Welcome to Learning Modular: a resource to help you master your modular synth
You got into modular synths hoping it would make it easier to create the sounds and music you hear in your head.
But instead, you’ve spent a lot of time and money wrestling with a beast that is not intuitive, and is just as likely to produce noise as it is music.
You’ve watched hours of YouTube videos, hoping at least one of them would show you the way.
You’ve bought more modules, hoping one of them will be the magic solution.
But after the initial thrill, you’re still no closer to your goal. You might even be so frustrated that you’ve considered selling all of the modules you’ve been carefully collecting, and just quitting.
There’s no need to be depressed – no one was born knowing how to use a modular synth. And the good news is, you just found the solution.
Learning how to “patch” modular synths isn’t difficult – once you grasp how they work on the inside, and know what each module is doing to the signal flowing through it. Fortuantely, this knowledge can be learned in just a few hours, and will cost you less than most modules.
There was a musician in our local modular meetup who felt he could crack the code on his own by aimlessly patching away, hoping to stumble across some great sounds. To save money, he bought whatever used modules came up for sale cheap. To save time, he declared he didn’t need a formal education. But he also admitted that if he couldn’t get anything except noise out of his modular, he was going to give it all up.
Then he started watching my videos, and read my book. Now he’s re-organized his system, is playing live on a weekly basis, and has a plan of what modules to get to help him reach his goals. In short, now he’s enjoying using his modular, rather than getting frustrated fighting with it.
What I’ve created for you:
In addition to this Learning Modular website – which contains a modular synth glossary, blog posts and tutorials on modular synths, where to find me on social media, and more – I have created a series of online beginning through intermediate modular synth courses plus co-wrote a book that will help clear away the confusion that can come with learning modular synthesizers.
These cover the basic concepts of sound and voltage control, which are the key to understanding how a modular synth works. Each one leads you through how to create a typical “patch”, then demonstrates what different modules do and how you can use them creatively. By the end of each, you will know what module to reach for and which patch connections to make to create the sounds you want – whether you’re coming at it from electronic dance music (EDM) or ambient drone styles, East Coast or West Coast synthesis approaches, and more.
Why am I the one to help you?
I too was attracted to the sounds of electronic music when I was young. I wanted to figure out how to make those sounds myself. I took synthesis lessons as a teen in the 1970s, learning on a modular Steiner-Parker Synthasystem. A kit-based PAiA modular was my dorm room companion in college. Soon after I graduated, I was working at the legendary synth manufacturer Sequential Circuits, where I contributed to several instruments and created Vector Synthesis. I went on to work for Digidesign, Marion Systems (Tom Oberheim), and was the chief engineer at Roland R&D US. I also use modular synths and other electronic music gear to compose and perform under the name Alias Zone.
In other words, I know how these machines work from the inside out – I’ve even designed them.
And I’ve always enjoyed sharing what I’ve learned. I taught synthesis at UCLA Extension, was the technical editor for Music Technology and Recording magazines, and wrote a column for Keyboard magazine. I continue today, writing module reviews for Synth & Software.
I also have a lot of experience creating videos and books. Before I started Learning Modular, I created nearly 50 online courses on creating graphics for television and film for lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning), and my wife Trish and I co-wrote 13 books on the subject. And in the past few years, I’ve created several courses and co-wrote a book on modular synthesis (see below).
In short, I know how to distill complex subjects down to information artists can immediately put to use.
So – which path will you choose?
You can continue to use modular synths the way you have, poking around and hoping for happy accidents to magically appear.
Or, you can save time, money, and frustration by learning how these wonderful machines actually work on the inside. Once you have mastered the fundamental concepts and techniques I will share, the barriers between you and your synth will melt away, and it will become your partner – rather than your adversary – when you want to create your own sounds and music.
I offer several different paths at different price points (starting at free!), designed for different levels and types of modular user – including you. Each one is described in brief below, with a link to the page where you can read about them in more detail. If you choose an online course, you can register and buy it on that page, getting immediate, unlimited access to the information you want. If you choose the book Patch & Tweak or my Patreon page, an additional link will take you to those sites where you can order or subscribe.
The Basic Concepts of Synthesis
When you first get into sound synthesis, it may seem like people are speaking an alien language. To help translate, I created this easy-to-understand course that demonstrates these fundamental concepts. They are designed for the beginner that is just getting into synthesis in general, and modular synthesis in particular. 10 movies, 30 minutes, FREE.
