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This Routine Makes Synthesizer Programming As Easy As A Walk in the Park

Have you ever spent hours trying to create a unique synth patch?

No matter how long you tweaked the controls – you didn’t get to the sound you wanted?

I was in the same boat…

Until a simple routine skyrocketed my learning curve of synthesizer programming!

The best thing: This routine works even if you’re a complete newbie in the world of oscillators, filters, and LFOs.

Are you ready to create some great sounding patches?

Then open your DAW, pick a synthesizer and let’s get tweaking!

Create a track and open your favorite synth.

This will be your reference, so go ahead and find a preset that gets you close to the sound you’re looking for. Record a short riff and loop it.

Duplicate the track and load up the init patch on the second synth.

Open both plug-in windows and put them side by side.

Synthesizer Programming - Two synths side by side

Two Retrologue synthesizers side by side. Left: reference patch, right: init patch.

Now recreate the reference patch from the init patch.

Modify one parameter at a time and compare your patch in progress regularly with the preset. Observe how each parameter tweak gets you a step closer to the sound you like. Comparing and observing is crucial to building your synthesizer programming vocabulary!

One important thing: Don’t tweak the parameters randomly!

Do it in the following order:

  1. Oscillator / Mixer: These controls define the basic timbre of the synthesizer.
  2. Amplifier: This section modulates the volume of the synthesizer with time.
  3. Filter: The filter section shapes the sound further by removing unwanted frequencies.
  4. LFO / Step sequencer: These two modules create movement by introducing periodic changes in other parameters. Think tremolo or vibrato.
  5. Effects: The size of this section depends on the synth you are using. Parameters might be hidden to save screen space – make sure to find and adjust all of them!

Step by step, you are transforming a basic init program into a complex synth patch!

And by constantly comparing your evolving patch with the reference, you are gaining a feeling of how each parameter influences the sound. Now comes the most important part:

Don’t stop tweaking once you recreated the reference patch!

Go further and make the patch your own by tweaking the parameters until you arrive at the timbre that truly combines with your song.

Repeat this routine with different patch categories (leads, pads, basses, percussions, …).

Each recreated patch gives you more insight into how to tweak your synth efficiently.

That’s it – now go ahead and create some crazy sounds!

Would you like me to write more synth oriented posts? Drop me a note on Insta

About Norbert

Norbert is a sound designer, composer, and engineer. He’s always up for a chat – you can say Hello on Insta (@norbertweiher) or head over to norbertweiher.com to check out his work.

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About Audio Issues and Björgvin Benediktsson

At Audio Issues you’ll learn simple and practical audio production tips you can use right away to improve your music from your home recording studio.  Björgvin is the best-selling author of Step By Step Mixing and the founder of Audio Issues. He helps musicians and producers turn amateur demos into professionally produced records they can be proud to release.

We help home studio musicians and project studio producers make a greater musical impact in their lives by teaching them the skills needed to grow their hobbies and careers. We do this by offering simple and practical music production and success skills they can use right away to level themselves up – while rejecting negativity and gear-shaming from the industry. A rising tide floats all boats and the ocean is big enough for all of us to surf the sound waves.

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