Using GP to teach subtractive synthesis (a work in progress)

Hello there fellow musicians!

I’m starting a new project in order to utilize GigPerformer as a teaching tool for subtractive synthesis. I only just started working on this and all the ideas and screenshots you see are quick drafts just to give you the basic idea.

I’d like to invite you to participate on the development process of this gig file, which can later be used by everybody in the community for teaching purposes. I’m planning to use this tool on actual live teaching sessions, but the gig file could also be used as a self-study tool by adding explanations within the rackspace panels.

Any ideas concerning the graphical layoyt, teaching order, language etc. are very warmly welcome. I haven’t studied GP scripting myself (yet) and I’ve only started going through all the currently available scripts made by the community, so to all you scripting gurus out there: I’d be very grateful for tips on scripts that could make the basic panel layouts even easier to use. By default, things like drop-down menus are missing from GP (hopefully added at some point?) so I’ve gotten creative with sliders and text for now.

This gig file will use TAL-NoiseMaker synthesizer. I have chosen this synth because it’s freely available for everybody, it works on Windows, macOS and Linux, and it has all the basic parameters I usually try to teach to all my students. Becoming a synth wizard inevitably requires some home practising, so it’s vitally important that the students can easily download the same synth that we are using during the lessons. In the panels I have actually omitted some of the parameters, since I usually start out by going through stuff that’s commonly available on most subtractive synths. This way all the things learned during the lessons can be utilized with hundreds of other synths out there.

About the gig file

Previously I have tried building “simplified pedagogical synthesizers” with the NI Reaktor 6. The basic idea of a simplified pedagogical synth is to limit the amount of control the student has on the sound by limiting the amount of visible controllers, thus simplifying the layout of the synth. Ever heard of Syntorial? Yes, I have borrowed the basic concept from there, since I’ve been a huge fan of Syntorial ever since it came out almost ten years ago.

Years of experience has taught me that showing a full layout of a subtractive synthesizer can sometimes overwhelm students who are just starting out. On the first screenshot you can see a panel for controlling the synth.

A seasoned synth geek might call Noisemaker a pretty simple two oscillator synth, but for a total beginner, even this slightly simplified control layout will look like the engine room of an enormous spaceship.

So in order to make the synth more accessible in the beginning, we can reduce the amount of knobs. Quite drastically. The very first Rackspace variation (or first “lesson”) has the same synth with a simple preset sound playing, but the student will only see two knobs:

Quite often when teaching synthesis on a hardware synth, I usually let my students experience how much they can achieve by just adjusting the pitch and level of the two oscillators. Since pitch and volume are usually the most familiar parameters to a beginner, I find it to be a great starting point before moving on to things like waveforms or filtering.

And later on, when moving on to filters, envelopes, LFO’s etc., we can just temporarily hide the oscillator controls, so the student can fully focus on just tweaking the filter parameters. First just a low-pass filter, later on some other commonly available filters (HP, BP).

Other thoughts

  • There is a MIDI File player connected on each rackspace variation. I will add another smaller panel above the synth with basic playback buttons, so the student can make the synth play a continuous loop while they focus on tweaking the parameters.
  • Each rackspace variation could have some demo presets for practising and tweaking. I never get tired of seeing a new student’s expression first time they turn the Cutoff-knob clockwise and a simple dark pad becomes a massive wall of sound. So much power with just one knob (especially when the preset sound is well designed).
  • GP’s Audio file player could be used playing back some basic sound design challenges (just like in Syntorial). The player will play a sound made by the teacher and the student will try to match that sound within the rackspace.

Feel free to also PM me if you got really interested and would like to participate more on this project. I’m also open for having brainstorming sessions via Zoom (I live in Finland, so UTC +2 Eastern European Time…).


For what?

Not necessarily the most vitally important function of course, but I could imagine many uses for dropdowns in panels. For example, many synths have multiple different filter types to choose from, or multiple different LFO destinations, modulation routings etc. and a dropdown menu seems to be an elegantly simple way to provide a list of options. Using a knob or a slider and some text widgets is of course valid alternative that’s already available.

