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Synthesis and Sampling Methods

Synthesis Methods is a course for the modern computer music producer. AKA for anyone who creates and composes the majority of their music in the box. Why do I stress in the box? Well there are still plenty of music producers/audio engineers who record actual musicians playing actual instruments. You yourself may have a little basement studio where you record yourself playing guitar, drums, vocals, etc. If that’s the case you should take a course on recording technique where you learn about things like the different types of microphones, mic placement, etc. While that is useful information for anyone the majority of people getting into music production will never work in an environment where that information is practical. For example I’ve never had to mic a symphony orchestra although I’ve read plenty of information detailing a variety of ways to do it.

More and more we are seeing hobbyists and professionals using samples and synthesizers for the bulk of their sounds. If that’s the case doesn’t it make sense that you should learn some methodology and technique about sampled instruments and synthesizers. That’s really the point of this course. It’s sort of like a replacement for the  “recording methods” course that every audio engineer would need to take 10 or 15 years ago. You don’t need to become a full-blown sound designer…that’s not the point. The main idea is that you understand the different ways sounds are synthesized and sampled inside of the computer and to gain the listening skills necessary to determine what synth/sampler is appropriate for what task.

By the end of this course you should develop a cursory understanding of a variety of synthesis methods (physical modeling, additive, granular, wave scan, subtractive, frequency modulation, modular, sampling, etc). And you should also be able to open up any synthesizer, intuit the primary synthesis method and navigate (edit) the interface (presets) with confidence. Please download and read the syllabus for more information about the course goals and structure.

The software you use does not matter and you do not need to purchase anything to follow along with this course. There is no final project but I do encourage you to experiment with the synthesizers and samplers you do have for at least an hour or so every week. An hour of practice a week goes a long way over the span of six months or a year.

If you come across any mistakes (either with video content, video edits, descriptions, broken links, etc) please contact us so we can correct them.

Synthesis and Sampling Methods

In the past it was important for any new music producer/audio engineer to understand recording techniques. Today the majority of us work in isolation with samples and synthesizers. This course is about the methods related to synthesis and sampling.


Instructor: Brian Bollman

Total Duration: 16:23:29


  1. Welcome to the Course 00:07:55
    Welcome to the Course

    Getting you prepared for Synthesis and Sampling Methods. Now more than ever it’s important for the modern music producer to have some working knowledge of synthesis. We’ll discuss some logistics and preview what’s to come.

    Duration: 00:07:55

Section 1

  1. Intro to Sampling and Samplers 00:12:14
    Intro to Sampling and Samplers

    Sampling is the foundation for virtually all computer music. Audio interfaces sample (convert) analog signals resulting in digital files. We then “sample” those files for the music we make.

    Duration: 00:12:14

  2. DAW as Sampler 00:19:03
    DAW as Sampler

    The digital audio workstation is the most powerful sampler of all. We’ll look at some of the popular and very valuable sampling options the standard DAW provides.

    Duration: 00:19:03

  3. The Single Sample Sampler Instrument 00:12:31
    The Single Sample Sampler Instrument

    We’ll take an audio file and put it into a basic sampler. We’ll then keytrack that sample. This will create a playable instrument that can be performed with a MIDI keyboard in tune with the rest of our sounds.

    Duration: 00:12:31

  4. Kontakt Single Sample Instrument 00:13:30
    Kontakt Single Sample Instrument

    We create a single sample instrument inside of Kontakt. Kontakt has a lot more features under the hood but at the end of the day it’s still a sampler and therefore we should not feel intimidated in the slightest.

    Duration: 00:13:30

  5. Kontakt Single Sample Wave Editor 00:08:14
    Kontakt Single Sample Wave Editor

    The focus of this lesson is the wave editor inside of Kontakt. We’ll do a little sample cleanup and then set up a loop that will allow us to sustain notes indefinitely.

