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Teaching Modular Synths
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion  
Author Teaching Modular Synths
Karabekian
I've been trying to think of a good way to teach people who might be looking into get into modular - thinking from the viewpoint of people who already know a bit about synthesis. I also noticed that once you've got your head around the basics there isn't much out there for the intermediate wiggler like myself, and I'm always trying to learn.

I put my teacher head on and had a thought about what this might look like as a progression of skills, leading from the absolute basics, to intermediate and high level wiggling. I guess the goal might be to produce a series of short videos that build upon the prior learning. I know a lot of these things can be found on our many famous YouTuber's channels, but I thought it would be good to have series that went from start to finish, almost[/b] like the much popularised series of Sound on Sound articles.

So, I thought, what is the most basic thing I need to know in order to use a modular synth?

So, I came up with,

What are CVs, Gates and Triggers?

What would logically follow on from this?

What else would fit into the beginner category? Or intermediate? Expert?
Gizmo
Don't underestimate the importance of audience knowledge assessment going in. Starting with CVs etc. assumes something about the student's entry point. The student who has a good understanding of the physics of sound (for example) is ready to tackle the sound-creation components, while someone lacking that understanding is in a different place (and maybe you exclude them implicitly). Similarly, experienced coders will have a grasp of workflow. Etc. Consider expressing your basic assumptions and audience competencies as a first step.

The ARP 2600 Owner's Manual (1971) took a very basic instructional approach which you may find useful.
Karabekian
Oh, I completely agree. I defined this as "thinking from the viewpoint of people who already know a bit about synthesis", but maybe that needs a bit of clarification.

That someone being an individual who is familiar with the functions of a DAW, hardware synthesiser or drum machine, and who has maybe made a preset patch on a softsynth.

I guess really I'm thinking approaching this tutorial from a functional viewpoint - How does each module function? more than how do I produce a pleasing or well sculpted sound.
cptnal
Karabekian wrote:
So, I thought, what is the most basic thing I need to know in order to use a modular synth?

So, I came up with,

What are CVs, Gates and Triggers?


I would take it back a step further - voltage.

Here's an idea for you to use or dismiss as appropriate...

Start off recreating a "classic" subtractive signal path. "There you go," you say, "that's how normal synthesizers work." Then you introduce the concept that everything is voltage, including audio. Audio looks like this (graph), control voltage looks like this (another graph). The next patch might take this idea (that anything can be anything) and create something that you couldn't produce on a normal synthesizer. Then you've established what sets modular apart from other synths, and why they're worthy of study in their own right.
Krankenwagen
I’m still fairly new to modular and synthesis and on a number of occasions people who have seen my modular rig have asked me to explain it to them so I’ve had some practice. I recommend explaining things in the following order.

1) Waveforms: easy to visualise and hear. Especially if you have an oscilloscope. Use an oscillator that has multiple waveform outputs and LFO capability. Sine, triangle, saw, square should be enough.

2) LFO and CV: Demostrate that an oscillator can run below audio rate. What’s the use of something you can’t hear? Well it’s still sending a voltage. The y-axis in the oscilloscope represents the voltage. You can use these voltages to basically twist any of the many knobs and dials you see all over the place. Voltages are the shared language of a modular system.

3) Examples: I usually use a VCO and the V/Oct on an oscillator to demonstrate how CVs can be used. Anyone can understand volume and pitch. Show the effects of different types of CV. E.g a sine wave has a slow rising and falling effect. A square wave will function like an on off switch.

I find that that’s usually enough for people to get the gist of how modular works. Maybe briefly explain the types of modules. E.g some are audio source modules, some generate CVs and some are designed to process or filter CVs and audio. Then show them the true meaning of modular by breaking all the rules you just explained. Stick an oscillator into a clock divider or something.
Pelsea
When I taught this for a living, I'd spend two weeks (8 hours of class) on modular synthesis.

