What are some synthesizer notes

Synthesizer for beginners

The best synthesizers for beginners

My first synthesizer 1988 was a Roland MKS-50 without a keyboard. A great piece and the worst possible beginner synthesizer. Structure and usability were too cryptic for synthesizer beginners: only a few buttons and nested menus. So I had no understanding of the signal and work flow of a synthesizer and I contented myself with playing the preset sounds. To get you started better, this article will tell you what is important.

Synthesizer Beginners: Recommendations for an easy start

By Carsten Helfrich

Beginners Synthesizer - Content

How do synthesizers differ from keyboards or electric pianos?

A synthesizer is a real creative tool that creates its own sounds from scratch using electronic components. In contrast to organs, keyboards or electric pianos, the sound source is completely variable and is mostly based on oscillators.

Robert Moog started developing his Moog synth with a theremin

A keyboard comes with a wide range of sounds, but these are preset and can only be changed little. Often keyboards have an automatic accompaniment on board that mimics an entire band.

E-pianos or digital pianos focus on the reproduction of lifelike piano sounds and a natural feel.

More on the topic: digital piano and here on keyboards

Why are synthesizers so popular?

Synthesizers create a great passion in many musicians. This also has to do with the fact that a sound is completely reassembled in a synthesizer and the musician creates his own sound out of nothing.

Synthesizers are therefore often the source of ideas when composing and songwriting. Many well-known composers and musicians work with synthesizers as a source of inspiration for their songs or film scores.

In some cases, sounds created by chance are even the source of ideas for new styles of music.

Creation of a sound in a synthesizer - beginners' workshop

 

Synthesizer entry made easy: synthesis of a sound

The sound in the synthesizer is created in the oscillator (OSC), it creates audible vibrations. These fundamental vibrations are modulated, i.e. changed, by a so-called LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator).

Vangelis initially used the Yamaha CS80

The filters of a synthesizer (VCF) influence the frequencies in the sound. The original sound is distorted by filtering away (removing) some frequencies. Different filter types produce different sound characters.

The synthesizer envelope (VCA) determines the volume behavior of the sound: attack, hold and decay.

Further details: Forms of synthesis & sound synthesis explained

What does a beginner synthesizer have to consider?

After the basic functionality of a synthesizer is clear, it is time to choose your first own instrument.

The most important aspects for synthesizer beginners:

  • Easy handling
  • Clearly structured surface
  • variability
  • Synthesizers for beginners in different price ranges

The logic of the operation and structure of the user interface should represent the signal flow just described well. Too branched and complicated operation (e.g. through multiple assignments of buttons, potentiometers and complex menu navigation) would nip any creativity and motivation in the bud.

The EMS VCS 3 - Jean Michel Jarre's first synth

Another aspect is presets. Sound settings already saved in the instrument can serve as the basis for your own sound creations. You can work more freely and progressively with synths that do not make any specifications in terms of sound design.

The best way to get started with a synthesizer is to use an instrument that can cover several areas of application, i.e. the sound design is as variable as possible. Only later will it become clear which type of synthesizer or which type of sound design you want to turn to.

Last but not least: a cheap synthesizer is not automatically suitable for beginners. Conversely, very expensive devices are not just for professionals. Experience has shown that the first synthesizer is only a stepping stone to the next instrument. Many fall into a passion for collecting.

 

Also read: Korg Kross 2 61 Pure White: Limited Edition of the Synthesizer Workstation

For synthesizer beginners: 5 recommendations from the editor

There are a lot of synthesizers. In the following recommendations, beginners will find some instruments that fully or partially meet the criteria mentioned. The only important thing is to have fun with the instrument and to see the synthesizer as a creative tool and source for musical ideas.

Yamaha Reface CS

Ultra-compact, weighs less than two kilos and can be powered by batteries - the Yamaha Reface CS is the undisputed king of portable synthesizers. For beginners, it is recommended due to its extremely catchy operation and its considerable sound flexibility with eight voices.

Based on different timbres at the beginning of the sound generation, interesting modulations and lively effects are possible. The looper, which can be used to record sequences and then play them back and continue jamming, is very unusual.

The Yamaha website "Soundmondo" is also worth mentioning, with which you can save all sound settings in the network and load them directly onto the instrument from there. You can also share your sounds with others and let yourself be inspired by the sounds of other users.

Price: 265 euros

Novation Mininova

No other entry-level synthesizer scores with such a tidy, clear surface. Nevertheless, you have access to the desired parameter for detailed sound design with 18 voices at the latest after switching a 6-way switch. Perhaps the most important one - the filter regulator - can be operated separately at any time, and is particularly large and handy.

The operating mode for different genres or different sound types can be switched quickly. A total of 256 sounds are pre-installed and 128 of your own creations can be saved. Special feature: The integrated vocoder enables great robot voices à la Kraftwerk, Daft Punk & Co. - a flexible gooseneck microphone is included in the scope of delivery.