    Duration: 00:08:14

  6. Multi Sampled Instruments (Realism) 00:12:11
    Multi Sampled Instruments (Realism)

    The degree of realism that multi sampled instruments can achieve is mind blowing. We’ll see how a sampler like Kontakt stores and sorts all the samples needed for a basic grand piano.

    Duration: 00:12:11

  7. Multi Sampled Instrument (One Shots) 00:03:59
    Multi Sampled Instrument (One Shots)

    We’ll see how the sampler can be used to store and organize some of your favorite one shot samples. This is much more efficient than having to drag and drop from the browser.

    Duration: 00:03:59

  8. Layering Multi Sampled Instruments 00:03:39
    Layering Multi Sampled Instruments

    We layer two preset multi sampled instruments on top of each other inside of Kontakt. From there we do a little mixing and add a unifying reverb.

    Duration: 00:03:39

  9. Kontakt Custom Multi Sampled Instruments 00:09:05
    Kontakt Custom Multi Sampled Instruments

    We’ll create our own multi sampled layered instrument using a couple of oscillator waveforms. We’ll stack (duplicate) our saw wave inside the mapping editor to create a rich and dense super saw.

    Duration: 00:09:05

  10. Drum Machines (Sampler Containers) 00:10:34
    Drum Machines (Sampler Containers)

    Drum machines are just containers for multiple samplers. In this video we’ll focus on the signal flow of the drum machine and see what kind of advantages it offers.

    Duration: 00:10:34

  11. "Advanced" Drum Machines (Battery) 00:16:55
    "Advanced" Drum Machines (Battery)

    Battery is a very powerful and flexible drum machine. We’ll see what unique features Battery has to offer and learn how to break out individual cells into our DAW for further processing.

    Duration: 00:16:55

  12. Section 1 Wrap Up 00:06:54
    Section 1 Wrap Up

    We highlight the main ideas presented in this section. Sampling is a relatively simple method but the applications and creative freedom sampling affords us is truly second to none.

    Duration: 00:06:54

Section 2

  1. Striving For and Departing From Realism 00:28:17
    Striving For and Departing From Realism

    In section 2 we depart from traditional sample use and examine alternative synthesis methods. From physical modeling to granular we’ll see just how real and, by contrast, how experimental sounds we can get.

    Duration: 00:28:17

  2. Physical Modeling Realism (PianoTeq) 00:18:55
    Physical Modeling Realism (PianoTeq)

    Pianoteq is a physical modeled piano instrument that offers a diverse array of piano types and miking positions all without the use of any samples.

    Duration: 00:18:55

  3. Physical Modeling Generic Acoustic Properties (String Studio) 00:11:49
    Physical Modeling Generic Acoustic Properties (String Studio)

    We’ll look at a more generic type of physical modeling in this video. String studio does not attempt to sound like a specific instrument rather it models the basic components of a vibrating stringed instrument.

    Duration: 00:11:49

  4. Physical Modeling in Reaktor 00:11:42
    Physical Modeling in Reaktor

    Reaktor is a fully customizable modular synthesis environment. It is capable of virtually any form of synthesis, including, physical modeling. We’ll look and listen to a couple of physical modeled ensembles.

    Duration: 00:11:42

  5. Physical Modeling Experimental (Kaivo) 00:09:03
    Physical Modeling Experimental (Kaivo)

    Kaivo is what I call experimental physical modeling. You’ll see that some of the models emulated are not necessarily things you would consider “musical.” Combine that with a granularator and you’re bound to get some interesting results.

    Duration: 00:09:03

  6. Additive Synthesis Theory (Realism?) 00:04:44
    Additive Synthesis Theory (Realism?)

    In theory, additive synthesis should be capable of generating very realistic timbres. You analyze a sound, break it down into component sine waves, and then generate those sine waves via an algorithm. If only it were that simple.