My approach is always the same, something I call "basic beep". I begin by demonstrating an oscillator, showing how to adjust the frequency, and discussing the various waveforms. The key takeaway is that the oscillator runs continuously.

Next I hook up an LFO to show how CV affects frequency. I then replace the LFO with the keyboard and discuss the difference between a changing CV and a steady one.

The oscillator has been running continuously (often quietly) as I do this, so the next step is presenting the VCA as a way of shutting the oscillator up. The key takeaway is that a VCA is really voltage controlled attenuator that defaults to off. While demonstrating the VCA, I connect an LFO and show the effect of CV on amplitude.

Next I replace the LFO with an envelope generator, which I introduce as an oscillator that only "oscs" once. I prefer envelope generators with a trigger button for this. Finally, I take a trigger from the keyboard to complete the beep. After a discussion of the difference between triggers and gates, I review what's in the patch cords, which I classify according to use:
Signals will ultimately be heard.
CVs are instructions to the modules.
Gates/trigs are commands to do something.

All this takes about an hour. I encouraged my students to begin patching with basic beep when they start their studio time (They had 4 - 8 hours private studio time a week.) This ensures they have the synth patched to the monitors, and makes them comfortable with the action of patching. (They would also diagram basic beep on an exam.)

The next hour covers filters and combinations of oscillators. (Not FM yet) The details vary with the equipment I'm teaching on, but the key takeaway is that you can think of a filter as a spectral cookie cutter, but if you don't start with enough dough, you won't get a proper cookie. I also show how to make sounds dynamic by adding LFOs, ADSRs, and more VCAs.

Hour 3 is about modulation in all of its forms. I never had a through zero oscillator available, so I put Chowning style FM off until the next quarter, when we would get into MIDI gear (TX81) or plugins (FM8).

Hour 4 is dedicated to sample and hold and whatever CV processors the system has to offer.

Hour 5 is about processing & reacting to external inputs. Since this started the 3rd two hour session, I liked to have a reactive patch with an open microphone running when the students came into the classroom.

Hour 6 was about sequencers, if there was one available. If not, I'd cover other approaches to generative patches.

The final two hour class was a lot of review, answering questions that came from student's own studio time, and exploring formal development.

This all changed over the years as the equipment available changed from Moog to Tassman to Paia (I'd love to teach it now with Euroracks), but it always began with basic beep.
Parnelli
Yup... and if you're gonna teach things like voltage then you might as well back up another step and teach basic electronics, at least an understanding of AC and DC, frequency basics, and the like.

Personally I think that without a basic understanding of these your modular journey will be much more difficult.

Oh... and basic algebra wouldn't hurt either, maybe with a bit of Boolean thrown in for good measure..
Dcramer
and of course;
Feline care and feeding This is fun!
The Junglechrist
Cool thread over here ! I'm currently writting my program for next year as i will be teaching synthesis throuht modular synths to pro musicians and composer (dream jooooob).
I'll keep an eye on there for some inspiration ! And maybe i'll share some of my plans for some criticism from you guys.
ZLAL
Semimodulars are extremely helpful when teaching complete novices. I learned synthesis on an MS-20 / MS-50 / SQ-10. When discussing synthesis with someone completely new to the concept the SH101 was always my go to. Sliders help visualize envelopes.

My current go to for teaching is a micro brute. I teach a sound design course and in the synthesis portion that's what students work with.
Pelsea
Parnelli wrote:
Yup... and if you're gonna teach things like voltage then you might as well back up another step and teach basic electronics, at least an understanding of AC and DC, frequency basics, and the like.

Personally I think that without a basic understanding of these your modular journey will be much more difficult.


We taught all that stuff in another class that was prerequisite to the studio series. History, Literature and Technology of ElectronicMusic. That course, taught by Zach Watkins, Gerry Basserman, or Gordon Mumma (going back in time) pretty consistently fills a 300 seat hall.
Parnelli
Pelsea wrote:
Parnelli wrote:
Yup... and if you're gonna teach things like voltage then you might as well back up another step and teach basic electronics, at least an understanding of AC and DC, frequency basics, and the like.

