Inside Synthesis – Getting Started With FM Synthesis

This video, via insidesynthesis, presents a method of understanding FM synthesis.

The discussion is tailored for those who know subtractive synthesis.

A lot of people struggle with understanding FM synthesis. Much of this confusion may come from the poorly designed interfaces of most FM synths.

Check out the video and let us know if it helps you make sense of FM synthesis!

See, too, this set of videos that looks at some of the Secrets of FM Synthesis.

13 thoughts on “Inside Synthesis – Getting Started With FM Synthesis

  1. That was very interesting. I watched the whole thing.

    At 7:09 he does a demo, where all the sounds–even the drum arps–are FM sounds. Very cool.

    If someone out there is very ambitious it would be very cool to see a video that takes one specific sound–maybe an interesting bird call or a wolf howl or something else reasonably straightforward from nature–and recreates that same sound using three or four popular synthesis techniques, subtractive, FM, wave table, and whatever else is on a lot of systems. I’m guessing each system can re-create the same sound, but it would be interesting to see how complicated or easy each system makes it, and what little dynamic differences each creates.

      1. Because wavetable is a sample-based method, right? Yeah, I kind of realized that the instant I hit the post button. So I look stupid. I just roll with it.

        But that does underscore the point I make in my comment below. Some methods are sample-based (I THINK granular synthesis is about chopping samples into bits) but then the sounds they create often have nothing to do with the original input sound. It would be cool if someone really sharp discovered or invented or crafted together some METAPHOR which helped people picture/experience/understand the kinds of changes different synthesis methods create as a result of their modifications. Right now everything is just images of front panels with knobs and sliders and connects. I suspect a physics student can picture the various effects caused on waveforms and the results those effects cause to what we hear. But it would be best if there was some metaphor or set of metaphors that would let us “feel” and really know the effects we’d get before we did them. A clarinet, as I understand it, has many different fingerings for the same note, that give different dynamics. The clarinet player KNOWS what happens when he plays different fingers so he can pick, consciously or unconsciously, which fingering to use.

        Sorry about the wavetable gaff.

  2. I watched this when I purchased a super cheep tx81z and it definately helped in my getting accustomed to the beauty that was 80s Yamaha fm. William H is da Bomb!

  3. this was a great video and really spelled it out for me, i never have understood before how the modulator directly affected the oscillator. im going to pass this on to my friends.

    its cool that he referenced the alesis ion, that thing has some awesome sync and FM capabilities. the micron has all that as well!

  4. Regarding the video: Nice, clear video. This is really how you should do a synthesis tutorial, with basic explanations, simple examples you can start with, and a demo of the stuff you can do with just a little bit more.

    Regarding FM: For me at least, it seems very easy to make beautiful sounds with subtractive synthesis and easy to make harsh, metallic sounds with FM. I still can’t figure out if I can tolerate a non-harmonic overtone series where a single voice is effectively detuned against itself. The challenge seems to be figuring out how to make beautiful sounds with FM (as Ray Lynch did quite well, for example) and how to get spiky, bright, metallic sounds out of subtractive analog synths. Oh, and I have to give Yamaha’s clearly insane engineers credit for taking FM and making it even more powerful and complicated than it already was, producing something that in 25 years only a handful of people have figured out how to program.

    1. This is what I find so frustrating about things like granular synthesis and other stuff appearing as soft synths. They make beautiful and interesting sounds, but it hardly seems promising or even musical to just fiddle with knobs and buttons and sliders until you get something you like.

      I mean, the whole history of music is built around instruments that have very specific feedback: Stop a string and get a specific note. Blow into a certain length tube and get a certain note. Then a lifetime of study and you get a little control over the dynamics, but the basic action is clear and the feedback is obvious.

      And a few decades ago in computing, interface designers were all about discovering or inventing a metaphor for this or that activity which created understanding. So, for instance, complicated trigonometry and geometry were encapsulated as so-called “turtle graphics” that even children could play with and create with, but then, if they wanted to, they could explore the complicated math which was hidden within the metaphor.

      I don’t see anything like that for synthesis now. It’s just wonderfully complicated technology and very cool gadgets, but nobody–that I’ve seen–is even trying to create an encompassing metaphor that explains the underlying complexity and presents it in an intuitively obvious feedback arrangement. (Although from the little I’ve seen the string synthesis engine on the TE OP-1 SEEMS to try to do that, with visual indicators of the strings vibrating and such.)

      Sorry for such a long comment but this is an issue I think about a lot. I’ve got a couple of keyboards that allow sounds to be manipulated and even though I’m reasonably good with gadgets the changes are, basically, hit and miss.

      1. Regarding complexity, I didn’t really understand synthesis until I took several courses in signal processing. On the up side, supposedly math and music use the same part of your brain, so as a musician you potentially have an advantage. 😉

        I still rather like Bracewell’s visual dictionary of Fourier transforms – it definitely helped to give me a more intuitive understanding of signal processing.

        I like apps (e.g. DXi, Addictive Synth) and soft synths which show you the overtone series visually – this definitely helps you build an intuitive understanding of what different overtone series sound like, and how you’re building up an overtone series on an FM synth. I also like synths (Animoog, SynthX) which show you the waveform in time, because that helps you get an idea of what the various waveforms that we know and love (square, sawtooth, triangle, etc.) actually look like.

        I think physical-modeling based synthesizers have a chance of being more intuitive in the sense that you can modify parameters which have some connection to reality (e.g. the tension or diameter of a simulated string, the thickness of a guitar top.)

  5. well put together vid. I do wish there were others out there as well put together. The use of humor is a plus, too.

    1. Regarding the dislike – who on earth wants fewer well-put-together (and even humorous) videos explaining synthesis? Are you afraid of losing your livelihood as an FM synth programmer? 😉

  6. Clearly explained and nicely presented. This is what an instructional video should be. I want to dash to my synthesizers and experiment now (pity I’m not at home).

  7. Anyone know what happened with this cool dude? His site and YT channel have been inactive for years…

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