A Priize Mini Guide
Within the world of Electronic Music, soundmakers work in a myriad of artistic spaces. Whether a teenager producing drum n’ bass on Ableton Live or a conservatory pianist experimenting with the sounds of a vintage Moog, this mini-‐guide will help you gain an understanding of the basic concepts of sound and synthesis.
Cycle: Unit of vibration The v ertical y a xis m aps p ressure, a nd t he h orizontal x a xis m aps t ime. A f ull c ycle o f v ibration spans t he u pward a nd d ownward c urve, o r t he i ncrease a nd d ecrease o f o ne u nit o f v ibration.
(((Sound waves are pressure waves that move forward and back, moving the ear drums in and out))) Frequency: Speed of vibration As t he s peed o f v ibration i ncreases, t he f requency i ncreases. T he h uman e ar p erceives t his a s an i ncrease i n p itch.
Hertz: Cycles per second (kHz = 1,000 Hertz)
Humans can hear a range of 20 to 20,000 Hz!
NEXT: THE ELEMENTS OF SOUND>>>>
PITCH Pitch is determined by the speed of vibration, or as we just learned, the “frequency”. Frequency is measured in, you guessed it, Herz and Kiloherz. For example, a pitch of “A” vibrates at 440 cycles per second, or 440 Hz. As the cycles per second increase, so does the frequency. A pitch of “A” at a frequency of 880 Hz sounds one octave higher than at 440 Hz.
TIMBRE Timbre (TAM-‐ber) describes a sound’s character, color, tone, and/or texture. What determines a sound’s timbre? Its harmonic structure. A harmonic is an overtone accompanying a fundamental tone at a fixed interval. Harmonics, or the Overtone Series, is a series of intervals that vibrate over a fundamental tone (but quieter than the fundamental). *Lots of upper harmonics make a bright timbre *Lots of lower harmonics make a dark timbre (((Hey DJ, play that timbre>>twist that filter knob)))
VOLUME Often called “amplitude”. A common unit of measurement for volume is Db (decibels). In synthesis, we are concerned with the overall shape of the volume, or the “volume envelope”. The volume envelope of a sound is characterized by the time lengths of its attack, release, and sustain. For example, a sound with a short attack and a short release has a different shape than a sound with a long attack and a long release. NEXT: TYPES OF WAVE FORMS>>>>
Sound waves exist as variations of pressure in a medium such as air. In synthesis, on and off cycles mimic these variations and create different types of wave forms. SIN WAVE A single pure frequency, a sin wave is the smallest building block of sound. All wave forms are made up of sin waves
SAWTOOTH WAVE Gradually on, instantly off. Made by adding a series of sine waves at multiples of the fundamental frequency. A sawtooth wave has a buzzy, edgy timbre
SQUARE WAVE Instantly on for ½ cycle, instantly off for ½ cycle. Whereas the sawtooth contains every integer harmonic of the fundamental frequency, the square contains only odd number harmonics. A square wave has a round, edgy timbre
TRIANGLE WAVE Gradually on, gradually off. Triangle waves also contain only the odd harmonics of the fundamental, but the volume of each added harmonic drops more quickly. A triangle wave has a round, pure timbre
PULSE WAVE Instantly on and off, in variable durations. For example, 30% on, 70% off or 25% on and 75% off. A square wave is a 50/50 pulse wave
Volume Envelope The envelope generator sends instructions to the amplifier in regards to its amount of Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release. This creates motion over time.
Pitch Envelope The envelope generator sends instructions to the oscillator to effect pitch. Any womp, wub, or woop is created by affecting the pitch envelope in some way.
Filter Envelope The envelope generator sends instructions to the filter to affect timbre. Ranges of harmonics are filtered out to achieve brighter (hi-‐pass filter) or darker (low-‐ pass filter) colors.
LFO (Low-‐Frequency Oscillator) The LFO has a very low, sub-‐audio frequency (less than 20 cycles per second/Hz) and is used to control other modulators within a synthesizer. If you use the LFO to affect pitch, you can specify the rate and amount of variation to achieve a desired pitch effect like “vibrato” or “siren”. Use the LFO to control volume and you’ll be playing with a tremolo effect-‐ basically the LFO “makes things wiggle”.
Weeeeeiiiiird, so the components of synthesis are pretty much the same as the three elements of sound! The wide array of variation available within these three concepts allow the artist to build a desired sound or just stay up all night playing with infinite possibilities. HAPPY KNOB-‐TWIDDLING!
Thanks for reading. With synthy love, Sophia Santulli (((Priize)))