Everything Thing You Ever Wanted to Know About the Synthesizer: A Vintage Three-Hour Crash Course

Recent­ly I’ve been div­ing back into mak­ing music on my lap­top. Just like the iPhone has done to bulky equip­ment like cam­eras and key­boards, the dig­i­tal work­sta­tion has shrunk tons of gear, from music to mas­ter­ing, down into soft­ware. There’s cer­tain­ly no way I’m going to lug a mini-Moog to a cof­fee shop. But I’m will­ing to dab­ble with synth soft­ware, turn those dials and knobs, and see what hap­pens.

So this upload of “Intro to Syn­the­sis,” an instruc­tion­al VHS from 1985, is per­fect for me, and maybe you too. The hair, the clothes, and the jokes might be dat­ed, but the info is not. In the above video, Dean Friedman–who if you close your eyes sounds like late night host Seth Meyers–lays out the build­ing blocks of sound (pitch, tim­bre, vol­ume), the five types of wave­forms, and the sev­en com­po­nents of a syn­the­siz­er, from oscil­la­tors to the LFO.

All of these fea­tures are still found on the synth inter­faces used today in some form or anoth­er, and Fried­man goes through every ele­ment at a method­i­cal but appre­ci­at­ed pace. The three videos are an hour each.

And it pays to study the con­trols of synths and learn what makes them tick. The Yama­ha DX‑7 con­tained many pre-sets which, unfid­dled with, sound dat­ed and appear on many an ‘80s pop hit. Mean­while, Bri­an Eno, one of the few to actu­al­ly read the man­u­al, made “The Shutov Assem­bly” and oth­er mid-era ambi­ent tracks with the very same machine and noth­ing sounds quite like it.
Hap­py twid­dling!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A 10-Hour Playlist of Music Inspired by Robert Moog’s Icon­ic Syn­the­siz­er: Hear Elec­tron­ic Works by Kraftwerk, Devo, Ste­vie Won­der, Rick Wake­man & More

Dis­cov­er­ing Elec­tron­ic Music: 1983 Doc­u­men­tary Offers a Fun & Edu­ca­tion­al Intro­duc­tion to Elec­tron­ic Music

Hear Sev­en Hours of Women Mak­ing Elec­tron­ic Music (1938- 2014)

The His­to­ry of Elec­tron­ic Music Visu­al­ized on a Cir­cuit Dia­gram of a 1950s Theremin: 200 Inven­tors, Com­posers & Musi­cians

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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