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keys, synths, the differences and the similarities


Serac

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I started keyboard, and am interested in synth sounds. But first I want to know a lot of stuff first.

 

What is the difference between a keyboard and a synth?

 

I also opened a synth book, and it told me about programming sine and sawtooth waves and stuff, but my keyboard didnt have those functions, is that only for on the comp or something?

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Welcome to the forum, Serac!

 

Basically a keyboard is any musical instrument with black-n-whites on it. I consider an acoustic piano to be a keyboard, but another way of looking at it is that a keyboard also uses electricity.

 

Curious- what kind of keyboard do you have?

 

So, not all keyboards are synths, but most synths are keyboards. (Obviously, rackmount ones are not, nor are huge modular systems that don't necessarily come with a keyboard.)

 

So what makes a musical instrument a "synth"? A synthesizer is defined by allowing the player to create sounds from scratch, or at least deeply edit existing presets. To be a synth, there has to be control over the innermost level of what's shaping the sound. A digital piano that lets you edit the EQ, touch response, etc, is therefore not really a synth, but a "workstation" like a Motif or Triton that lets you control the individual waveforms, their envelopes, how they're filtered, and all that, IS most certainly a synth. Low-priced introductory keyboards you'd find in a Best Buy or Costco are also not considered synths, though some of the better ones might sound great and have a lot of functions like rhythms and automatic accompaniment.

 

Then you have all the virtual (and real) analog stuff covered with knobs- definitely synths, too. The synth book you looked at was most likely talking about "subtractive" synthesis, which is a form we've had since the first RCA and Moog synths. The theory is to generate a complex wave form rich in harmonics, then filter out what you don't want. That's putting it really crudely, but this is how the guts of today's workstations still work.

 

Anything I haven't hit here? Happy to answer more questions if you need...

Stephen Fortner

Principal, Fortner Media

Senior Editor, Music Player Network

Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Digital Piano Consultant, Piano Buyer Magazine

 

Industry affiliations: Antares, Arturia, Giles Communications, MS Media, Polyverse

 

 

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Thanks for the help.

 

I use a Casio CTK-451, its basically just a keyboard that is built in with 100 types of beats, 100 types of instruments, and 100 songs.

 

I guess it doesnt count really as a synth, then. When I say synth I mean stuff like the synth in NINs The Hand that Feeds, if youve heard it before. I must be thinking of an analog synth, with all those dials to turn and customize sounds in. But those cost thousands.. Huh, I guess Ill just have to use virtual synths on my computer? I heard of Protools, but is that something entirely different? Or any free digital synth programs

 

And how do digital synthesizers work? I know for analog you turn the dials, but how do you customize the sound in digital synths? Are digital synths custom sounds made on the comp by cutting and altering sound waves, then using MIDI to upload it onto your digital keyboard synthesizer?

 

My keyboard just play sounds from the notes, I dont see any soundwaveforms anywhere near that keyboard. Are the more high tech synths capable of editing sound waves on them? Or is that only on the computer?

 

I read a bit of that link sleepwalk gave me, and it called the virtual synth software synthesis. And the one I was thinking about before with the action of filtering soundwaves on the keyboard subtractive synthesis. Is subtractive synthesis available on software synthesis, or are they completely different things?

 

Also, is sampling just basically recording instruments for tracks, like what they do at record labels when they record various artists tracks? And they use the same technology, either software on a computer or Is there a sampler machine in real life that you could touch, or is sampling exclusively on computers?

 

Well, I am a bit interested in synths, but I dont have too much money. Are there any free and legal computer programs that duplicate a synth? Or maybe I should consider a keyboardless synth module, are those worth it? I dont have more than a few hundred dollars to spendm, so I guess workstations are also out of the question, unless they are on the computer. And does anyone know what a "crappy synth threshold (CST) is exactly?

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Originally posted by Stephen Fortner:

So what makes a musical instrument a "synth"? A synthesizer is defined by allowing the player to create sounds from scratch, or at least deeply edit existing presets. To be a synth, there has to be control over the innermost level of what's shaping the sound. A digital piano that lets you edit the EQ, touch response, etc, is therefore not really a synth, but a "workstation" like a Motif or Triton that lets you control the individual waveforms, their envelopes, how they're filtered, and all that, IS most certainly a synth. Low-priced introductory keyboards you'd find in a Best Buy or Costco are also not considered synths, though some of the better ones might sound great and have a lot of functions like rhythms and automatic accompaniment.