The Comprehensive Starter Course
New to modular synthesis? This “Level 1” course starts with the origins of electronic music. It will teach you the fundamentals of modular synthesis, as well as how to choose a format and initial collection of modules. After that, I demonstrate step by step the most common approaches to modular synthesis. 38 movies, nearly 4 hours, $70 USD
Semi-Modular: Introduction to the Moog Mother-32
Starting out with a semi-modular synth as an easy first step into modulars? This course focuses on the popular Mother-32, including using its synthesis engine, programming its sequencer, using its patchbay, and adding external modules to expand its capabilities. 18 movies, ~2 hours, $35 USD
Software: Introduction to Arturia Modular-V
More comfortable using a computer than hardware? I start with the fundamentals of synthesis that apply to both hardware and software. After showing you how to install and use this popular emulation of the classic Moog modular synthesizer, I demonstrate musically useful applications for each module. 31 movies, over 3 hours, $50 USD
Eurorack Expansion: Intelligently Adding to Your Modular Synth
Have a starter system, and wondering what modules you should buy next? Are you tired wasting time and money on the wrong modules? This “Level 2” course demonstrates what each type of module will add to your sonic toolkit, including deep dives into specific modules. It is available in three different “Tiers” ranging in price from $25 to $225 USD, each with a different number of modules explored.
Book: Patch & Tweak – Exploring Modular Synthesis
Prefer reading over watching videos? Kim Bjørn and I created this gorgeous, heavily-illustrated book that starts with the fundamentals and goes through advanced applications for each type of module with hundreds of examples. Includes patches, interviews, glossary, and an abbreviated history of modular synthesis. 368 pages, hard cover, $69 USD retail
Continuing Education: Learning Modular on Patreon
Want to go deeper, and keep up on the latest information? Then join my subscribers-only Patreon channel where I share in detail my ongoing explorations in modular synthesis, including module deep-dives, techniques, music, history, and how I choose and use the modules in my own personal systems, both live and in the studio. Subscriptions run from $1 to $24 USD/month, with most including access to one or more of the courses above.
Features of each course:
- arranged as a set of individual video lessons, each dedicated to a specific concept to make it easier to find the exact information you’re looking for – quickly
- buy it once, and get permanent 24/7 access: no limits or expiration dates; no subscriptions to renew
- clickable links to the Learning Modular Glossary for most technical terms
- dedicated Community to exchange tips with fellow users
- closed captions and downloadable transcripts being added for most lessons
- helps you connect your eyes, ears, and brain so you can get the sounds you’re after more quickly
Get started now.
Stop wasting time and money on modules and patches that won’t get you closer to your goals.
Choose the path above that seems best suited to you, click through to its page, and get started learning how to master your modular synth. Give your imagination the tools it needs, so that you can finally realize the sounds and songs in you’ve been hearing in your head. You won’t regret investing in your own creativity.
But what if it doesn’t help me?
If you buy one of my online courses above, and after watching it decide that you didn’t learn anything or that it wasn’t right for you, email me using the contact form on this website, and I will refund your money. Yes, I know a few people are going to take advantage of me by watching a course and then claiming it was useless, just to save money. But in my experience, the modular synthesis community is full of wonderful, creative, honest human beings. So I’m willing to take that risk, just to make sure you are happy.
And as a bonus…
When you purchase one of my courses or subscribe to my Patreon channel, you will automatically start receiving my monthly newsletter. It contains additional modular articles and tips, along with summaries of my most recent videos and posts.
This site also contains a lot of free information to help you on your modular journey, including an online Modular Synthesis Glossary and blog posts about essential techniques. Explore the menu along the top to learn more, including about my courses and book. Because after all – modular users never stop learning.
I have been building modules and trying to learn this wonderful thing called modular for a few years now.
I probably went completely the wrong way around it, bought too much with too little knowledge, and ended up dazed and confused and ignorant to what I had, could do, had done wrong.
The many possibilities of all the modules that sat before me, with many doing more than one job in the same unit, just left me stuck and more confused than ever. I could not get my head around signal flow, and how it all ties together.
I have struggled, I mean really struggled. I really did not get it.
Your course is sorting those tangled thoughts and ideas and misconceptions for me like no other video I have seen. So many other videos make the mistake of assuming knowledge. Believe me, I have watched dozens – probably too many – all leading to greater confusion.
You do not fail in this area. You explain all that is needed in a clear and unpatronizing manner, with a great visual method. Your style really clears my head, and I am having eureka moments all the time where things start to join together and make sense. I know I will now “get there”.
The Mother-32 course was a lot of fun. As an electronic musician myself with a real fascination with synthesizers, I had a blast watching and thinking about the possibilities with the Mother-32, either on its own or with a Eurorack setup.
I have always wanted to start building a modular synth, but part of what has been scaring me off from it – aside from the price – has been the seeming complexity. But after watching this course (and your previous course on the Arturia Modular V) I think I could put one together without too much trouble.
I really appreciated how you took things one step at a time, from showing off the basics of the Mother-32, to its more advanced features, to how to put together a basic eurorack setup. If I had been doing one myself without watching this course, I probably would have overlooked the mixer, output module, buffered mult, precision adder, etc. in favor of flashier modules like oscillators and filters. This really got me excited and wanting to start working on building my own, even if it takes awhile to get something substantial together.
On the whole, I loved this video, and when I start putting together my own Eurorack I will be sure to check out this course and the other courses in the series again for pointers.
I think you did really well. You’re friendly and clearly love this stuff, which makes it easy to follow along and stay engaged.