In this project I’ll propably stick to having one default filter type chosen for each specific lesson/rackspace. No point in confusing the student with options right away.

I guess I’m not sure why one would bother with a panel to replicate the plugin — why not just allow the plugin editor window to be open and students can work directly with the plugin editor

1 Like

I think, this way you can hide controls and keep only the ones you want to set the focus on.

Well, if @mikkopat wants a synthesizer noob to test his course, I am probably the perfect one. :face_with_spiral_eyes:


I’ve seen many times people who become physically tense when seeing any kind of control layout with lots of options. Us more technically inclined can quite easily see logical patterns (channel strips in a mixer etc.) even in a device that is strange to us, but people not that comfortable with technology sometimes just see a huge, scary mess. I once taught a group lesson on very basic PA-setup with an analog mixer and active speakers. The students were not kids or amateurs, some of them were professional musicians with 20-30 years of experience, but they were classically trained and for some, a mixer was just that intimidating device you shouldn’t touch. You could actually see them looking at the 18-channel Yamaha mixer from a safety distance, and approaching it with shaking hands when asked to tweak a knob.

Everything changed when I brought in a smaller mixer with just two mic channels. It still had all the basic functions (gain, 3 band eq, Aux, Pan, Mute/Solo, Level) but it was much less intimidating for the students and made it so much easier to go through the whole process of learning how a basic channel strip works. And after that, moving on to a bigger mixer was much, much easier.

Both Syntorial and Ableton’s Learning Synths have figured out an amazing way to make synthesis much more approachable by simplifying things to single buttons and sliders, while hiding the whole synth with all it’s functions from the student. I’m basically trying to create something similar inside GigPerformer. Start with a stupidly simple layout and gradually expand towards the full synth (although I will propably make even the most complex panel layout slightly simplified and easier to read than the original layout of Noisemaker).

If I start developing some sort of self-study version of this platform with more thorough explanations and built-in exercises, I can send you the gig file for “beta testing” at some point. The more noob you are with synths the better.


You’ve got your man! :wink:

1 Like

For those noob’s that are intimidated by too many knobs, it will still take getting use to a different layout that most synth’s have. I am not a Synth wizard by any means, but every time I check out a new synth, it takes time to find a this, or a that. All and all though, a good concept you have.

Yeah, especially when it comes to bigger multi-layered hybrid synths (Omnisphere, Pigments, Serum, Alchemy…) even a very experienced wizard will need to spend some hours to get the hang of things.

But a person who knows the basics well knows what to start looking for, and that speeds up the process significantly. If a person opens something like Pigments without having internalized concepts like Envelopes and LFOs, they will very likely just give up very quickly and stick with factory presets (not that there is anything wrong about using presets! they can be great, usable and inspiring, you’re just not getting fully your money’s worth if you only learn the preset browser and not the whole synth).

So generally for someone just getting started, I highly recommend sticking to one (preferably mostly subtractive) synth for a relatively long time and learning that properly. When you’re truly confident and comfortable with something like the Noisemaker (or any two-oscillator, one filter, two envelopes and LFOs type of thing), it’s much easier to move on to something different (with 90% certainty, you will find at least envelopes and LFOs on that next synth).

A great guitar teacher propably wouldn’t recommend the student to invest money on more guitars before investing time on learning with the first one.
I get frustrated when an adult student who already has a great +1000€ hardware synth starts asking me what to buy next. You propably don’t need a next synth yet!
If you have extra money and desperately need to throw it at something to soothe your consumer-heart, spend 150€ on Syntorial and reserve time from your calendar for going through it; it’ll pay off when you can get so much more out of your “next synth”. (Or alternatively, spend money on private lessons from yours truly… I’m making myself unemployed every time I recommend Syntorial to a colleague).


You’ve got my attention!