Vintage classic Minimoog analog synthesizer. In production between 1970 and 1981, and costing between $4500-$9500. A staple of progressive rock music, but also used by the Beatles and many other bands. This photo taken 6/11/2011.
Music History

Fantastic Tutorial! A Beginner’s Guide to Synthesizers

Are you interested in electronic keyboards but don’t know where to begin? Gizmodo has this fantastic tutorial for beginners. All music fans should give it a look.

You know the sound. Listen to Devo’s “Whip It” or Parliament’s “Flash Light.” Like countless modern pop songs, they’re full of sounds that aren’t made by acoustic instruments; the sound is pure synthetic. You’re listening to electricity manipulated by a machine.

The machine of course is the synthesizer, and it’s been one of the most crucial building blocks of contemporary music. And yet, how many of us know how a synth works? How do a bunch of wonky tones coming out of a box covered in knobs and buttons translate to the memorable sounds of disco, or synthpop, or house or electro or EDM or Taylor Swift?

This guide is an attempt to demystify the ubiquitous sonic gadget—not for audiophiles or synth nerds, but for anyone that listens to music in the 21st century and is curious about how it’s made.

Creating Sound From Scratch

Let’s start at the beginning, 50 years ago, when an electrician (not a musician!) named Robert Moog devised a new way to make sound: using an electrical signal.

On the heels of the invention of the transistor, Moog (rhymes with “vogue”) made a machine that could break sound down into its most fundamental properties and control every aspect of it with voltage—essentially building sound from scratch.

Which is why to really understand anything about synths, you have to have a basic grasp of acoustic theory. So let’s go back to physics class a second.

Keep going.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38553 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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