A Basic Introduction To Synthesis

If you’re interested in producing electronic dance music you should know how to build your own sounds. This process is called synthesis and you will use a synthesiser to mould out your own sounds. This skill comes in very handy when producing music such as dubstep, drum and base and dance and has its uses with all music genres.

In this tutorial I will guide you through the basic of your synthesiser so you begin to develop your own sounds. Please be aware there is quite a significant learning curve to building your own sounds. Don’t be discouraged if you initial sounds are awful, think of learning to use your synthesiser as learning a new instrument. With that said let’s begin.

The first thing you will want to do is to initialise your synthesiser of choice. All synths will have this option. What this does is reset all settings on your synth to their default settings so you can start with a clean slate.

What we will be doing is a process called subtractive synthesis. Sounds more complicated than it is don’t worry. We start with a sound created by your synth and then cut away the parts we don’t want until we are left with a sound we don’t want; hence subtractive synthesis. We will start then with creating a raw sound we can start to carve.


We create our raw sound using oscillators. Oscillators create a sound wave. Typical waves include a saw wave, sine wave and a square wave. Many more waves are possible but they are usually a combination of these basic waves. Each has a distinctive sound so be sure to check how each sounds individually.


Once you have your oscillators creating basic waves we will need to cut these waves and remove all the parts that we don’t want. A filter is exactly what it sounds like it filters part of a sound. For example a low pass filter cuts all frequencies above a certain frequency; effectively leaving just the bass part of a sound. Try moving the “freq” knob of the filter to see how it affects the sound. You will quickly learn how filters affect a sound.

Amp Envelope

Next in your journey is the amp envelope. The amp envelope controls how the sound evolves over time. Does it start a full volume immediately? Does it end abruptly or fade out? Does it reach full volume over time or immediately? These are the question answered by the amp envelope.

There is so much more to synthesis than this brief article would suggest, I recommend you experiment with all the settings to learn how each one affects the sound differently. If you would like much more detailed technical introduction check out this article