Synthesis: Learning the Language of Sound

Written on:January 14, 2015
Comments
Add One

Can You Play What You Hear?

By Professor Loudon Stearns, Berklee College of Music
 
Teaching and studying synthesis builds sonic awareness and essential skills

Teaching and studying synthesis builds sonic awareness and essential skills for players and producers.

As a professor who teaches music production at Berklee College of Music and Berklee Online, I have grown more and more sure that an understanding of synthesis is essential for keyboardists and producers alike. Synthesizers are a constant presence in contemporary music, and even when we hear organic or acoustic sounds, they’re often performed within software that uses synthesizer parameters to control or modify them. Most importantly, though, learning synthesis gives us a language for timbre and a way to understand sound.

Once I personally dove into synthesis, I started hearing differently. I gained a way to categorize sounds based on timbre, evolution, and modulation. For example, the timbre of a clarinet has a characteristic “square wave” sound, the evolution of a violin sound may swell in with every note like a long envelope attack, and the pitch modulation in a singer’s vibrato increases as the note is sustained. Before learning synthesis, I didn’t consider those kinds of specific details about the sounds, and I didn’t have a vocabulary to describe them. I would just think, “That sounds like a clarinet, violin, or voice.” 

I see this same shift in my students as we explore synthesis; they develop a growing awareness of the details of sound, which makes the benefits of learning synthesis huge.

Hands-On: The Best Way to Explore and Understand Synthesis

After exploring many ways to present this information, it became obvious that a hands-on approach with supporting visuals is the fastest way for students to absorb this complex topic. That’s why the Roland GAIA SH-01, along with its associated Sound Designer software and real-time Wave Viewer display, are great tools for my students and me.

Roland GAIA SH-01 Synthesizer Panel provides hands-on controls for learning synthesis

The front panel of the Roland GAIA SH-01 is loaded with hands-on controls for creating and manipulating sounds.

I teach an ensemble at Berklee with 10 student performers, and the goal of the class is to explore the possibilities of electronic performance. We use numerous laptops and synthesizers that are all synchronized to create electronic dance music. This classroom has walls that are literally covered in synthesizers (one of my favorite places in the world, by the way), and there are over 20 synths from all eras. The students can take any synth they choose, but every semester the GAIA gets used more than any other synth in the room.

The GAIA Sound Designer software provides visual tools for learning synthesis

Wave Viewer in the GAIA Sound Designer software.

The class is an improvisation ensemble, and the students are required to adapt to any playing situation immediately. This is why the GAIA gets used so much! It’s ideal, because everything you need is right in front of you with a dedicated knob or slider. As a teacher, I love when students choose the GAIA, because I can walk up behind them and easily guide them to the perfect sound. We don’t have to dive into menus—the whole patch is right there in front of us.

See How It Works

To assist other educators who are teaching synthesis or considering it, and also students who are studying synthesis, I created some free videos to make it easier. In this six-part video series, I demonstrate my basic approach to teaching synthesis and some specifics of the GAIA that will help teachers teach this important topic and help students learn.

As you’ll see in the videos, there are a number of concepts that can be taught in the context of synthesis, which apply to everything from live performance on an acoustic instrument to studio music production. Learning synthesis will make your students acute listeners, better musicians, and more creative producers.

Berklee Online offers more than 140 12-week online courses in addition to multi-course certificate programs and an online degree. If you’re eager to develop your craft, popular courses include Vocal Technique 101, Pop/Rock Keyboard, Guitar Chords 101, and Rock Drums. And if you’re interested in synthesis and music production, check out Berklee’s Composing and Producing Electronic Music 1 and Recording and Producing in the Home Studio. You can visit online.berklee.edu to learn more about pursuing your music education online and sample one of their online courses.

By Corey Fournier [Roland US] Wed, 14 Jan 2015 00:17:40 +0000

Canadian Brass Co-Founder and Tuba Master Dr. CC (“Chuck”) Daellenbach Appointed to the Order of Canada

Written on:January 7, 2015
Canadian Brass Co-Founder and Tuba Master Dr. CC (“Chuck”) Daellenbach Appointed to the Order of Canada

Established in 1967, The Order of Canada recognizes “outstanding achievement, dedication to community and service to the nation.”  On December 26th, 2014, his Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, announced that Dr. CC (“Chuck”) Daellenbach has been named a Member of the Order of Canada.  This appointment comes in recognition of Chuck’s lifelong work as Canadian Brass’s co-founder, and his critical role as a performer, mentor…

Read more...

