Emulating real instruments with subtractive synthesis

lyre

pdf iconPatch sheets

So, you own an old monophonic
analogue subtractive synth and
you need to record your sound setups.
Click here for a free subtractive synth
patch sheet (pdf)
which you can
download and print out.

In order to test your understanding of subtractive synthesis theory, you can attempt to emulate some real world instruments. Doing so can also help you develop your understanding of the basic properties of sound, as you alter the relevant synth settings. Of course subtractive synthesis is not capable of producing highly authentic real world sounds but the patches below can be the starting point for some interesting variations on acoustic instruments.

Try making the following sounds before reading the instructions on this page ...

  • Violin
  • Brass
  • Helicopter
  • Snare drum
  • Electric bass guitar
  • Piano

These sounds are easier to create if you have separate amplifier and low pass filter envelopes, which you can tweak independently, but perfectly possible to create with a single shared envelope.

NOTE: All subtractive synthesisers have different characters so experiment with these basic settings to get the sound. For example, the same settings on a Roland Juno and Nord Lead produce different results.

Violin patch

Violins are bright sounding and produce harmonics mostly in the mid and high frequencies. They do not have fast percussive attacks no matter how hard they are bowed, unless they are plucked (pizzicato). Violinist often introduce some (pitch) vibrato to notes shortly after they bow them.

This patch will test your ability to use the LFO to create delayed pitch (vibrato) effects.

Oscillator HPF Low pass filter
Wave Trans-pose CV from LFO Cutoff Cutoff Reso-nance CV from LFO CV from
envelope
Amount A D S R
Sawtooth High octave 4/10 5/10 Open Off Off Off - - - -
Amplifier LFO        
CV from
envelope
Rate Attack Send to Osc Send to LPF        
A D S R        
Not too fast Long High Short 4/10 5/10 Yes No        

 

Brass patch

Brass instruments are characterised by the sound starting dull and then quickly brightening as the air pressure at the mouth piece builds during the transient, before quickly become dull again when the pressure "normalises" to a sustainable level.

This patch will test your ability to control the filter cutoff with an envelope. You will need to fine tune the LPF cutoff point and envelope settings to get the fast increasing in brightness and quick decay to dull again.

Oscillator HPF Low pass filter
Wave Trans-pose CV from LFO Cutoff Cutoff Reso-nance CV from LFO CV from
envelope
Amount A D S R
Sawtooth Medium octave Off Off 4/10 Off Off 5/10 Not too fast Short Lowish Short
Amplifier LFO        
CV from
envelope
Rate Attack Send to Osc Send to LPF        
A D S R        
Not too fast Short Lowish Short - - No No        

 

Helicopter patch

This patch will test your ability to control the filter cutoff with an LFO.

Oscillator HPF Low pass filter
Wave Trans-pose CV from LFO Cutoff Cutoff Reso-nance CV from LFO CV from
envelope
Amount A D S R
Noise Any Off Off 4/10 4/10 6/10 Off - - - -
Amplifier LFO        
CV from
envelope
Rate Attack Send to Osc Send to LPF        
A D S R        
Fast Long High Short Vary Off No Yes        

 

Snare drum patch

Snare drums have very fast and bright transients which quickly decay in amplitude and brightness.

This patch will test your ability to control the amplifier and filter cutoff with envelopes. You can set transpose to a low octave and add a little sub oscillator if you have one, then find a key/pitch that adds a bit of body. Fine tune the amp envelope decay, and the LPF cutoff and envelope amount. Adding resonance to the LPF will give you a syn-drum effect.

Oscillator HPF Low pass filter
Wave Trans-pose CV from LFO Cutoff Cutoff Reso-nance CV from LFO CV from
envelope
Amount A D S R
Noise Any Off Off 4/10 Off Off 6/10 Fastest Fast Lowest Fastest
Amplifier LFO        
CV from
envelope
Rate Attack Send to Osc Send to LPF        
A D S R        
Fastest Fast Lowest Fastest - - No No        

 

Piano patch

This patch will test your ability to control the amplifier and filter cutoff with envelopes. You will need to experiment with the LPF cutoff and envelope controls.

Oscillator HPF Low pass filter
Wave Trans-pose CV from LFO Cutoff Cutoff Reso-nance CV from LFO CV from
envelope
Amount A D S R
Square wave with medium pulse width mod-ulation Middle Off Off 4/10 Off Off 5/10 Fastest 5/10 4/10 Short
Amplifier LFO        
CV from
envelope
Rate Attack Send to Osc Send to LPF        
A D S R        
Fastest 6/10 5/10 Short - - No No        

 

Electric bass guitar patch

This patch will test your ability to control the amplifier and filter cutoff with envelopes. You are aiming for that pluck from the fingers or plectrum and low sustained bass hum.

Oscillator HPF Low pass filter
Wave Trans-pose CV from LFO Cutoff Cutoff Reso-nance CV from LFO CV from
envelope
Amount A D S R
Sawtooth or square Low Off Off 3/10 Off Off 5/10 Fastest 3/10 2/10 Short
Amplifier LFO        
CV from
envelope
Rate Attack Send to Osc Send to LPF        
A D S R        
Fastest 6/10 5/10 Short - - No No