Umm.....To imitate a sound is to synthesize. Of course you can also synthesize chemicals, but that is for another forum. :)

 

The human voice can be a synthesizer, i.e. Woof, I'm a dog; Meow, I'm a cat; yada yada.

 

As far as keyboards go, is it a preset synth or a programmable synth? What is the main sonic focus of that instrument? Is it designed to re-create the sounds of acoustic/electro-acoustic keyboard instruments like the GEM Promega 3, or is it designed to cover a wider range of acoustic and electronic sounds like the GEM Genesys Pro S.

 

Even a simple preset digital piano with reverb and an EQ can be considered a synthesizer since you have the ability to synthesize different room environments via the EQ and reverb control.

 

But seriouslyThe standard lingo for instruments like the Motif, Triton, Fantom, Genesys Pro S, etc. is to call them synths, or in recent years that has transformed into the term workstation. The workstation tag describes an instrument that should have the ability to create a vast assortment of sounds internally or through the sampling of external sound sources; a means to produce multi-track recordings using those sounds and possibly the ability to include external sound sources within those recordings; and some way of transferring those recordings to the current popular media the CD by sending those recordings to a computer via USB, or even better to a CD burner built in to the workstation itself; and adequate storage space for sounds and recordings via external HD or CD-R, or hopefully an internal hard drive and CD-R drive.

 

The fact is, the various terms that have been used to describe musical instrument keyboards over the years have kind of blurred. The best advice for choosing a keyboard hasnt changed though; decide just what you need out of an instrument and dont be swayed by whats hot now if it really doesnt fulfill YOUR needs. Ask for advice on the various forums but keep in mind that people tend to like what they have so opinions can be slightly narrow-minded (nothing wrong with that, our ears become accustomed to what we listen to most).

 

Dave

Wm. David McMahan

I Play, Therefore I Am

 

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Originally posted by DaveMcM:

Originally posted by Stephen Fortner:

So what makes a musical instrument a "synth"? A synthesizer is defined by allowing the player to create sounds from scratch, or at least deeply edit existing presets. To be a synth, there has to be control over the innermost level of what's shaping the sound. A digital piano that lets you edit the EQ, touch response, etc, is therefore not really a synth, but a "workstation" like a Motif or Triton that lets you control the individual waveforms, their envelopes, how they're filtered, and all that, IS most certainly a synth. Low-priced introductory keyboards you'd find in a Best Buy or Costco are also not considered synths, though some of the better ones might sound great and have a lot of functions like rhythms and automatic accompaniment.

Umm.....To imitate a sound is to synthesize. Of course you can also synthesize chemicals, but that is for another forum. :)

 

The human voice can be a synthesizer, i.e. Woof, I'm a dog; Meow, I'm a cat; yada yada.

 

As far as keyboards go, is it a preset synth or a programmable synth? What is the main sonic focus of that instrument? Is it designed to re-create the sounds of acoustic/electro-acoustic keyboard instruments like the GEM Promega 3, or is it designed to cover a wider range of acoustic and electronic sounds like the GEM Genesys Pro S.

 

Even a simple preset digital piano with reverb and an EQ can be considered a synthesizer since you have the ability to synthesize different room environments via the EQ and reverb control.

 

But seriouslyThe standard lingo for instruments like the Motif, Triton, Fantom, Genesys Pro S, etc. is to call them synths, or in recent years that has transformed into the term workstation. The workstation tag describes an instrument that should have the ability to create a vast assortment of sounds internally or through the sampling of external sound sources; a means to produce multi-track recordings using those sounds and possibly the ability to include external sound sources within those recordings; and some way of transferring those recordings to the current popular media the CD by sending those recordings to a computer via USB, or even better to a CD burner built in to the workstation itself; and adequate storage space for sounds and recordings via external HD or CD-R, or hopefully an internal hard drive and CD-R drive.

 

The fact is, the various terms that have been used to describe musical instrument keyboards over the years have kind of blurred. The best advice for choosing a keyboard hasnt changed though; decide just what you need out of an instrument and dont be swayed by whats hot now if it really doesnt fulfill YOUR needs. Ask for advice on the various forums but keep in mind that people tend to like what they have so opinions can be slightly narrow-minded (nothing wrong with that, our ears become accustomed to what we listen to most).

 

Dave

Thanks for the help.

