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Synthesizers! Using Synthesis for Sound Design & Production

Using Ableton Live and Reason, we will learn how to craft sounds using any synthesizer to make our tracks amazing.
4.7 (119 ratings)
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2,131 students enrolled
Created by Jason Allen
Last updated 4/2016
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  • 3 hours on-demand video
  • 1 Article
  • 1 Supplemental Resource
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What Will I Learn?
Design amazing sounds using any synthesizer
Work in Reason to understand synthesis
Work in Ableton Live to understand synthesis
Create any sound you can imagine using whatever software is at your disposal
View Curriculum
  • This course uses both Reason and Ableton Live, but is designed to work on any software (or hardware) platform. So no matter what software you are using, this class will guide you through how to use your synthesizers.

This classes uses the same system I've used for years in my college courses for teaching sound design: Identify and master the 4 main pieces of any synthesizer, and you will be flying when you first approach any other unit in the future.

This system keeps the technical jargon to a minimum and gets you making your own sounds quick.

J. Anthony Allen is an Ableton Certified Trainer, and a PhD in Music Composition and master of Electronic Sounds. His music has been heard internationally in film, radio, video games, and industrial sound, as well as the concert hall and theater.

He currently as an adjunct professor of composition at the University of St. Thomas, Macphail Academy of Music, and the CEO of Slam Academy in Minneapolis.

Praise for other classes by J. Anthony Allen:

  • "Dr Allen does it again with his music theory for electronic musicians series. This course really opened up everything I learned from the 1st section and now I understand more about the composition side of things for music. I highly highly recommend this course to anyone!!! Really opened my eyes to many things I wasn't aware of."
  • "The Best Teacher ever, who makes you understand the ins & outs of Music Theory by all mean without giving what you don't want to know."
  • "I have never had any formal training in music at all. Trying to learn all the notes and how everything translated was a serious challenge. After going thru this class, Dr. J has totally brought down the barriers. The content was very useful and was easy to grasp for me."
Who is the target audience?
  • This course is meant for anyone interested in making their own sounds to enhance their productions.
  • This course does not go into complex terminology about synthesis, so it is ideal for students just starting out (or needing a refresher) in synthesis and sound design.
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Curriculum For This Course
Expand All 31 Lectures Collapse All 31 Lectures 02:57:34
Introduction to Sound Design & Synthesis
4 Lectures 13:36

Welcome to Sound Design Fundamentals: Synthesis! In this introductory video we will talk about the class, what we will cover, and how we will cover it.

Preview 03:11

In this class we will use a few different synthesizers (Subtractor in Reason, Analog and Operator in Ableton Live), to show how you can find all the key elements of any synthesizer, once you understand the main principals of synthesis.

Preview 03:02

For this class we will focus on 2 main types of synthesis: Subtractive and FM synthesis. What that means and why will be covered in this video.

Preview 02:25

This is it! The main key to understanding all virtual and physical synthesizers. Learn these four elements and you will be able to find your way through any kind of synthesizer and synthesis.

The 4 Elements to all Synthesizers
Fundamentals of Subtractive Synthesis
7 Lectures 52:24

The Subtractor is a great synth for teaching subtractive synthesis. Finding our four key elements is fairly simple, and the signal flow is easy to follow. For this first section, we will use Subtractor as our main tool for creating sounds with subtractive synthesis.

The Subtractor in Reason: The Interface

The oscillator is the main tone-generator for synthesis. It is one of the most important elements in any synthesizer. In this section, we will look at how Oscillators work, what they do, and what parameters they have for us to understand when crafting our own sounds.

The Oscillator

In subtractive synthesis, the filter is essential. In other kinds of synthesis (as we will see later in this class) filters are always present. Understanding key elements to a filter will help you sculpt the sounds you really want to design.

Preview 07:22

The envelope is the "shape" of a sound. How it begins, how it ends, and what happens in between. Envelopes are essential for creating dynamic, expressive sounds.

Preview 12:48

Sometimes the amplifier is the most simple of our main four elements. In the case of Reason, it is just a volume knob. But there are some extra parameters you will find in other synths that are important to know about.

The Amplifier

Now that we know the main ingredients to a synthesizer, lets start designing some sounds from scratch, but putting everything together in this video.

Putting it all Together in Reason

Just to prove my theory that understanding these four elements can get you through all kinds of different software synthesizers, here we will switch over to Ableton Live's Analog synthesizer and apply these concepts.

Using Ableton's Analog for Subtractive Synthesis
The Other Elements: LFO, Modulations, and Other Key Elements
4 Lectures 19:13

The LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) is another element we find in nearly all synthesizers. It is a great tool to add motion and texture to your sound.


