Oscillators FAQ

In our previous tutorial, we talked about the characteristics of different waveforms and the type of sound that each waveform can produce. Before we move on to part 2 of the “When and Why”, here are a couple of the common questions I get, and my usual answers to them. If these questions popped up in your mind too, this should clarify!

Q. The example sounds you’ve mentioned are real world instruments. Like sawtooth for strings, and square for clarinets. But what if I want to make my own sounds that does not model any real instrument? What if I want to make a sound that hasn’t ever been made or heard yet?

A: Well actually, most of the times, that’s the idea! When programming synths, you’ll usually want to create a truly unique and unheard-of sound. Of course, you can also program synths to model a real world instrument. (There are some excellent patches in many commercial synths that model real instruments, and they sound so close to the real thing). But for me, personally, the fun is in coming up with something truly new and amazing that sounds great in the context of the track, and thus makes the track sound great. (If I want a ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ sounding piano on a track, I prefer to use a sampler, rather than programming it to make it sound authentic).

Of course, this is just my personal preference. If imitating real instruments on your synth interests you, then let me, by no means, discourage you! It’s a very challenging and interesting task, as the human ear is good at distinguishing between, say, a recorded piano sample and a synthesized piano note. So, it’s really a true test of synthesis skills!

I think I’ve digressed. To answer the question, the real instrument examples were to give you an idea about the timbre of sounds you can generate, so that you can choose the right waveform as a starting point. So, for example, since you know that saw is good for string-like sounds, that’ll be your first choice of waveforms for making that “Aliens Playing Strings on the Frozen Sea on Mars” patch.

Q: The timbre of a waveform is well and good, but we are using two waveforms here! How do I know which combination to use for a given sound?

A: The short answer is practice :). I’m kidding. (A little!). It’s usually a mixture of timbres that you go for. Say, you have a smooth sub bass that you’ve programmed with just a sine. Now you want to add a bit of a rough edge to it. You can choose a saw or a triangle, and adjust the mix knob according to your taste.

Clearsynth has 4 waveforms to choose from. There are many synths available that offer a much larger number of starting waveforms, apart from these four. Each of those will obviously have a particular timbre that, once you get familiar with, you’ll instantly recognize. But unless you play around with the sounds, it’s hard to say what waveforms need to be selected for which sound. After a little while, you establish a mental map of waveform to timbre, so, when you program a sound, you break it down to the timbres that are achievable in the waveforms your synth provides.


2 Responses to “Oscillators FAQ”

  1. 1 Richard
    January 19, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Can’t wait for the next part! 🙂

  2. 2 Mike
    March 5, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    You have a great way of explaining things! We need more teachers like you 🙂

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