Understanding synthesis


Alessandro Cipriani and Maurizio Giri’s ‘Electronic Music and Sound Design’ is my favorite contemporary book on the subject. Not only is it informative, but a true pleasure to read.



A eureka moment in every section.

Also, the Internet is AMAZING. I can’t believe this book is still online and freely available.



I think the first thing to do is to understand terms at first like in human body what’s the name of the different organs and what’s is the purpose of each one.

For that I think Rob Papen’s Book is nice, How to make noise series from Simon Cann is nice, (but there’s plenty) An interesting learn by practice with Syntorial is also a very good starting point. (I do recommend for that one to avoid headphones and learn on monitors because when it’s come to reverb and pan you will probably failed by small amount of errors with headphone it’s really hard in small adjustment to hear the differences)

When you understand the building blocs and different synthesis types. I would recommend to start by family and understand what’s make a Pad different from a Bass etc… and write somewhere a startup configuration for each one that way you can always start by these characteristics each time you want to design a particular patch.

Then I would start to listening presets on various VST, Gear… and Reverse Engineering those patch you really like.

Then I would try to recreate some very distinctive sounds you remember from old tracks or fresh one you discover from just released tracks with all you’ve already learn.

To me : When you start to learn a very vast area like Sound Synthesis you really need to cut the process in small parts, think the cuts regarding what is interesting or important to YOU and YOUR GOALS… We need to be efficient otherwise you can practice, learn and experiment everything without to produce something at some point. And of course what’s the point of taking years to learn something if you don’t produce something at some point.
Be careful with the hunger of learning ! it can be very addictive because it’s of course very interesting, but a musician need to understand he’s not a scientist… he really need to find his place and spend his time smartly.
and :

find a balance between knowledge/technical aquisition and productivity in his art


Syntorial is a great point to start, it is interactive so you internalize the lessons much better than reading, and your ear will rapidily learn to recognize what is going on in a synth sound. Highly recommended.


It’s fun to follow this forum. Users post a video and ask how to make a specific synth sound. If you see a reply then you can try to reproduce on your own synth.



a lot of good input here.

i learned synthesis mostly by learning programming languages like pd/ max msp, supercollider and kyma and a lot of experimentation. but i think its not important wich “language” you learn but to have a deep interest in how things work: to read papers, docs, watch tutorials, visit workshops, seminars – whatever helps to get into it. and of course to experiment, even without knowing what you doing on a specific synthesiser. analysing parameter settings if you like them
and get back into the books if you think you need a deeper insight…
it really depends on how deep you want to get into synthesis and if you are willing to use time that you would normally use to make music to think about music or even better to developing tools to make music.

if you want to stick with the computer as an instrument i recommend learning pure data and read this two synthesis tutorials (optionally supported by two beers):

for pure data (open source software):

for max map:

just as a beginning…


I can’t possibly cite a moment when it all feel into place. It was more of a cummulative process.


I think I truly learned it when I got into modular. I had a lot of synths before that as well, and knew how to operate them and get the sounds I wanted, but even more so now. I’ve just recently re-bought the A4, and I’m getting so much more out of it, simply because I understand the architecture and signal flow better this time.

Having said that, there are millions of ways to synthesize (especially with a modular), so still a long way to go. :slight_smile:


I would say downloading pure data would be a good starting point. Making patches with basic structures really makes it clear how synthesis works, given that we’re talking about subtractive and additive synthesis


I’ve found some of Nick Batt’s Sonic Lab reviews to be quite good for illustrating the odd bit of patch design. Occasionally he makes a patch and I’m “ah, of course”. I think watching someone step through creating something from an init patch can be quite instructive. Mylar Melodies’ videos are good for that too.


I think the Korg Monotribe was responsible for my first real “aHa!” synth moments.

I was deep in Ableton and messing with the very frustrating native instruments for my first electronic year/s. Then I got hardware curious and went nuts. Monotribe helped me learn the most and allowed for deeper explorations elsewhere.

So, not recommending monotribe is right for you… Just saying any simple synth that gets you ‘hands-on’ experience is really all it takes.


Just see Syntorial added New Lessons for SERUM (XFer) Added to the VST lessons :wink:
Cool, isn’t it ?


Tons of reading, loads of playing with synths, and participating in forums like this one


Hi there.
Do you know about any more up to date alternatives to this wonderful book? I heard him say a new one is on its way, but until then it would be nice to find something post-2000 BC.

Edit: specifically on DSP and computer generated sound, that is.


books & practice.
for example, recreating patches from one synth on another works very well — and you get to know your machinery.

(and yes, weed is always relevant)


When I was a teenager with lots of time and a cracked copy of Reason 1 I spent most evenings twiddling every parameter on every synth and listened.
That gave me a good grounding and since then I’ve just added to it by more twiddling and listening + occasional reading.