whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?
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Old 13-02-2018, 07:03 AM   #1
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whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

My initial idea of learning synthesis and sound design was just learning what wich parameter did to the sound in a very general way and messing around with knobs in synthesizers and other devices and trying to recreate presets.
But someone told me it would be much easier if I learned the math and physics behind sound particularly if learned acoustics that way i wouldnt be going by trial and error and I would know exactly what I was doing.
Now math and physics arent things Im really strong at (below average) but I would be willing to give it a go since its for something im truly passionate about.

So the question is whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

p.s. Sorry this post probably sounds really naive but we all have to start somewhere

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Old 13-02-2018, 09:05 AM   #2
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

I think the part about math is pure bolagna. What is important is that you learn the sounds that a given parameter is capable of generating/effecting.

I think the “quickest” (it took me years) way to get good at sound design is a combination of studying synth manuals, exploring with the synth in an unstructured manner, and challenging yourself to recreate specific sounds that you have encountered. Ideally you would have a more experience person to check your work with.

I reckon there are some small ways that knowing the science of it can help. It seems like at one time I knew exactly how a chorus generated its sound, but eventually I forgot because it’s not that important. I can hear exactly how it sounds in my head tho.

Edit: Because I’m a guitarist who is fond of analogies, I thought of this:

How many guitarist do you think understand the physics equations behind how vibrato works? Or how distortion works? the majority just know how to get the sounds they want. Don’t forget that a synth is just an instrument. The people that are best at their instruments are the ones who got obsessed and just locked themselves in a room and spent all their time trying to perfect the sound they were getting out of it.. not studying math.

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Old 13-02-2018, 10:11 AM   #3
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

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I'm recommending a pair of youtube videos you can watch in the time it would take to watch a movie. These things won't make you an instant synth master, but it's what I wish I had figured out in less than a year and a half. The first one will take you through all the basics, the second one, below, will give you the basis for most modern sounds. Once you have these fundamentals in your toolbox, it gets a lot easier to try and make the sounds you want with subtractive synthesis. You can get more out of other tutorials or out of your conversations with other producers if you know this much. From there, it will be practice, as mnkvolcno said. There's also the synth secrets series in SOS, but that's a lengthy read and maybe goes too deep in some instances, though if you want some of the engineering/math/physics, you can get some of it there.

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Old 13-02-2018, 10:29 AM   #4
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Maths and Physics? There is nothing wrong with learning those, but this is music. Never heard of that being a pre-requisite for learning synthesis. Understanding what a Sine/Square/Triangle/Saw Tooth wave is, is as easy as identifying shapes in kindergarten geometry. Best advice I can give to you is to get your hands on a subtractive analog synth that has one knob per function. Put it on an init preset and explore. Having a tactile instrument to learn with makes the curve a lot smoother. One knob per function means that there is no menu diving. It's all there in front of you like a piano. Synths are usually laid out from left to right according to their signal flow, like reading a book. I learned on a Yamaha Reface CS. Looks like a toy, sounds OK, but you can learn the basics from it. Costs about 250 second hand. Check out craigslist. Don't buy a brand new one. Play with it, always record everything you do, you never know when it might come in handy. Once you feel like you've got all you can out of it, sell it and move on to something a bit more meaty. Novation Bass Station 2 should do the trick. Keep exploring different types of synths, get your hands on as many as possible, beg, borrow, buy. If you want to learn, have the hardware, books will only teach you so much. When you have a question, someone is begging you to subscribe to their channel on YouTube. There are loads of tutorials out there.

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Old 13-02-2018, 03:00 PM   #5
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

As this is your 1st post, it might be of help to others if you told us what if any synth, hardware or vst, you have or use.
If you happen to have an ARP Odyssey, KARP Odyssey, or vst that emulates one, then this would be a good book to learn with, but even if you don't have one this is a good book to get started with.(Link to free PDF below).
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For starting out choose a mono synth, preferably one that doesn't have patch memory. Why? Because you have to write shit down to bring it back again, which helps you learn quicker. Also you have to learn to init a synth too. MiniBrute, KARP, and MS20 mini spring to mind. There are others. but these all have straight forward front panels, with knob/slider per parameter. You do not want to be menu diving at all.

Here's a link that's been on reddit for the 3 years to the complete SOS synth secrets PDF
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Old 13-02-2018, 03:01 PM   #6
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

This is a very good app that takes you through the concepts bit by bit and trains your ear as well.

