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A monophonic instrument is only capable of playing one note at a time. Common examples include brass and woodwind instruments as well as the human voice (unless you are a Tuvan throat singer – then you’re awesome). A typical modular synthesizer voice is also monophonic, as it requires so much hardware and effort to patch together the components required to make that one note. Larger systems can have enough modules to patch together multiple unique (but still monophonic) voices; these are referred to as being multitimbral (multiples tones at once). A few owners have tried to create truly polyphonic modular synths that allow you to play multiple notes of more or less the same sound or patch.

Some users play fast and loose with terms such as duophonic, monophonic, and polyphonic; some really care about precise usage. For the definitive comparison between monophonic, polyphonic, and paraphonic, I suggest you read this post by respected synth historian Marc Doty.

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