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22nd May, 2024

The Ultimate Guide to Sound Design & Synthesis

Both sound design and synthesis are creative pillars that support the vast and exciting world of music production.

Understanding the fundamentals of both of these pillars is integral for amateur creators of electronic music as well as experienced producers. With a strong foundation behind you, you can leverage your sound design skills and knowledge of synthesis to craft a truly unique sound landscape that will captivate your target audience.

To help you along your journey, we’ve put together this guide to all things sound design and synthesis.

Understanding the Basics of Sound Design

What is Sound Design?

The term sound design refers to the art of crafting and manipulating sounds and music to create an overall experience. The more you can use sounds to evoke emotions, captivate listeners and build a unique experience, the more successful your track is going to be.

While sound design is a crucial element in the production of music across various genres, it is particularly pivotal in defining the mood and atmosphere of an electronic music composition.

How is Sound Design Done?

Understanding sound design requires an appreciation of the different elements of sound. At its most basic level, sound is a combination of three different things:

  1. Pitch
  2. Amplitude
  3. Timbre


The pitch is the perceived frequency of a particular sound wave. It can either be high, low or somewhere in between and is measured in Hertz (Hz). Each musical note produced by an instrument or computer is played/created at a particular pitch, and the differentiation between pitches allows us to create melodies.


Amplitude has to do with the strength of the sound wave, or in normal English: It’s volume. The greater the amplitude, the louder the sound. In sound design, different amplitudes can make a huge difference in shaping the dynamics of music.


Timbre is the term used to refer to the tone or character of a particular sound. Sounds that share the same pitch and amplitude but “sound different” are likely created with different timbres. What goes into this particular element? The distinct instrument or digital functionality used to create the sound will imbue it with an equally distinct identity. 

Together, pitch, amplitude and timbre will contribute to the richness, uniqueness and complexity of your musical creation.

Note: All sound sits on a frequency spectrum. In other words, while your music will need to be in the range of frequencies that human ears can detect, where along that spectrum a note sits will influence its ‘tone and colour’, in a manner of speaking.

Understanding the Basics of Synthesis

What is Synthesis?

In music production, synthesis is the process of using electronic devices, software or programs to create sound. As a musician, producer or DJ, you’ll likely be generating new audio or manipulating different tracks to produce a new and original sound. This is synthesis.

The modern music industry uses synthesis throughout its production and creative endeavours. The evolution of technology has enabled music producers to create an ever broadening range of sounds and even use traditional instruments ever more innovatively and uniquely.

How Does Synthesis Work?

Modern day music producers and artists use a combination of hardware and software instruments to synthesise their creations. Hardware synthesisers feature physical controls and standalone pieces of equipment, while software synthesisers are programs accessible on a computer or tablet. 

As a DJ, you’ll likely be wanting to incorporate your synthesiser into your digital audio workstation (DAW), meaning a software solution is likely the best option. 

1. Sound Waves

In synthesis, sound waves are most commonly created using electronic oscillators that produce a variety of different types of waveforms. These oscillators produce the initial sound source providing you as the producer and artist ‘clay’ to work with and further mould your track. 

2. Sound Manipulation

From the pitch, amplitude and timbre, to filters, envelopes and modulation sources, all of these elements of sound allow you to manipulate your music to create something new and exciting. The potential in your music is limited only by your creativity!

What are the Techniques Involved in Synthesis?

As you go along your music making journey, you’ll likely develop your own, unique techniques. However, to help you get started, here are the most common approaches to creating and shaping sounds.

1. Subtractive Synthesis

This technique involves starting with a complex sound initially. Then, using filters and other functionalities, you begin to subtract frequencies until you arrive at the sound you’re after.

2. Additive Synthesis

As the opposite of subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis is about building complex sounds by layering and adding individual sine waves on top of one another.

3. Frequency Modulation Synthesis

In FM synthesis, music modulates the frequency of one waveform with another one to create a complex and captivating tone.

4. Wavetable Synthesis

This technique uses pre-recorded waveforms and modulates them or morphs them further to continue producing unique and evolving sounds.

5. Granular Synthesis

As its name suggests, granular synthesis is all about breaking down a sound into smaller components – i.e., grains – and rearranging them accordingly to create something new and exciting. 

Getting Started with Sound Design and Synthesis

The best musicians and producers work with a vast sonic palette and play around to help create the sounds they are looking for, which do not exist in the natural world. 

So, how can you get started with these powerful tools to craft your own signature sound and produce truly original music?

1. Start by layering sounds

Building your technical skills is not an option–it’s a necessity! Begin by layering multiple sounds on top of each other to practice your synthesising skills and develop an ear for what works, what doesn’t and why. 

Focus on achieving a balance of frequencies and avoiding the sounds being muddied. 

2. Experiment and play

The more you practice and play, the better you and your music will be. Play around with effects such as reverb or delay or chorus, and begin to develop your personal preference in sound creation and shaping.

The more creative you are, the greater the potential for producing something truly unique. 

3. Focus on your chosen genre

Cultivating a strong understanding of your chosen genre will help you tailor your approach to sound design. 

Electronic music, ambient music and even cinematic music (as just a few examples) all require different approaches to sound design and synthesis. 

Find Your Music with DJ City

If you’re looking to start, improve or expand your post production audio, sound design and synthesis skills, you need the right gear. At DJ City, we stock a range of DJ and music production equipment with options for newcomers, professionals and everyone in between.

For assistance finding the right product for your particular needs, or for any other questions regarding all things sound design and synthesis, make sure to give our team at DJ City a call today.

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