Did you ever wonder how a synthesizer works? It’s all just “electronic noise,” right? Well, yes, it totally is. But if you’d like to know a bit more than that, Berlin-based Ableton will teach you. The electronic music giant launched a website that puts a synthesizer inside your browser, and uses it to teach you exactly how a synth works.
The synth simulator works great in Mobile Safari, too, but if you use Google’s Chrome, you can hook up an actual keyboard to your Mac and use it to play. That’s thanks to Chrome’s support for Web MIDI, which Safari doesn’t offer.
Let’s have a quick look at this cool teaching tool.
Ableton Learning Synths
First, go to Ableton’s Learning Synths site. If you’re visiting from iOS, make sure you toggle off the mute switch. Like some games, the site needs you to have mute off, as well as your volume turned up. Headphones are also a good idea.
Then enjoy an educational journey. I tell you, if school had been like this, instead of learning about almost-immediately out-of-date figures of various countries’ GDPs, I would have paid a lot more attention in geography class. Then again, all those Extreme Team comic books would never have gotten written, illustrated or colored from the back row of class.
The site takes you through the basics, then adds details about LFOs, envelopes, filters and other synth essentials. This is great stuff for beginners. And the playable examples make it a lot of fun to learn, while making sure the point gets across.
Then, at the very end, you see this:
This is the Synth Playground, which lets you see how all the elements of a synth go together. The notes play automatically, so you can tweak the sliders to sculpt the sound. It’s a real synth running inside the browser — not just a recording — so the interaction is immediate. As the sound is created, markers move along the various waves and slopes to show you how those parameters affect it.
It’s a fantastic resource. Even synth experts will enjoy being able to shape the sounds with such clear controls. And because the principles apply to almost all synthesizers, you will be able to apply these lessons to both hardware and software instruments.
But really, this doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s just fun — and very, very interesting.