 

But how would one do "eq" or "reverb" on a simple keyboard, like the Casio CTK-451?

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Hi Serac,

 

Unfortunately the CTK0451 falls under the "preset" category meaning it does not allow for any alterations to the sound other than volume.

 

Please be aware that what I had to say in my post above was a very simplistic point of view regarding the definition of a synthesizer.

 

One point I was making is all electronic keyboards are synthesizers. Some are preset instruments like your CTK-451, or digital pianos with preset sounds, or the most elaborate programmable workstation keyboard. All are synthesizers in the true sense of the word; they imitate sounds electronically (or create entirely new ones).

 

How various keyboards accomplish sound creation can differ quite a bit. Your CTK-451 is considered a sample playback instrument. The sounds that you hear when playing your keyboard are recordings (samples) of real instruments digital recorded and stored in circuits inside the CTK-451. As an example, if you select a drum kit to play from the keyboard, each drum/percussion sound is a recording of the real thing. Most of the keyboard instruments available these days utilize this technology. Some are entirely preset in their sound selection and others may have in-depth editing capabilities to re-shape the original sample(s) into something completely different.

 

Lately, another type of synthesizer that has re-gained enormous popularity is the analog synth. This instrument does not contain samples of real instruments as described above. An analog synth relies solely on voltage and the manipulation of that voltage with various circuits and components to shape that voltage into sound. Take a look at the link provided by sleepwalk to see some of the early analog synths.

 

Another type of sound synthesis is through the use of FM, or Frequency Modulation. The first mass produced keyboard to utilize this technology was the Yamaha DX7. You can find a lot of information about this technology by searching the internet. Also try searching Dr. John Chowning. Dr. Chowning was the Director of the Center for Computer Research and Musical Acoustics at Stanford University and developed the idea of using FM for sound creation. In the mid 1970s he shopped the idea of digitally produced FM to Yamaha who eventually ended up buying his idea and needless to say did very well on their investment.

 

Dave

Wm. David McMahan

I Play, Therefore I Am

 

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Thanks Dave.

 

So if I did want to digitally manipulate sound waves by cutting and adding effects, I would probably need computer software to try it out on? If so, can someone recommend me a free and legal and good software program to manipulate sound? :)

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There are tons of freeware applications.

Check some out here (these are rather old):

http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/freeware/98/

 

There are so many, however, that you can spend hours filling your computer with potential homemade junk until you find something that is not entirely horrible.

 

I would recommend you get Applied Acoustic's Ultra Analog software (~190$USD online). I haven't used this software, but I have used AA's Tassman (more expensive) and I found AA's stuff very user friendly.

 

I too am a newb when it comes to synths, but I was actually able to understand the basics of synthesis with Tassman as it came with really elaborate and to-the-point tutorials that can easily get you started.

 

Most software overwhelmes you with the ammount of knobs and possibilities to tweak, but with tassman I was able to start with a blank page, and just have one oscillator (main sound source) hooked up to a virtual speaker. (Of course, many other programs do this, I just happen to have used this one)

 

It is important that you start with as few elements as possible (one osc, no filters) so that you understand the basics thouroughly and then move on to the advanced stuff.

 

Keep in mind, sound synthesis is kind of like an art, I still have no idea how people can hear a sound and be able to recreate it electronically.. I admire those people :)

 

So to summarize: Get a midi cable, (make sure u have midi interface on your PC), go buy AA's Ultra Analog, open up the first tutorial, create a simple 2 element sound (just a sine wave :) ) and play it on your keyboard, you'll instantly feel a wave of joy as you realize that your possibilities are now virtually endless.

 

Good luck, and most importantly, have fun :)

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Some companies also over downloadable demos of their paid software, which can be a great way to get your feet wet. Here's a page we have at the KB site for Sampletank and Sonic Synth 2. It may interest you.

 

http://www.keyboardmag.com/story.asp?storycode=9025&navcode=482

Stephen Fortner

Principal, Fortner Media

Senior Editor, Music Player Network

Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Digital Piano Consultant, Piano Buyer Magazine

 

Industry affiliations: Antares, Arturia, Giles Communications, MS Media, Polyverse

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

Hi, I know it's been a while but I still need a lot of help. :)

 

I have a CTK-451 keyboard and I want to make it so when I press down on its keys it will make synthesizer sounds, and sounds that I create. But I guess I'm supposed to use Midi and computer software to transfer it to my keyboard, cause it is MIDI capable, but I'm wondering what I have to do to get my keyboard to play my programmed songs. I have a keyboard and a computer, but how do I get the keyboard to play those sounds?

