Every musical instrument has the ability to manipulate (to varying degrees)  the 3 properties of sound.
  • Pitch
  • Tone
  • Volume

The way in which each instrument does this is dependant on its physical design and structure. A guitar will always sound different to a trombone due to how each is constructed and how the sound is produced within them.

Every note played on any instrument is not just a single note, but a combination of strong and weak harmonics stretched across the audio spectrum. It is these differences in harmonic structure that defines the Timbre or Tone of an instrument.

Synthesisers are a good way to break down sound into simpler components so that we can get a grasp of how it all works at a fundamental level.

In this article we look look at the very basics of the components of a synthesiser and how they interact with sound at each point ultimately having the ability to completely hand craft and almost limitless variation of sounds.

The average synthesiser is made up of 5 stages. These are: 
  • Oscillator
  • Filter
  • Amplifier
  • LFO
  • Envelope

Where the initial sound is produced. The oscillator builds a user chosen waveform type (sine, sawtooth, square etc). 
These waveforms are a combination of fundamental and harmonic frequencies.
Each basic wave shape has its own tonal characteristics and is used as a starting point for the final sound that you are looking for. On its own however, without any filters or modulation these initial sounds tend to be harsh and unpleasant.

To begin shaping the sound a filter is used to cut out a portion of the frequencies, usually starting with the highs by means of a low pass filter.
The type and specific characteristics of the filter used will have a major impact on the overall tone of the sound produced.
One common technique is to create 'Resonance' by adding a slight bump at the cutoff frequency.

The Amplifier section simply does what amplifiers to best and act as a gain stage in the synthesiser chain.
The major difference between this and a standard amplifier however is that it is designed to be modulated in different ways, often very fast, to add sonic characteristics to the final sound produced.

The Low Frequency Oscillator is another point where a waveform is introduced.
Rather than being the basis to the sound being produced however, the LFO creates a shape for the signal so far to follow thus modulating a certain characteristic of the sound (ie. pitch) to create a sense of movement.

The Envelope instructs the sound how to behave once it has been engaged by means of a user controlled interface such as a keystroke.
In other words the enveloped controls how the sound changes over time from 'note on' to 'note off' states.
The Envelope control is almost always Attack (how long it takes the note to get to full volume), Decay (how long until the note settles back to its main volume), Sustain (the level that the note remains at until the note off instruction) and Release (how long it takes the volume to fall to 0 after being released.



03/10/2016 8:34am

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08/21/2016 8:56pm

Wow! I've never know about this sound facts! Great! Thanks a lot for sharing that with us!

09/22/2016 11:29pm

Thank you for this informative post. To tell you the truth, I honestly didn't know that sound consists of pitch, tone, and volume. I guess synthesizers are really important when it comes to making music and other types of recording. With this marvelous machination, many musicians can magically make meaningful music.

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01/05/2017 2:10am

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