    Duration: 00:04:44

  7. Pipe Organ Additive 00:04:33
    Pipe Organ Additive

    The timbre of the pipe organ does not change drastically overtime once the ranks of pipes have been selected. Therefore additive synthesis (adding sine/triangle) waves can approximate the sound of the pipe organ fairly convincingly.

    Duration: 00:04:33

  8. Drawing Waveshapes (Additive Technique) 00:08:50
    Drawing Waveshapes (Additive Technique)

    The concept of “additive” is found most commonly, ironically, in subtractive synthesizers. With software it’s very easy to draw in your own waveform using additive techniques.

    Duration: 00:08:50

  9. LazerBass Additive Features 00:10:16
    LazerBass Additive Features

    It's hard to find a purely "additive" synthesizer. But one synth that comes close is Reaktor’s LazerBass. We’ll hear and see what makes this instrument so unique.

    Duration: 00:10:16

  10. Razor Additive Features 00:08:38
    Razor Additive Features

    Reaktor’s Razor is the most well known and widely used “Additive” Synthesizer. But as we’ll see in the lesson only some of the components are additive while others pay tribute to the classic subtractive signal flow.

    Duration: 00:08:38

  11. Micro Sampling 00:12:47
    Micro Sampling

    We'll be sampling but not in a traditional way. We’ll take a small snippet (micro sample) and use that as the oscillator waveshape in our synthesizer. Using additive techniques we can then adjust the shape further.

    Duration: 00:12:47

  12. Granular Synthesis 00:13:21
    Granular Synthesis

    Granular synthesis takes and sample and breaks it up into tiny chunks (grains) that are then combined and manipulated in various ways. We explore the granular oscillator and a granular based effect (aetherizer) inside of Absynth.

    Duration: 00:13:21

  13. Wave Scan Synthesis 00:15:39
    Wave Scan Synthesis

    Wave scan synthesis is the process of taking a sample and scanning through it. Speed, direction, length, starting point all are things you can tinker with. This is not your basic sampler.

    Duration: 00:15:39

  14. Experimental Sample Manipulation Synths (Dron-E and Grain Cube) 00:10:14
    Experimental Sample Manipulation Synths (Dron-E and Grain Cube)

    An optional video where we see how far we can go with sample manipulation. Dron-E and Grain Cube are inspired by different methods (wave scan and granular) but the sound possibilities of both instruments are simply mind blowing.

    Duration: 00:10:14

  15. Section 2 Wrap Up 00:04:40
    Section 2 Wrap Up

    We wrap up section 2 which was all about striving for and departing from realism. We explored some methods (physical modeling) that rival sampling in terms of realism. We then got our hands dirty with some extreme sample manipulation based instruments.

    Duration: 00:04:40

Section 3

  1. Modular Synthesis Introduction 00:26:46
    Modular Synthesis Introduction

    On to Modular Synthesis. In this section you’ll see that starting from scratch and wiring modules yourself is a very rewarding experience. If you can program a complex modular patch from scratch there's nothing you can't do.

    Duration: 00:26:46

  2. DAW as Modular Framework 00:08:52
    DAW as Modular Framework

    In this video we attempt to define “modular” beginning with the DAW. Digital Audio Workstations are incredibly flexible and customizeable, adjectives we often associate with modular.

    Duration: 00:08:52

  3. Ozone and Serum as Modular 00:08:47
    Ozone and Serum as Modular

    It’s not only the DAW that acts like a modular system. Popular mixing/mastering FX suites like Ozone operate under a modular pretense, as do many of the more popular digital soft synths like Serum.

    Duration: 00:08:47

  4. Degrees of "Modular" in Software Synths 00:47:21
    Degrees of "Modular" in Software Synths

    Last but not least in our quest to define “modular” we’ll examine, in depth, the relative degrees of modular in software synths. In the digital domain there is quite a bit of variation.

    Duration: 00:47:21

  5. Reaktor Blocks Let There Be Sound! 00:13:23
    Reaktor Blocks Let There Be Sound!

    An introduction to the various categories of modules (blocks) inside of Reaktor. To begin our first instrument we’ll need a module capable of outputting sound. Appropriate modules for this task include samplers and oscillators.

