Learning Modular Synthesis

One of the most exciting areas of music creation is modular synthesis, where you get to put together your own flexible and customizable instrument using modules from a variety of manufacturers. However, this flexibility and freedom can be overwhelming to someone new to modular synthesis.

Learning Modular Training RackTherefore, I created the Learning Modular Synthesis courses hosted by online training experts Lynda.com/Linked Learning. The original course created for hardware modular synth users starts with the fundamental concepts of harmonics and voltage control, covers the main modular formats available including typical modules, case, and power supply issues (as well as interfacing your modular with the rest of your studio), then dives into the details of waveforms, filter modes, envelopes, and more – starting with the typical “East Coast” subtractive synthesis approach and moving on to more advanced ideas, including “West Coast” concepts such as frequency modulation, wave shaping, and low pass gates. The course even covers effects: both as modules inside a system, and looping external effects and sound sources into your modular signal flow. The overall idea is to train both your brain and your ear to understand how these modules work, making it much easier translate a sound in your head into a patch on your modular system – as well as to understand and be able to recreate that amazing new sound you stumbled on by accident while experimenting.

The “teaching rack” for this course (pictured above; click for more information on how and why I chose the modules I used for this course) is based on the widely available Roland System 500 Eurorack-standard synthesizer modules, complemented with modules from numerous other manufacturers. As most modules as well as many synthesizer keyboards and plug-ins are designed around the same principles, this course will be useful to all musicians wishing to get further into synthesis and programming their own sounds, regardless of the specific equipment you own. Below is the introduction from that soon to be released course, to give you a taste for what I’ll be covering and my approach:

For those who are into software synths, I’ve also created a version of Learning Modular Synthesis for Arturia Modular V, an emulation of the original Moog modular synths of the 60s and 70s and their recent re-releases. It too starts with the fundamentals of how sound and harmonics work, as well as how to set up Modular V and patch together modules in its virtual environment. I then go through the main modules individually, explaining the differences between oscillator waveshapes, filter types, etc. while demonstrating how to use them in a musical context. Then I move into more advanced techniques such as frequency and amplitude modulation, as well as using the effects and advanced filters in Arturia Modular V. A few movies – the course introduction & overview, a “your first patch” guided tour of creating a typical subtractive synthesis patch from scratch, pulse width modulation, and sync – may be viewed by everyone for free. This course will also help get you into the mindset of programming a large Moog modular or similar hardware or software modular synth:

Both courses are now available on Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning. Lynda.com in particular offers both monthly and annual subscriptions. They already have a nice selection of other music and audio related courses, as well as a wide range of courses on computer software, photography, business, and many other subjects. Subscriptions can run as low as $25 per month, which gives you access to all of their courses. Use this link to sign up for Lynda.com and they will not bill your credit card for 10 days while you try out the service and sample as many courses as you like – including the Learning Modular Synthesis courses. More information is available on their registration page.