 

Also, I went ahead and downloaded soniksynth...

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Serac, not to be harsh, but you're missing some key components in your understanding of what does what (i.e. MIDI, synthesis). Rather than ask for someone to go over this, there are a number of resources on the 'net to give you this grounding in the fundamentals.

 

Of course, you'll need to dedicate some time to reading and absorbing all of this... there's no real value in trying to skip these steps, IMO.

 

So, that being said, check out the following:

 

Sound On Sound MIDI Basics article series (start with MIDI Basics: Part 1, and work through these articles in order)

 

Wikipedia entry on MIDI - another good grounding in the basics.

 

Good luck,

SG

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Before you spring $190 for a software synth, try downloading Native Instruments' freebie Soundforum synth. It does everything your basic 70's analog did, and is very editable and responsive. It also works standalone, so you don't need to find a VST host for it.

 

Hint: save the FM for last - it's much less intuitive than the waveform/filter/envelope model.

 

If you want a hardware version, the Arp Axxe is still cheap, and sounds great. Single oscillator though (not counting self-resonating the filter), so some advance features aren't available. FM for one.

 

Once you've mastered - or at least become familiar with - that type of synthesis, the rest falls into place much more readily. Though sampling is a completely different animal.

 

Best,

 

Daf

I played in an 8 piece horn band. We would often get bored. So...three words:

"Tower of Polka." - Calumet

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I think that was pretty well said by DafDuc. I'm still pretty new to this all but I ended up buying a microkorg(analog modeling) for my first keyboard ever. I think the only way to really learn is to sit down and figure it out yourself. I think it took me about 2 months to get everything down. Now when I hear any type of analog sounds I can pretty much get the idea of what it's made up of. I think alot of people here who have used analog modeling can fully agree with me on this one.

As for computer programs im not to sure..

I really don't care for laptops or computers. I like to be more hands on. Like most analog beasts are. =]

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Hey, thanks for the help, I do sorta get what you're talking about. But I think I learn better when I learn and can try it out at the same time... So I did download Sonik Synth 2 FREE, but I can't get it to open.. When I open it it only says "License" and "Sonik Synth 2 Manual"... How much was the analog synthesizer? :)

 

But I definetly will study it...

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That all depends one what kind of music you'd like to play or even what you'd like to do with the synth for that matter I guess. Truthfully I really don't like the microkorg. The small keys and few octaves to play with isn't my thing. THEN AGAIN PLAYING N.I.N.'S BASSLINES OR OSCILLATING LEAD RIFFS WOULD BE PLAYABLE ON THE MICROKORG. Analog synth prices are all over the place. You'd really have to look into that.

 

I bought the microkorg for $320 off of ebay. A friend of mine bought an alesis micron for $400. If you already have a laptop i'm sure dishing out alitt bit more money for a program that has everything would be a smarter idea rather than buying a pricey keyboard.. Then again that's all up to you.

 

I think if you want to mess around with a synth.. The microkorg or Ion would be the way to go. If you're set on becoming a keyboardist, a nice fully-playable synth (regulated keys, a few more octaves and more than just 4 notes poly) would be nice.

 

After buying the microkorg I wish I had worked some more and bought the Juno-D. =\

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Serac, if I were you I would start out with more basics and not dive into something like Protools at this point. As long as your computer has a MIDI interface, and you have at least a Pentium 4 or equivalent Celeron processor, there are TONS of free soft synths at your disposal that are quite GOOD. If you don't have a USB-to-MIDI interface, they are very cheap, just look for one on MusiciansFriend.com or some place like that. Then go to KVRaudio.com and check out all the freeware (some are payware, some are shareware, some are freeware). You can also download a free or donationware VST host to play them on, like Minihost or Savihost. (Just a little shameless self-promotion here, but try downloading the MinimogueVA softsynth, which I co-wrote with some friends, it's free and available at KVR -- a pretty nice emulation of a Minimoog). Other nice softsynths you can try: Oberon8, SuperwaveP8, Polyiblit, and many others. They're all good and will get you started in the world of synthesis.
Kurzweil PC3, Yamaha MOX8, Alesis Ion, Kawai K3M
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Originally posted by synthizen2:

