Whether your primary genre is metal, pop or anything in between – synthesized bass is quickly becoming one of the most common ways to fill out the low end of a song. Some genres are using it to reinforce a live bass guitar. Other genres are replacing the bass guitar completely or bouncing back and forth between the two.
If you’re a bass player that’s never played a synthesizer before, or a producer that’s just learning how to replicate those sounds, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s dive right into what makes a synth bass unique, where it fits in the most with modern music, and how you can start incorporating it into your music today.
Getting Started With Synths
I’m not going to get into the intricacies of digital vs analog synthesizer or the more complex pieces of synthesis (this is a beginner’s guide after all, and I don’t want bass synthesis to come off as some overly technical thing). I do think that for general purposes it’s worth knowing the 4 main types of waveforms though:
· Sine – The standard, rounded waveform. A sine wave oscillates with smooth, constant amplitude that tends to sound muted/calm compared to other waves.
· Square – A wave that alternates between two fixed values, holding at each value for until jumping to the other value. Square waves tend to have slightly more buzz, and sound harsher than a sine wave due to the addition of odd harmonics.
· Triangle – Triangle waves are similar to sine waves but with a linear path between each value as opposed to a sine wave’s logarithmic pattern. Triangle waves have an even more aggressive sound than square waves.
· Saw – The saw wave has the biggest buzz of them all. Saw waves tend to sound like a combination of square and triangle waves, as half of the wave follows a linear path (like a triangle wave) before jumping to the other value immediately (like a square wave).
Starting Out Single
I think the best place to start with synthesis is with a single voice (one oscillator). For beginners, it’s a great way to learn the ins and outs of a synth without worrying about the complexities that come with polyphonic models.
Have you seen the manuals that come with some of those synthesizers? You’d be better off reading the dictionary from front to back than try to make sense of the over-complex language and guides included in them. Instead – start with something like Sub Destroyer that has all the basics you’ll need.
Synths should be fun, just like any other instrument. Most synth players develop an aptitude for the more complex features over time, but I think every single one of them would tell you the learned by doing, not by reading.
Get in there and get dirty – choose a plugin that doesn’t clutter up your workspace while providing quality sound. We built the standalone section of Sub Destroyer to do just that. It’s as easy as loading the plugin on a track, record enabling it, and playing your bass line on your keyboard (or drawing it into your DAW).
Once you’ve selected one of your four waveforms, you can really dial in your tone using any tools you want: reverbs, delays, compressors, phasers, chorus, the list goes on and on.
Looking to replace or reinforce your bass guitar? Run your synth through an amp emulator like Toneforge. You get the same level of control over the tone that you’d have with the real guitar, and you’ll quickly see how similar the two instruments are.
You might even find the synth to be easier to work with!
Getting Into The Weeds
Once you’ve had your chance to experiment with the basics, you can start expanding into the other parameters used with synthesizers. Things like ADSR (Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release) do a lot to shape the sound of your synthesizer.
Different synths will have different parameters available as the creator of the synth sees fit, but some of the common ones are:
· Low Frequency Oscillators (LFOs)
· White Noise
· Built-In Effects
· Step Sequencers
You don’t need to learn it all at once, and nothing can give you the level of education that getting hands on with it can. If you’re intimidated by a large synth with lots of options – start by learning how to save a preset to find your way back if needed.
What to learn more about synthesizers?
Let us know over in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum if you’re looking for more synth walkthroughs and guides. We’re always looking for like-minded, eager-to-learn engineers and producers to join our community. Hope to see you over there!