How to use a Synth

How to use a Synth – the Ultimate Guide to Oscillators

So, how to use a synth! First up, let’s take a look at the video, and see below for a special, time limited discount offer!

How to use a Synth: Oscillators

Synths come in many shapes, sizes, and forms, but if you want to learn how to use a synth the best place is a subtractive one. Subtractive synths are so called because the oscillators generate (or, at least, are capable of generating) richly harmonic waveforms that are then chipped away at by filters and envelopes. In other words, the end result is gotten by subtracting from the initially generated sound. Pretty simple, right? It’s therefore very important to understand the oscillator section of a synth – there’s no polishing of turds or lipstick on pigs that can be done to a sound if the basic ingredients are wrong. The video goes through all the important parameters of a synth’s oscillator section, so that you can learn how to use a synth quickly and without being scared of what anything does.

Semitone tuning

Steps of the chromatic scale are represented on the semitone control, allowing the oscillator to play a pitch either the same as or other than the note you press on your keyboard. This is handy for creating pseudo-chords and intervals, such as what’s called a ‘fifth’ – the fifth harmonic of a scale played over the root note (the fifth harmonic is seven semitones up from the root).

Fine tuning

Oscillators tend to be locked to 440Hz tuning, making them perfectly in tune with the rest of your instruments. In the case that your synth isn’t working quite in tune you can alter this, but it can also be used for creative purposes such as creating phasing between oscillators (see below) or intentionally giving an unstable sound to the oscillator.

Wave shape

The different types of wave that an oscillator can kick out really affects its sound, and it’s all down to how many and what order of harmonics there are over a basic sine wave. The more harmonics there are in the wave, the more sound content is generated to be played with. Different synths allow different wave shapes, from sine wave, square wave, saw tooth wave, triangle wave, or any combination of them.

Oscillator Sync

In order to make sure that oscillators ‘stick together’ when they’re playing, it’s important to turn sync on. This ensures that in as far as is possible, the waveforms are aligned. Of course, we can also turn sync off for creative purposes.


When multiple oscillators play together, the waveforms they generate interact. Altering the phase of an oscillator changes the point where it starts its oscillation journey, and changes the interaction between waves. This makes some parts of the combined wave louder and others quieter than they would be if they were perfectly aligned (as perfectly in phase waves are only louder, and a 180 degree phase change will cancel out sound to make the waves silent).

Pulse width

Some synths allow you to play with a square wave to make it rectangular – and changing the width of the square pulse will change its tone as it adds more zero amplitude time into the oscillation.


Noise, usually white noise but occasionally a synth will allow other types of noise such as pink or brown, is random and essentially all frequencies happening at once. A touch of noise can add thickness to a synth, and make the use of filters much more pronounced.

LFO – the silent oscillator

LFO, or low frequency oscillator, doesn’t generate any sound. It’s a special type of oscillator that oscillates at a very low frequency – ie, slowly – and the data it sends out is used to automate parameters. One of the more popular of those is a low pass filter, which as it is turned up and down by the LFO oscillating gives that ‘wub wub’ sound. It’s entirely understandable that because this, the perennial dubstep bass sound, is achieved with an LFO, and that ‘low frequency’ sounds like it means ‘bass’, many think that LFOs create bass sounds. This isn’t the case, as you hopefully now understand.

Ready to learn more?

The video in this post is just a small section from OD Total Music Production, a huge video course that takes you through absolutely everything you need to make music – from how to use a synth to how to use a sampler, how to use effects, how to mix and master your music, how a DAW works, and more. We use a specially curated list of software that you can get your hands on for free and follow along with, and leave no stone unturned when it comes to giving you the knowledge and inspiration to create and produce electronic music. What’s more there’s a time limited offer on for 40% off Total Music Production for a limited time, so head over, check out what else is on offer, and sign up today before you miss out!

Find out more and sign up to OD Total Music Production here!

Zero Crossing Points – What Are They?

There are lots, and lots, and lots of little things that can make a huge difference to sound quality, and increasingly production kit does them for us. Sometimes it doesn’t, though, and even so it’s handy to know what’s happening behind the scenes. So what’s a zero crossing point and why does it matter? Continue Reading

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