Portamento (sometimes called Glide) is how long it takes from one note to glide up to the next. Adjusting it can add a new layer to your sounds.

Portamento (or Glide)

The trigger modes of a synthesizer govern how the envelope is applied when you play a group of notes. Knowing the settings for it will help you craft a sound for better melodies and basslines.

Trigger Modes

In this section, we will look at some of the modulation possibilities using the velocity of our keyboard, or the velocty parameter in your software.

Velocity Control
Deconstruction, Part 1
2 Lectures 13:15

In this video, we will take a preset in the Subtractor in Reason and pick it apart. We will walk through what makes it tick, and how slight adjustments can have big effects.

Subtractive Synthesizer Patch Deconstruction No. 1 (Reason)

In this video, we will take a preset in the Analog in Ableton Live and pick it apart. We will walk through what makes it tick, and how slight adjustments can have big effects.

Subtractive Synthesizer Patch Deconstruction No. 2 (Ableton Live)
FM Synthesis
4 Lectures 21:25

FM Synthesis (Frequency Modulation) is a different kind of synthesis that we have looked at so far, but a lot of the same elements still work. Learning how FM works now that we understand subtrative synthesis gives us a huge headstart.

What is FM Synthesis?

The Operator in Ableton Live is a complex synthesizer, capable of a lot of different kinds of synthesis. In this video we will take an overview look at the interface and how it works.

Using Ableton's Operator: The Interface

Making sounds using FM isn't that hard now that we understand the basic principals. In this video we will use the Operator in Ableton Live to construct some FM synthesis sounds.

Making Sounds Using FM Synthesis

We will have the possiblitiy of adding an LFO, velocty control, and other kinds of modulation to our sounds. Here we look at how to add them and their effects in FM Synthesis.

Adding the Additional Elements (From Section 3)
Deconstruction, Part 2
2 Lectures 12:18

In this video, we will take a preset in the Operator in Ableton Live and pick it apart. We will walk through what makes it tick, and how slight adjustments can have big effects.

FM Synthesizer Patch Deconstruction No. 3 (Ableton's Operator)

In this video, we will take a preset in the Operator in Ableton Live and pick it apart. We will walk through what makes it tick, and how slight adjustments can have big effects.

FM Synthesizer Patch Deconstruction No. 4 (Ableton's Operator)
Wrap Up!
2 Lectures 03:02

The sequal to this class will focus on sampling - creating dynamic synthesizer sounds using samples, and looking at drum sounds as well.

Coming Up in Sound Design Fundamentals: Sampling

Thanks for watching! Hope you enjoyed it! Be sure to leave questions here for me and I'll get to them as fast as I can!

Parting Thoughts!
Bonus Videos: Ableton Live's Analog Instrument
6 Lectures 42:22

A few notes about how we will be approaching the Analog Instrument.

Analog Overview

First, we will walk through the basic outline and signal flow of Analog, paying special attention to our "4 Key Elements."

Analog Basic Outline

Now its time to get down and dirty: In this lesson we will program our own sounds, and explore some of the parameters in Analog.

Programming Analog

A few extra features available to us in Analog, that we will also find in most of Ableton's Instruments.

Noise and LFO in Analog

Here is one more synth for us to look at - just for fun. Live's Impulse Synth.

Bonus Lecture: Live's Impulse Synth

There is so much more to learn!

Bonus Lecture: Discount Offers & Mailing List
About the Instructor
4.5 Average rating
3,591 Reviews
26,315 Students
53 Courses
Ph.D / Ableton Certified Trainer

J. Anthony Allen has worn the hats of composer, producer, songwriter, engineer, sound designer, DJ, remix artist, multi-media artist, performer, inventor, and entrepreneur. Allen is a versatile creator whose diverse project experience ranges from works written for the Minnesota Orchestra to pieces developed for film, TV, and radio. An innovator in the field of electronic performance, Allen performs on a set of “glove” controllers, which he has designed, built, and programmed by himself. When he’s not working as a solo artist, Allen is a serial collaborator. His primary collaborative vehicle is the group Ballet Mech, for which Allen is one of three producers.

J. Anthony Allen teaches at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN., and is an Ableton Live Certified Trainer. He is a co-founder and owner of Slam Academy, a multimedia educational space in downtown Minneapolis. Recently, Allen founded Hackademica – an innovative net-label for new music.

J. has a PhD in music composition, 2 Master’s degrees in music composition and electronic music, and a bachelors degree in guitar performance. Through his academic travels, Dr. Allen has received numerous awards along the way.

If you run into him on the street, he prefers to be addressed as J. (as in, Jay.)

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