Music synthesizer is an electronic keyboard which generates or copies virtually any kind of sound, making it able to mimic the sound of conventional music instruments or to create new sounds. Sometimes music synthesizer is called electronic sound synthesizer, because it is a machine which electronically generates and modifies sounds. Word “synthesize” means to make something new, often putting it together from existing pieces, therefore, synthesizer makes new sounds by piecing together existing sounds. Nowadays synthesizers are able to produce sounds far beyond the range and versatility of conventional musical instruments. Synthesizers are used in live performances and for composition of electronic music.
Music synthesizer is an electrophonic instrument in which sounds are produced by voltage-controlled oscillators, filters and amplifiers. Oscillators or, in other words, sound tone generators generate waves of different shapes and the subjects them to alteration in timbre, intensity, duration and frequency which are selected by musician. Oscillators can also combine waves to make sounds more complex. Modern synthesizers have ready-programmed settings or so called modes which allow select particular instruments with single switch. In one word, music synthesizers generate sound waves of different shapes, generate more than one sound at once to produce a fundamental harmonics and frequency, as well as make the volume of the sound change over time.
The first electronic sound synthesizer was developed in the year of 1955 at the Radio Corporation of America laboratories by American acoustical engineers Harry Olson and Herbert Belar. During the 1960s synthesizers of more compact design were produced – the Moog, Buchla and Syn-Ket. Most of these synthesizers had piano-like keyboards, but other mechanisms have been used as well, for example, a touch-sensitive metal plate without movable keys. During the late 1970s and 1980s much more compact synthesizers were developed – Fairlight CMI, New England Digital’s Synclavier II, Yamaha FM synthesizers and others. There synthesizers were equipped with microcomputers and a variety of digital synthesis techniques, for example, whole-sound sampling, Fourier synthesis and frequency modulation synthesis.
Today synthesizers come in many different sizes, shapes and forms. Here are some of them:
- Modular synthesizers;
- All-In-One synthesizers;
- Analog synthesizers;
- Digital synthesizers;
- Monophonic synthesizers;
- Polyphonic synthesizers;
- Hardware synthesizers;
- Software synthesizers.
Music synthesizers generate sound, using different analogue and digital techniques, but the main components of synthesizers are:
- Electronic oscillators;
- Low frequency oscillator (LFO);
- Voltage-controlled filter (VCF);
- Voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA);
- ADSR (Attack Decay Sustain Release) envelopes;
- Envelope generators.
Music synthesizers rapidly became one of the most important instruments in the music industry. In the 1970s such musicians as Jean Michael Jarre, Larry Fast and Vangelis released successful synthesizer-led instrumental albums, over time creating a subgenre of new wave which is known as synthpop. Also the work of such bands as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Gary Numan, David Bowie and Yellow Magic Orchestra was influential in the development of synthpop. Chart hits which are made using synthesizers include Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” (1981), The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Giorgio Moroder’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling” (1983).