The good computer integration is typical of the manufacturer: You can edit and manage all sounds conveniently on the screen using software for PC and Mac.

Price: 326 euros

Arturia MiniBrute

If you want to go a little deeper into the art of synthesis, you have to add this monophonic (unanimous) model to the list. Version 1, which has been tried and tested for years, is recommended for synthesizer beginners. Compared to the current successor, it is cheaper and better suited for beginners.

The detailed intervention options equip you for very sophisticated sound constructions, especially when it comes to bass lines and leads. With the Arturia MiniBrute, a particularly pithy, aggressive sound is possible. With the arpeggiator melodies can be created from the notes of the struck chord and played automatically. In the meantime, you screw the knobs with relish to gradually develop the sound.

The full size buttons allow for comfortable gaming. The format remains very compact, and it can easily be carried in a backpack.

Price: 395 euros

KORG KingKORG

Now we come to the premier class - the KingKORG is appropriately named. With 61 keys and digital technology, it is possible to generate all kinds of sounds in a wide range of tones. There are 24 voices and two independently programmable sounds (timbres) available at the same time or across keyboard areas. Unusual: In order to make the sound a little more raw at the end, a real tube is available for saturation and distortion.

Korg's royal synthesizer for beginners to professionals is specially tailored for live use without neglecting its suitability for the studio. In this way, all sound generation and control sections are clearly separated from each other and all parameters are immediately accessible.

Free software for Windows and Mac OS is used to manage your sounds on the computer and in the instruments. So you are always well prepared for the gig.

Price: 999 euros

Clavia Nord Lead A1

At the top of the flagpole in our synthesizer beginner recommendations is an instrument with 49 keys that is suitable for a wide range of musical styles. Also because organ sounds, electric pianos and more are on board. With a weight of 4.9 kg, it is particularly attractive for live use.

This is also where the direct access to practically all parameters strikes - which is why it is also ideal for synthesizer beginners. In addition, the numbers and letters for identifying options are printed on the display so that they are legible.

Powerful: There is the option of layering up to four independently adjustable sounds (timbres). Alternatively, you can use the split function to define two keyboard areas, each with two timbres sounding. With 24 voices, very rich pad sounds and pads are also possible, which fade out for a long time and overlap.

As befits an advanced synthesizer (but also suitable for ambitious beginners), there is software for managing the sound library. This program, available for Mac and PC, is updated regularly and is easy to use.

Price: 1,444 euros

Dave Smith Instruments Sequential Prophet X
Powerful hybrid synthesizer

With the Sequential Prophet X, digital oscillators meet an opulent sampling engine and analog filters. This power pack sounds in eight stereo or 16 mono voices and the mixture of samples and synthesis ensures impressive, multi-layered sounds in a quality that has never been seen before.

You get an impressive 150 GB of sample material from the renowned company 8Dio. They encompass acoustic instruments as well as electronic sounds of all kinds. These sounds can be extensively edited using loop manipulation, time stretching and more. The modulation options typically used for the synthesizer part can also be used here. There is 50 GB of memory available for importing your own sounds.

Effects are also on board: reverbs, delays, chorus, flanger, rotary speakers, distortion & Co. In split and layer mode, two different effects can be assigned to each section. As if that weren't enough, there is also a polyphonic sequencer with which 64 steps with six notes per layer can be set.

Price: 3,849 euros

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The first synthesizer - that's what the stars started with

  • Robert Moog began his development with an electronic musical instrument from before the synthesizers, the theremin.
  • Klaus Schulze's first and preferred synthesizer is the EMS Synthi A.
  • Suzanne Ciani used the Buchla from the start.
  • Michael Stearns has used a Serge synthesizer since the beginning.
  • Laurie Spiegel initially worked with the Alles Sytnthesizer - the first machine for additive synthesis.
  • Charanjit Singh used the Jupiter-8 synthesizer, the TR-808 and TB-303 early on.
  • Vangelis used the Yamaha CS80 in the beginning.
  • Doris Norton preferred to work with the System 700 and System 100 M from Roland and the Minimoog.
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith started with the Buchla 100 system.
  • Martha Plachetka's first synthesizer was a Virus TI.
  • Peter M. Mahr started with a KORG MS-20.
  • Jesse Keeler's first synthesizer was a Roland Juno-60.
  • Robert Fripp used Roland guitar synthesizers at an early age.
  • Kebu initially played on a Kawai K1 II.
  • Shawn Rudiman first worked with a Yamaha b200M.
  • Wendy Carlos has used the Moog modular since the beginning.
  • Hans Zimmer also began his sound experiments on the Moog Modular.
  • Jean Michel Jarre initially used the E.M.S VCS 3.
  • Keith Emerson also started with a moog.
  • Eliane Radigue carried out her first experiments with various synthesizers such as the Buchla and the EML Electro comp.

Also read: Easy Piano Songs: Nice Piano Pieces to Learn