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Old 13-02-2018, 03:40 PM   #7
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Second Syntorial, really good learning tool.

One thing to remember when starting, small changes change a lot, do not just turn the knobs all the way, be gentle. Listen to what a full turn does, but think in terms of "tuning then fine tuning".

I learned by doing, get a vst synth or app, mess around and listen to what each knob does. Start with a bread and butter synth, Massive might be too much. Look for something with 2 oscillators, filters, envelopes and LFO.

(From here on it gets even more individual and people might be prone to disagree)

I like starting building my sounds from oscillator one, think of it a the main character of your sound, try different waveforms till is seems a decent start, don't worry if it sounds too "bright" we can fix that later.

Now on to the oscillator 2, slowly raise its volume to add some flavour, experiment with tuning and listen to what happens, it might work it might not. When close to something you like move on to low pass filter, cutoff changes the brightness of a sound, resonance adds a bit of something, can't really explain without ears.

Then envelopes (some people start here, I kind see why). The shape of your sound in time.
Does it build up in time? Attack.
Has a pluck? Hi decay/lower sustain.
Fades out? Long release.
Snappy? No attack, short decay, no sustain.

Then filter envelope, how does the brightness sound in time? This one is difficult to explain as well, but think of a guitar string, you hit it and the sound starts bright to then get a bit duller. Try using the same setting for filter and amp envelope, see what happens.

But overall, experiment. Find some youtube tutorial and follow step by step, listening carefully but don't think of recipes, more of guidelines.

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Old 13-02-2018, 05:38 PM   #8
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Damn.. I wish this thread has existed when I started learning synthesis.

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Old 13-02-2018, 05:50 PM   #9
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

In addition to what the guys have already mentioned and suggested, I'd urge you to check out [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
..which is a tutorial site offering free lessons on synthesis. You can jump into any lesson you like or that interests you..or you can follow the whole course starting with the first lesson and working your way through from there.

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Old 13-02-2018, 05:58 PM   #10
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

I’m going to be an aging book whore and suggest Welsh’s Synthesiszer Cookbook series (I think there is a vol 1 and 2).

But all the other suggestions here will do. Eveyone raves about Syntorial. I like Groove3 for tutorials on specifc synths (mostly VSTs there, not a lot of hardware).

Take this with a grain of salt as I am no sound design wizard...but...I basically have spent 10 years doing what you suggest learning subtractive synthesis and I’m pretty darn pleased with myself most of the time these days in regards to sound design. I’m even getting to the point where I think I make fair suggestions on how to create a sound.

I think the two things to learn are paitence and as Auto suggested to work in small increments. I wish I had the ability to make more delicate adjustments. I call bull shrimp on the having to learn math and physics. And I am normally Mr. Learn As Much As Possible (TM). I bet even some of the most well respected sound design nerds don’t know that stuff. (Happy to be proved wrong in any regard though).

Last edited by relic; 13-02-2018 at 07:11 PM..

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Old 13-02-2018, 11:01 PM   #11
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Thanks a lot for all the advice and input!
I think I will keep doing it as I was before and will definitely check out some of the stuff you mentioned I actually posted the same thing on reddit synthesizers and the advice, tools and methods for learning where very similar so this is probably the best way to do it.
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Old 13-02-2018, 11:57 PM   #12
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lech9 View Post
Thanks a lot for all the advice and input!
I think I will keep doing it as I was before and will definitely check out some of the stuff you mentioned I actually posted the same thing on reddit synthesizers and the advice, tools and methods for learning where very similar so this is probably the best way to do it.
Please feel free to come back here and ask more specific questions when you have them. It would be good to get more shop talk going on around this place again.

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Old 14-02-2018, 02:19 AM   #13
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

As a guy that knows a bit about mathematics, physics and synths, I'll say those subjects can be moderately helpful and possibly give you insight, interesting perspective and ideas, but are in no way mandatory to rocking out. Twist knobs, make noise.

On the other hand, if you deep dive into synthesis, you might find a reason for math and physics to become interesting since you'll have something practical to apply it to. Math especially gets more useful if you get into programming stuff in Max, PD or Reaktor.

You might grab a copy of [Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
- it's free, has lots of modules, and is about as close as you can get to modular hardware without spending money. Learn how basic ADSR and routing works, and every synth you touch, virtual or real, will make more sense.

Last edited by Artificer; 14-02-2018 at 02:25 AM..

