Tips for Simple Synthesizer

Sep 23, 2011 at 4:51am

Tips for Simple Synthesizer

Hey everyone I recently just began using Max 5. I have known a little about it for a while, but never started working with it until now. I was wondering if anyone could share any tips on building a simple synthesizer? I am currently looking at the tutorials for MSP and I am feeling a little overwhelmed. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated thank you.

Safety and Peace,


Sep 23, 2011 at 5:40am

No offense but what makes you think that a synthesizer is easy? ;-)

The best advice I can give you right now is to slowly go over the MSP tutorials and go one tutorial at a time. Whatever you do; do not rush things.

If your goal is to build a synth (a recommendable goal IMO) then reading about an oscillator (chapter 3) or how to turn stuff on or off (chapter 5) may seem like boring dry theory at first but what you should never forget is that all those “boring” pieces eventually come together. And added up they give you all the tools you need to succeed in such a goal as building an instrument.

So my tip would be to take it easy and take your time. Don’t try to rush things by trying to pick up too much at once. Because then its easy to lose focus which may indeed get you overwhelmed… One step at a time.

Lets face is: Max may appear “easy” to some people, but at the core its still a full fledged programming environment capable to go as deep or shallow as you want it to go. Although it is focused on multimedia aspects this doesn’t mean that its easier than ‘regular’ programming languages out there.

And although my tip is a bit theoretical its also something I’d recommend when actually building patches. Don’t try to tackle the whole problem you’re facing at once. The patcher object exists for a very good reason!

So, lets say you have a good idea what you want but several parts still elude you. Then start small. A synth consists of many parts (well, then again… Don’t want to be a smart ass but a synthesizer is basically a device which can generate sound (often certain frequencies) and applies (real time) synthesis techniques on it… So a mere oscillator which you turn on and off and a small filter can already be considered to be a synthesizer ;-)).

But back to the story; why not start by focusing on some of those parts first?

Get a sound source (or even better; build one!) and try to build some effects for it. Low pass / Hi pass filter for example.

And if you use patcher objects to do so you can then copy / collect those patcher objects and add them to your main project, thus slowly (but steadily!) building towards your eventual goal.

pffff, long story but I hope you get my drift here. I can fully relate to your story… I too started out getting overwhelmed by Max/MSP and at first even sort of ignored the tutorials all together. While I did make some nice patches in the beginning (read: they did what they were supposed to) I eventually came back to said tutorials anyway. That’s where I am now (approx. 2 years after picking up on this).

Ok, last tip…

Start a new patches, create a new object and name it: “”.

Max may take its time, be patient. Then control-double click on it (or lock your patch and normally double click on it). Voila, instant synthesizer :-)

Sep 23, 2011 at 9:51am

Really good advice. I remember a while back an experienced programmer said to me “The art of programming is being able to take a big task and break it into smaller pieces”. Suddenly everything seemed possible. I’m only just starting to be able to put this into practice in an effective and elegant way, but I think that once the ball is rolling everything falls into place.


Sep 23, 2011 at 3:05pm

Darwin Grosse made a whole set of tutorials on synth-building, which you can find online elsewhere on the Cycling ’74 site.

Sep 23, 2011 at 5:33pm

I have a couple of synth examples, a very simple one called StupidSynth that can be found here:

And a more complicated one called Simple FM Synth that can be found here:

Sep 23, 2011 at 6:36pm

i just logged on to plug chris muir’s examples and he got there first…

building simple synths are easy if you know how, but only any good if someone like chris muir builds them. building complex synths with e.g. blep oscillators can get really complex and difficult. go figure.

(p.s. – it is scary how good the [simpleFM~] abstraction is, especially if you throw it in a poly~ and upsample with a lowpass butterworth on the downsampled output. not that i tried anything like that of course).


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