the attempts made to
replicate the sound of orchestral strings were so successful that
so-called string machines became much-loved instruments in their own
right. We begin a voyage into the world of synthesized strings...
- Synthesizing Strings, PWM & String Sounds
Pulse-width modulation is a vital tool in achieving lush-sounding
synthesized string pads . so what if your synth doesn't have it? Fear
not . for PWM can itself be synthesized. Here's how...
- Synthesizing Bowed Strings: the Violin family
Following our success at synthesizing the sound of analogue string
machines, we hone our techniques with a view to recreating the sound of
the real thing
- Practical Bowed-string Synthesis
Having looked at the mechanics of how a bowed string instrument
generates its sound last month, it's time to put these principles into
practice, using nothing more complex than a miniKorg 700 monophonic
- Practical Bowed-string Synthesis (continued
After putting all our bowed-string synthesis theory into practice on a
Korg 700 last month, we found that the result was only acceptable as a
string sound with a lot of wishful thinking. Can we improve on it?
- Articulation & Bowed-string Synthesis
The skilful articulation of a synthesized string patch can improve it no
end, even one created using very basic building blocks, as we saw at the
end of last month. But we can take this approach much further...
- Synthesizing Pan Pipes
The characteristic sound of flute-like instruments is complex . but
fortunately not so complex that it can't be emulated fairly successfully
with a synthesizer
- Synthesizing Simple Flutes
The Monty Python team once famously claimed that being able to play the
flute was a simple matter of 'blowing here, and moving your hands up and
down here'. But there's a lot more to it than that...
- Practical Flute Synthesis
As we saw last month, there's much to synthesizing a convincing flute
sound . and yet basic analogue monosynths have offered reasonable flute
patches for 30 years. Surely the process can be simplified?