John Stoner to receive 2014 Music Industry Award at the 68th Annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic

Written on:January 7, 2015
John Stoner to receive 2014 Music Industry Award at the 68th Annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic

For Immediate Release Conn-Selmer President and CEO John Stoner is receiving the 2014 Music Industry Award at the 68th Annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic on Wednesday, December 17, in Chicago, Illinois. The Music Industry Award will be presented to John Stoner by the Board of Directors during the Midwest Clinic’s reception thanking the music industry for their ongoing support (Tuesday evening, December 16) and again during the opening concert…

Read more...

Muncie Schools Become Conn-Selmer School Programs

Written on:January 7, 2015
Muncie Schools Become Conn-Selmer School Programs

Muncie, IN – The last 6 months have been very exciting for high school band members in Muncie Community Schools. This past summer, Muncie Central High School and Muncie Southside High School consolidated into one school — Muncie Central High School — with now over 1,600 students. This meant that the band programs and all other aspects of the once-separate high schools had to transition into cohesive single units, and…

Read more...

Make-A-Wish delivers dream of saxophone to Anna Copley

Written on:January 7, 2015
Make-A-Wish delivers dream of saxophone to Anna Copley

Clutching an exquisite Selmer Paris baritone saxophone, Anna Copley beamed from the stage of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, and the packed house burst into applause. When she showed up for Saturday night’s Spokane Symphony SuperPops performance, Anna had no idea her very special wish was about to be granted. The 14-year-old has chronic kidney disease. When asked what she most wanted by the people at Make-A-Wish, she…

Read more...

Conn-Selmer introduces new Selmer 400 Series student saxophones

Written on:January 7, 2015
Conn-Selmer introduces new Selmer 400 Series student saxophones

Conn-Selmer is pleased to introduce the new Selmer 400 Series student saxophones. Available in an alto and tenor saxophone, the 400 Series redefines the student saxophone. Rich in features typically found on professional models, the 400 Series is the first line of student saxophones to not only help the student get started playing music, but to prepare the student to advance to a step-up or professional model when he or…

Read more...

Canadian Brass Co-Founder and Tuba Master Dr. CC (“Chuck”) Daellenbach Appointed to the Order of Canada

Written on:January 7, 2015
Canadian Brass Co-Founder and Tuba Master Dr. CC (“Chuck”) Daellenbach Appointed to the Order of Canada

Established in 1967, The Order of Canada recognizes “outstanding achievement, dedication to community and service to the nation.”  On December 26th, 2014, his Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, announced that Dr. CC (“Chuck”) Daellenbach has been named a Member of the Order of Canada.  This appointment comes in recognition of Chuck’s lifelong work as Canadian Brass’s co-founder, and his critical role as a performer, mentor…

Read more...

John Stoner to receive 2014 Music Industry Award at the 68th Annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic

Written on:January 7, 2015
John Stoner to receive 2014 Music Industry Award at the 68th Annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic

For Immediate Release Conn-Selmer President and CEO John Stoner is receiving the 2014 Music Industry Award at the 68th Annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic on Wednesday, December 17, in Chicago, Illinois. The Music Industry Award will be presented to John Stoner by the Board of Directors during the Midwest Clinic’s reception thanking the music industry for their ongoing support (Tuesday evening, December 16) and again during the opening concert…

Read more...

Racine Unified Becomes Conn-Selmer School

Written on:January 7, 2015
Racine Unified Becomes Conn-Selmer School

Racine, WI – Racine Unified School District located in Southeastern Wisconsin has just over 20,000 students. Through the administration and school board, the District has decided to invest in music education over $1.3 million dollars to ensure that every student who wants to participate in instrumental music has the opportunity to do so through District provided instruments.  Dr. Lolli Haws, Superintendent of RUSD shared her thoughts on the importance of…

Read more...

Muncie Schools Become Conn-Selmer School Programs

Written on:January 7, 2015
Muncie Schools Become Conn-Selmer School Programs

Muncie, IN – The last 6 months have been very exciting for high school band members in Muncie Community Schools. This past summer, Muncie Central High School and Muncie Southside High School consolidated into one school — Muncie Central High School — with now over 1,600 students. This meant that the band programs and all other aspects of the once-separate high schools had to transition into cohesive single units, and…

Read more...
Access denied for user 'mnayak'@'localhost' (using password: NO)