A synthesizer (often abbreviated as synth, also spelled synthesiser) is an electronic musical instrument that generates electric signals that are converted to sound through instrument amplifiers and loudspeakers or headphones. Synthesizers may either imitate traditional musical instruments like piano, Hammond organ, flute, vocals; natural sounds like ocean waves, etc.; or generate novel electronic timbres. They are often played with a musical keyboard, but they can be controlled via a variety of other input devices, including music sequencers, instrument controllers, fingerboards, guitar synthesizers, wind controllers, and electronic drums. Synthesizers without built-in controllers are often called sound modules, and are controlled via USB, MIDI or CV/gate using a controller device, often a MIDI keyboard or other controller.

Synthesizers use various methods to generate electronic signals (sounds). Among the most popular waveform synthesis techniques are subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis, wavetable synthesis, frequency modulation synthesis, phase distortion synthesis, physical modeling synthesis and sample-based synthesis.

Synthesizers were first used in pop music in the 1960s. In the late 1970s, synths were used in progressive rock, pop and disco. In the 1980s, the invention of the relatively inexpensive Yamaha DX7 synth made digital synthesizers widely available. 1980s pop and dance music often made heavy use of synthesizers. In the 2010s, synthesizers are used in many genres of pop, heavy metal, rock and dance music. Contemporary classical music composers from the 20th and 21st century write compositions for synthesizer.

The beginnings of the synthesizer are difficult to trace, as it is difficult to draw a distinction between synthesizers and some early electric or electronic musical instruments.

One of the earliest electric musical instruments, the Musical Telegraph, was invented in 1876 by American electrical engineer Elisha Gray. He accidentally discovered the sound generation from a self-vibrating electromechanical circuit, and invented a basic single-note oscillator. This instrument used steel reeds with oscillations created by electromagnets transmitted over a telegraph line. Gray also built a simple loudspeaker device into later models, consisting of a vibrating diaphragm in a magnetic field, to make the oscillator audible. This instrument was a remote electromechanical musical instrument that used telegraphy and electric buzzers that generated fixed timbre sound. Though it lacked an arbitrary sound-synthesis function, some have erroneously called it the first synthesizer.

In 1897, Thaddeus Cahill invented the Telharmonium, which was capable of additive synthesis. Cahill's business was unsuccessful for various reasons, but similar and more compact instruments were subsequently developed, such as electronic and tonewheel organs including the Hammond organ, which was invented in 1934.

This page was last edited on 9 May 2018, at 17:40.
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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