Personally I think that without a basic understanding of these your modular journey will be much more difficult.


We taught all that stuff in another class that was prerequisite to the studio series. History, Literature and Technology of ElectronicMusic. That course, taught by Zach Watkins, Gerry Basserman, or Gordon Mumma (going back in time) pretty consistently fills a 300 seat hall.


Cool. I cannot imagine delving into modular with zero understanding of electronics! You don't have to be an engineer, but it helps! thumbs up
Karabekian
Parnelli wrote:
Pelsea wrote:
Parnelli wrote:
Yup... and if you're gonna teach things like voltage then you might as well back up another step and teach basic electronics, at least an understanding of AC and DC, frequency basics, and the like.

Personally I think that without a basic understanding of these your modular journey will be much more difficult.


We taught all that stuff in another class that was prerequisite to the studio series. History, Literature and Technology of ElectronicMusic. That course, taught by Zach Watkins, Gerry Basserman, or Gordon Mumma (going back in time) pretty consistently fills a 300 seat hall.


Cool. I cannot imagine delving into modular with zero understanding of electronics! You don't have to be an engineer, but it helps! thumbs up


This is all kind of what I was getting at.

I teach Primary (Elementary) in the UK, but I've recently sidelined into Special Needs. The firmer your knowledge is on the basics and prior learning, the better you can apply your knowledge.

Any recommended reading for me on AC/DC and frequency electronics?
MadMounk
As a total New-B, any teaching resource would great. I bought Syntorial and have been working my way through it, I find it useful.
I bought a Deepmind 12 second-hand thinking that would be a good way into learning but I suspect I should have started modular in order to understand synthesis at a deeper, elemental level .
At the risk of being irritating, any advice about where to start and what to buy would be greatly appreciated. seriously, i just don't get it
cptnal
MadMounk wrote:
As a total New-B, any teaching resource would great. I bought Syntorial and have been working my way through it, I find it useful.
I bought a Deepmind 12 second-hand thinking that would be a good way into learning but I suspect I should have started modular in order to understand synthesis at a deeper, elemental level .
At the risk of being irritating, any advice about where to start and what to buy would be greatly appreciated. seriously, i just don't get it


Welcome! If I were you I'd have a dig around the stickied threads. Loads of pearls in there.
Pelsea
For reading on electronics-- books range from "Electronics for dummies" to "the Art of Electronics" by Horowitz and Hill. (The standard textbook.)

For a middle ground, I like "Make:Electronics" by Charles Platt.

I have a couple of chapters on modular synthesis in my book, but I don't have enough posts to tell you about it yet. There's a old tutorial of mine called "what to do with your synthesizer" floating around-- (at artsites.ucsc.edu) I think I'll update that and post it on my website. Should only take a couple of days.
dubonaire
Pelsea wrote:
For reading on electronics-- books range from "Electronics for dummies" to "the Art of Electronics" by Horowitz and Hill. (The standard textbook.)

For a middle ground, I like "Make:Electronics" by Charles Platt.

I have a couple of chapters on modular synthesis in my book, but I don't have enough posts to tell you about it yet. There's a old tutorial of mine called "what to do with your synthesizer" floating around-- (at artsites.ucsc.edu) I think I'll update that and post it on my website. Should only take a couple of days.


http://artsites.ucsc.edu/EMS/Music/equipment/synthesizers/Synthesizing  /usesynth.html
captjrab
I’ve been teaching a kid going into 9th grade for a few months now. He has a Korg Minilouge, so we’ve been going through all the features and getting a work flow together. My approach is more of a hands on collaborative thing. Its fun. We usually go an hour and a half overtime. Sometimes we even get to making some music:
https://instagram.com/p/BinqVAfAAqs/
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