    Duration: 00:13:23

  6. Oscilloscope Visualizing Sound 00:16:46
    Oscilloscope Visualizing Sound

    Oscilloscopes are commonly found on people’s custom modular synthesizers. I would argue they’re more eye candy than anything else but when you’re first starting out it can be useful to see how the waveshape changes based on your patching.

    Duration: 00:16:46

  7. Frequency Modulation (FM) with LFO's and Oscillators 00:14:22
    Frequency Modulation (FM) with LFO's and Oscillators

    In this lesson we’ll see that names can be deceiving for modules. We’ll use an LFO as a sound generator and an oscillator as a modulator. By definition when you modulate something at an audio rate that’s Frequency Modulation (FM).

    Duration: 00:14:22

  8. Low Frequency Oscillators (LFO's) Traditonal Use? 00:14:22
    Low Frequency Oscillators (LFO's) Traditonal Use?

    Typically LFO’s are used as modulators (to control another parameter on a different module). LFO’s are just another type of oscillator whose frequency runs below 20 Hz (below the range of human hearing).

    Duration: 00:14:22

  9. Voltage Controlled Amplifiers VCA (Volume Control) 00:07:33
    Voltage Controlled Amplifiers VCA (Volume Control)

    So far we’ve had very little control/variation in our synthesized sounds volume. Well that’s about to change. We’ll use a crossfade module and a basic VCA module to get some much needed volume variation.

    Duration: 00:07:33

  10. Gates vs ADSR Envelopes and Note Input (MIDI) 00:07:01
    Gates vs ADSR Envelopes and Note Input (MIDI)

    We use an ADSR envelope and a gate message to modulate our VCA like a normal hard wired synth would. We take this one step further by adding the Note-In module so that we can use keys to trigger the envelope to modulate the VCA.

    Duration: 00:07:01

  11. State Variable Filters (SVF) and Subtractive Signal Flow 00:07:55
    State Variable Filters (SVF) and Subtractive Signal Flow

    The filter does exactly what the name implies; it filters out particular frequencies that we don't want (at least for a time). The filter typically comes after the oscillators but before the final VCA. Feel free to experiment though.

    Duration: 00:07:55

  12. Sequencers (8 Steps and 4 Mods) 00:09:42
    Sequencers (8 Steps and 4 Mods)

    There are a couple of different sequencer modules bundled the Reaktor blocks standard library. We’ll use one to generate an arpeggiated note/pitch sequence and another to control the cutoff/resonance of the filter.

    Duration: 00:09:42

  13. Reaktor Blocks FX Modules 00:06:29
    Reaktor Blocks FX Modules

    We’ve only scratched the surface. There are hundreds of modules for you to play around and experiment with. Remember it’s all about signal flow!

    Duration: 00:06:29

  14. Reaktor Blocks Final Thoughts and Potential 00:05:00
    Reaktor Blocks Final Thoughts and Potential

    This is by no means an exhaustive look at the reaktor blocks modular framework. I leave the deep diving to you. Rather I hope I’ve peaked your curiosity and given you a foundation that you can now build upon with other synths.

    Duration: 00:05:00

  15. Bazille (Hybrid Modular) Introduction 00:10:04
    Bazille (Hybrid Modular) Introduction

    Bazille is a lot like the old Moog Modular. All the modules still require manual patching (input and output sockets) but the modules themselves cannot be replaced or swapped out.

    Duration: 00:10:04

  16. Bazille Multiplex (Mixing Oscillator Modules) 00:09:14
    Bazille Multiplex (Mixing Oscillator Modules)

    It's important for modular synthesizers to have some basic mixing capabilities. In Bazille we have something very modern and flexible in the multiplex.