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Old 14-02-2018, 06:45 AM   #14
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

I can see why the physics and math topic always comes up, but it ought to be shattered chapter. Any periodic function can be described as a linear combination of sine and cosine waves, this is what is known as a Fourier transformation. In music, things happen the other way around. Different sound sources differ in their harmonic content. Its more helpful to know the fundamental and the specific harmonic content of a sound. That this corresponds to a Fourier transformation of the synthesized sound is rather secondary.

Id recommend Welshs Synthesizer cookbook as it goes over this quite nicely. I found the use of visual aids useful when learning. Xfer Serum has a very visual representation of envelopes, filters, and LFOs as well as the underlying waveforms. Seeing all of them in action can be rather illuminating. Also understand the gain reduction over the frequency spectrum for different filters. Again, visuals help, such as in FXpansion Etch.

Look at the output in an oscilloscope and/or spectrum analyzer!

But... do not become reliant on visuals. In the end, you need to develop an ear for it and an intuitive feel of how to get from sound A to B on your synth. Hardware can have its advantages here.

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Old 14-02-2018, 12:18 PM   #15
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Great tip on VC Rack and plenty of tutorials on youtube, check out

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Old 14-02-2018, 05:42 PM   #16
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

I like the idea of getting a knob per function hardware synth. This is what I did back in the day and it really helped me internalize some things in a deeper way. I think it really helps our primitive human brains To have an object to tinker with.

There are a ton of old virtual analogs that you can get for cheap. Korg ms2000, a nord lead 2 would be fantastic, or an old Virus. Great synths. Also one of the new Roland boutique ones would do the trick. Just try to get one that has as many features as possible. The Nord and virus are pretty feature rich and you’ll probably never want to get rid of em

EDIT: Almost forgot....

get a Korg minilogue. The best deal in the history of synths. Would be perfect for learning and it has VCO’s :drool:

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Old 14-02-2018, 06:34 PM   #17
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Quote:
Originally Posted by mnkvolcno View Post
I like the idea of getting a knob per function hardware synth. This is what I did back in the day and it really helped me internalize some things in a deeper way. I think it really helps our primitive human brains To have an object to tinker with.

There are a ton of old virtual analogs that you can get for cheap. Korg ms2000, a nord lead 2 would be fantastic, or an old Virus. Great synths. Also one of the new Roland boutique ones would do the trick. Just try to get one that has as many features as possible. The Nord and virus are pretty feature rich and you’ll probably never want to get rid of em

EDIT: Almost forgot....

get a Korg minilogue. The best deal in the history of synths. Would be perfect for learning and it has VCO’s :drool:
There really is something about developing muscle memory with a simple synth that really teaches my mind anyway. Owning hardware synths 100% took my quicker further than software. There is somehow a disconnect. Likewise, routing real wires to a mixer and dealing with all that noise out of the box also tought me a lot about mixing and audio routing that using a DAW never did.

This is not a call for people to go all OTB, but if you get the oppurtunity to work this way, do it! I don’t think you’ll ever really appiciate what you can do with gainstaging in a DAW until you have to work with analog headroom on a 16 channel board 2 aux board (or whatever)...a big ass 909 or 808 peaking like people let them in digital land...HA...ALL your headroom GONE on a mixer...

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Old 21-02-2018, 03:10 AM   #18
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

I thought i knew synthesis from my years using Hardware and software synths but it was when i went modular and started building DIY modules that i really learnt what was going on.

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Old 06-03-2018, 10:06 PM   #19
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Wow, this thread O_O

There is actually a set of courses on Coursera taught by Berklee College of Music, and I took a few of them. I don't think I'm allowed to place links yet, but there's one project-based course where you download a demo of FXpansion's Strobe2, and the instructor guides you on how to create different types of sounds, like kicks, leads, etc. so you can write your first song. That gave me a major boost in my music-making endeavors.

My music buddy who has like 10-15 years on me also said that reverse engineering presets is a great way to figure out what's going on when you're a total noob.

I hope that adds something of value to this already priceless thread. Still noob-ish myself.
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Old 07-03-2018, 06:00 PM   #20
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Re: whats the best way to learn synthesis and sound design?

Just wanted to throw out there that the beat battles on this forum can provide a great challenge in learning sound design (and composition and arranging obviously). Chop up the samples and throw them in a capable sampler. Remember that a sampler is just a synth with samples as oscillators.

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