The History of the Synthesizer

By Stephen Paul

WHEN SOUND TRAVELS, it does so in waves that go up and down forming peaks and valleys. The speed of those changes in a wave is known as its frequency. The frequency of a wave determines the sound that it makes. Oscillation is the repetition of wave segments, sometimes expressed as vibrations. Instruments such as pianos and acoustic guitars create sound through physical vibration, while synthesizers generate vibrations electronically. Different types of synthesizers create different wave shapes, from square to curved and even rectangles, again affecting their sound. In general, and as a musical term, the word “synthesize” means to use electronics to re-create the sound of an instrument.

Synthesizers were originally analog, which means that sound was created by the alteration of electric voltages. More or less power to the synthesizer would change a frequency and therefore a sound. Each synthesizer was actually a collection of synthesizers, each of which modified a different sound. The keys on a keyboard were each responsible for a different synth sound. Over time, the individual synths were converted to digital software and computers took over the task of collecting and reproducing the individual sounds. Today, synthesizers can be controlled by fingerboard devices, guitars, wind instruments and electronic drums.

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