    Duration: 00:09:14

  17. Bazille Subtractive Signal Flow 00:09:54
    Bazille Subtractive Signal Flow

    Even though we often categorize a lot of synthesizers as being “subtractive” the truth is the word subtractive simply refers to the signal flow. Oscillator into filter into amplifier. There is no reason why we can’t do that in Bazille.

    Duration: 00:09:54

  18. Bazille Oscillators and Operators 00:23:34
    Bazille Oscillators and Operators

    The way you setup your oscillators inside of Bazille is what will impact the final timbre the most. Using techniques like phase distortion and fractilization we’ll generate some otherworldly timbres.

    Duration: 00:23:34

  19. Bazille Final Thoughts 00:05:21
    Bazille Final Thoughts

    On the surface one may think Bazille is not capable of nearly as much as the reaktor blocks. As you’ve seen and will see in this lesson this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Duration: 00:05:21

  20. Section 3 Wrap Up 00:06:42
    Section 3 Wrap Up

    Modular is a playground where you never have to feel guilty or stupid trying anything. With other synths there tend to be a lot of predefined techniques to make practical sounds. With modular the exact opposite is true.

    Duration: 00:06:42

Section 4

  1. Subtractive Synthesis Introduction 00:24:33
    Subtractive Synthesis Introduction

    Subtractive synthesis is an umbrella term used to describe any synth with the "common signal flow" (oscillator, filter, amplifier). This week we'll try to understand why so many of these synth exist and how to smartly select the ones we need.

    Duration: 00:24:33

  2. The Initialized State 00:20:31
    The Initialized State

    The initialized (init) state on a subtractive synth is just a static buzzing saw tooth wave. We’ll go through several examples where we strip back complex presets to the initialized state.

    Duration: 00:20:31

  3. Reverse Engineer (Init) Diversion 00:14:24
    Reverse Engineer (Init) Diversion

    Diversion is one of the more “complex” subtractive synthesizers out there. It will work great as one final back to initialized example. But this time we’ll go slow and talk about how you can learn a lot about a synth by reverse engineering it.

    Duration: 00:14:24

  4. Voicings 00:30:18

    Having virtually an unlimited number of voices has become a selling point for modern subtractive synthesizers. The more voices means more detune means thicker, fatter, richer sounds... In theory anyway.

    Duration: 00:30:18

  5. Comparing Synths (What to Listen For) 00:07:50
    Comparing Synths (What to Listen For)

    By my estimation there are 6 primary elements to all subtractive synthesizers that we can easily compare and contrast. Those 6 elements are Oscillators, Filters. Modulators, FX, Sound Engine, and the Interface (user experience).

    Duration: 00:07:50

  6. Comparing Oscillators 00:49:48
    Comparing Oscillators

    The oscillator section is responsible for generating sound in a subtractive synth. In the digital domain the flexibility of these oscillators (wave tables, warp FX, draw it in yourself) allow for more possible sounds than all the components of many hardwa

    Duration: 00:49:48

  7. Comparing Filters 00:21:38
    Comparing Filters

    Subtractive synthesis as a method is based on the use of a filter. The filter takes away particular frequencies over time. The filter frequency “cutoff” is often modulated by either an ADSR envelope or an LFO with the depth set by the user.

    Duration: 00:21:38

  8. Comparing Modulation Schemes 01:06:38
    Comparing Modulation Schemes

    Modulators like the classic ADSR envelopes and/or LFOs are found in virtually all subtractive synths. In modern synths you have the option to draw in your own shapes and assign modulation depth via a user friendly drag and drop scheme.

    Duration: 01:06:38

  9. Comparing Built In FX Suites 00:37:26
    Comparing Built In FX Suites

    Even though FXs have little do with subtractive synthesis they are incredibly influential and important in the final sound of a synth. While it may be a little dangerous to rely heavily on built in FX they can be the X factor in getting that sound.

