How To Use A Raspberry PI To Make Your Own Synthesizer

In his latest video, Floyd Steinberg takes a look at how to use a Raspberry PI as a synthesizer.

The Raspberry PI is a inexpensive card-sized computer that’s popular with DIYers. In his video, Steinberg show how to set up a Raspberry PI V3 as a virtual analog synthesizer, with keyboard and knobs, using standard MIDI controllers. The result is a battery-powered mini synth.

Topics covered:

00:00 demo (Synth V1 App, realtime tweaking of sounds)
02:48 hello
03:23 required / optional hardware
04:47 required / recommended software downloads
05:18 installation instructions
06:15 enabling remote access to your PI
06:40 installing music software
07:19 you don’t know JACK… (and you don’t know ALSA)
08:55 Bristol synthesizer – DX7 emulator
09:19 Bristol synthesizer – Korg polysix emulator
10:01 synth v1
10:32 XRUN callbacks?
11:32 lol, Linux
11:38 setting up a patch bay in qjackctl for reusing setups
12:29 setting up synth v1’s control scheme for external midi gear
13:30 creating a boot script for launching your setup after switching on
14:25 conclusion

8 thoughts on “How To Use A Raspberry PI To Make Your Own Synthesizer

  1. Interesting. One day, these tiny computers will be able to run a 32 polyphonic high quality sample player, for piano and acoustic performance. When this day arrives, maybe I’ll buy one of them.

  2. Been using Raspberry Pi boards for a few years. To this day, my favourite Pi-based platform for musicking includes the Pisound “HAT“ (soundcard) from Blokas. It’s neither cheap nor that expensive considering mainstream alternatives.

    It’s especially useful with a special “flavour” of the Raspbian OS which is specially design to work out of the box to make the best of that HAT.
    There are two such flavours/“distros”.
    One, Modep, allows me to use a Pi as the equivalent of a MOD Duo, with hundreds of plugins available in a kind of “virtual pedalboard”. It’s been my “plug and play” device for a few jams, including with MIDI pedals. It’s also a great replacement for a number of MIDI Solutions boxes. It works really in “headless mode” (without a monitor) and it provides a dedicated WiFi hotspot and webserver to allow you to tweak patches from any other device (without having to connect to the Internet).

    The other distro, Patchbox OS, is more like a traditional version of Raspbian with the stuff you need, built-in. Some of these things are built around PureData, which remains remarkably relevant on different platforms. Orac 2.0 is part of that, and it’s supposed to solve a whole lot of problems. I quickly gave up on Orac for a variety of reasons, but it’s probably become something really useful in the meantime.

    All of this is Free Software, of course. And, yes, it gives you a very different perspective on Linux Audio. For one thing, the Jack/ALSA issues Steinberg mentions are pretty much solved with those dedicated distros.

    Have yet to test things extensively on my Pi4 with 4GB of RAM. Things worked really well on my Pi3 with 1GB of RAM.

    One piece of advice, for any Raspberry Pi setup: make sure you have a good power adapter. It can make a huge difference. Yes, a battery pack works very well… as long as it outputs enough amps for that version of the Pi. A power adapter meant for a smartphone might not be enough. The Pi4 requires more power, which is why it uses USB-C.

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