Serac, if I were you I would start out with more basics and not dive into something like Protools at this point. As long as your computer has a MIDI interface, and you have at least a Pentium 4 or equivalent Celeron processor, there are TONS of free soft synths at your disposal that are quite GOOD. If you don't have a USB-to-MIDI interface, they are very cheap, just look for one on MusiciansFriend.com or some place like that. Then go to KVRaudio.com and check out all the freeware (some are payware, some are shareware, some are freeware). You can also download a free or donationware VST host to play them on, like Minihost or Savihost. (Just a little shameless self-promotion here, but try downloading the MinimogueVA softsynth, which I co-wrote with some friends, it's free and available at KVR -- a pretty nice emulation of a Minimoog). Other nice softsynths you can try: Oberon8, SuperwaveP8, Polyiblit, and many others. They're all good and will get you started in the world of synthesis.

USB-to-MIDI interface? I think I know what that was from reading, it was something to connect your pc to your keyboard.. but I'm wondering if my Casio CTK-451 can handle that.. it does say MIDI enabled, so essentially once I buy that and make some sounds on softsynths then I can download them onto my keyboard?

 

i'll check out the stuff you mentioned.

 

I tried Superwave.. but i don't understand what .dll is...

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Browse the KVR forum, there is a section there called host.

 

But basically, you're going to need an app for your VST to work in......unless you've got one that works as a standalone.......most of the freeware don't, and it's not very practicle anyway.

 

ProTools is a Host, Sonar is a Host. There are some free Host on the net, once again, check KVR.........

 

You'll be using your Casio as a midi controller. No need to download anything. Just hook a midi cable from the "midi out" plug on the back of your keyboard, to the "midi in" of your midi interface hooked up to your computer. Turn the volume down on your Casio, and you'll be able to "play" the synth on your computer with the Casio's keys.

What goes around.............really goes around
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Originally posted by WastedYears:

Browse the KVR forum, there is a section there called host.

 

But basically, you're going to need an app for your VST to work in......unless you've got one that works as a standalone.......most of the freeware don't, and it's not very practicle anyway.

 

ProTools is a Host, Sonar is a Host. There are some free Host on the net, once again, check KVR.........

 

You'll be using your Casio as a midi controller. No need to download anything. Just hook a midi cable from the "midi out" plug on the back of your keyboard, to the "midi in" of your midi interface hooked up to your computer. Turn the volume down on your Casio, and you'll be able to "play" the synth on your computer with the Casio's keys.

ok, i understand what you're saying. :) If I get a random free host and then use its hosting power to host a VST Superwave8, then it will run that program, right? So essentially it doesn't matter which host i get since it just hosts the softsynth on it anyway and it a free hosting of the same softsynth would look the same as a $2500 hosting program hosting superwave8, correct? :)
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Serac: Perhaps you should start reading here ...

 

http://www.tweakheadz.com/guide.htm

 

Not quite as overwhelming and breaks things up nicely. As you work throught the sequence of articles come back here from time to time and read some of the great advice you've gotten here. The above posts will start making more sense to you after you get a grasp of the basic concepts. You are about to open up a whole new world and it can be intimidating and overwhelming. Just take your time and remember to take baby steps. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day ... you gotta crawl before you walk ... and all those other silly cliches. Good luck!

 

Kronos 88 | MODX7 | Wavestate | Crave | KeyLab 61 | CPS SSv3 | MacBook Pro | MainStage | More VSTs than I'll ever figure out

 

www.thehenrysmusic.com

 

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I IMMENSELY appreciate everyone's help, but it doesn't help too much to send me to a site that gives me all that info. I do learn a lot more, but I still can't find the answers to my question... I mean all that info blows my mind...

 

I still don't get the big picture. From what I learned so far, I need a MIDI keyboard,a comp, a MIDI interface, a cable thing (I don't know what kind, i just infered it was a cable) from Keyboard Midi OUT to MIDI interface IN, a cable for USB out to USB in, and a cable from MIDI interface out to MIDI keyboard in, right? Sorry, this is really confusing me... Also, can ANY midi cable work with any MIDI keyboard/interface?

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Ok, right now Im a high school student. I want to be able to play cool stuff on my keyboard. So I have a midi enabled keyboard, some programs on my comp, but what else do I need? I figured out pieces of it by reading online, like I need 2 midi cables and maybe a midi interface? But there are still gaps in my understanding, like what connects the midi interface to the comp, and if that will create sounds from my computer to my keyboard? I would appreciate any help. :)
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