    Duration: 00:37:26

  10. Sound Engine (Character and Vibe) 00:05:27
    Sound Engine (Character and Vibe)

    Defining a synths sound engine is like defining timbre. I define sound engine as what makes the super saw on one synth sound different to the super saw on another synth when the oscillator, filter, and envelope settings are identical. Aka Vibe

    Duration: 00:05:27

  11. Interface and The User Experience 00:03:42
    Interface and The User Experience

    Interface and user experience seems like a small thing for a synthesizer when we know that sound is king. But it’s important to pick a synth that you like the look and feel of, something that inspires you to make music on a daily basis.

    Duration: 00:03:42

  12. Section 4 Wrap Up 00:03:41
    Section 4 Wrap Up

    With all the subtractive synthesizers out there it can be a little intimidating knowing where to start. Hopefully you’ve seen that once you break down the basic components going from one synth to another is actually pretty simple.

    Duration: 00:03:41

Section 5

  1. Frequency Modulation (FM) Introduction 00:16:01
    Frequency Modulation (FM) Introduction

    In this introduction video we track the evolution and development of frequency modulation as a synthesis method. We cover a little theory (carriers and modulators) and put FM in proper historical context.

    Duration: 00:16:01

  2. FM as Special Effect (In Analog Synths) 00:39:19
    FM as Special Effect (In Analog Synths)

    Frequency modulation can be used as a special effect in many subtractive analog synths (hardware and software). Sadly many people overlook this option but we’ll hear just how powerful and interesting FM can be in these instruments.

    Duration: 00:39:19

  3. FM as Synthesis Method Part 1 00:18:20
    FM as Synthesis Method Part 1

    We cover the basic modulator carrier relationship so vital to understanding how frequency modulation works as a method. We also differentiate between what’s considered an oscillator and what’s considered an operator.

    Duration: 00:18:20

  4. FM as Synthesis Method Part 2 (FM-8) 00:09:19
    FM as Synthesis Method Part 2 (FM-8)

    We cover some of the same concepts from the previous video but this time in Native Instruments FM-8. In this example we have true operators and a modulation matrix that’s a little more intuitive.

    Duration: 00:09:19

  5. Frequency Modulation, Additive, or Subtractive 00:13:00
    Frequency Modulation, Additive, or Subtractive

    With the more modern software FM synthesizers like FM-8 it’s possible to create usable patches without doing any actual frequency modulation. We’ll see how to make a lush super saw using virtually no FM.

    Duration: 00:13:00

  6. Hybrid Synthesis Methods in FM-8 00:09:11
    Hybrid Synthesis Methods in FM-8

    Aggressive Skrillex style bass and growl sounds can be made using FM synthesis. We’ll look at a hybrid approach and explain why frequency modulation works so well for these types of sounds.

    Duration: 00:09:11

  7. DEXED Yamaha DX-7 Emulation 00:04:31
    DEXED Yamaha DX-7 Emulation

    We look at the free DX-7 emulator DEXED. Because FM is a digital technology software synthesizers can almost perfectly match the sound of the hardware counterpart.

    Duration: 00:04:31

  8. Recreating DX-7 Algorithims in FM-8 00:06:21
    Recreating DX-7 Algorithims in FM-8

    The relationship between carriers and modulators is what gives an FM sound its character. We’ll see how we can “steal” the mod matrix algorithms from the DX-7 and take advantage of them in FM-8 for some quick inspiration.

    Duration: 00:06:21

  9. Section 5 Wrap Up 00:06:04
    Section 5 Wrap Up

    In this section we’ve seen how FM synthesis works. In addition I’ve given you some ideas about how you can utilize FM for your own sound design and production. Remember that with FM, presets are friends not enemies.

    Duration: 00:06:04


  1. Synthesis Methods Wrap Up 00:06:07
    Synthesis Methods Wrap Up

    I hope you’ve enjoyed the course. I want to thank everyone who’s spent the time to go through it. Moving forward you should feel confident in your knowledge and ability to open up and work with any synthesizer regardless of make or model.

    Duration: 00:06:07