How have synths enhanced your musicianship?

Stefon Harris visited my campus once during college and totally enhanced how I interpreted pitch and scale degrees and the way they communicate.

Just now I was watching an O-Coast video and was really taken in by some of timbres I was hearing. I realized: What if I listened even deeper to timbre and found more emotional/aesthetic communication in the nature of the sounds (Just as I had with scale degrees)?

Musicianship really is a process of listening more closely. Synthesizers made me look deeper into timbre and combinations of timbres.

Sometimes I worry about spending time on synths when I could be focusing on pure musicianship/technique in percussion and piano etc. rather than composition.
What is your relationship to synthesis? Is it a side hobby? Your main musical interest? Do you ever worry that you could be practicing “normally”? I do.

Would love to hear your thoughts!


I might care more about musicianship if I considered myself a musician. I’m a hobbyist and it’s all about synthesis and technology for me when messing about with my synths. For years I tried to “make songs” and worried about song structure - verse, chorus, bridge and all that jazz, for no other reason than I thought it was expected of me. I didn’t and don’t have the patience for that and glad I’ve moved onto making crappy YouTube videos of 18 minute long jams where I do nothing more than muting / unmuting looping tracks and tweaking a filter cut-off or delay send. Because that’s what makes me happy!

So… don’t worry mate, enjoy it. :slight_smile: Unless it’s your career of course, knuckle down!!


I’m very interested in textures. I’m also tired of hearing the same sounds and instruments over and over again. Recently this has been extending to notes, chords, and timing structures. Of course, an individual thing, and arguably it drives some people towards modular, where everything is possible, but in my view, mostly ends up like bleeps and bloops, some kind of derivative sound art, on some level not much different in its sameness than the things one was trying to escape in the first place.

Under the hood, some synths are very powerful, if one cares to do away with the stock sounds, or even to part with reason and explore the instrument’s architecture - the 0-coast is a fantastic example of a machine packing a billion noises. The video below has been a real eye opener for me today.

I’m a fan of music theory, but it’s hard for me to digest it at a decent rate. I am a pathological autodidact, so class isn’t for me.

With that in mind, I’ve learned a lot from synthesizers. From sound design, which is important, to enhancing my understanding of music theory in the usual sense. The use of instruments is necessary to learn, and synthesizers count. The OP-1 helped me learn quite a few things, some you wouldn’t put in a book on music theory like effective workflow techniques, and how and when to capture the ephemeral.

Sound and sonic texture is a big deal in music. The latter can come from the instrument timbres and effects, or even from rhythm and arrangement. If these weren’t important we’d just have instruments that produced more or less pure tones of the basic waveforms, and then only to tell them apart.

But you know, theory is good too. Learn those jazz chords if that’s what you like. Learn whatever you can. I couldn’t tell you what to prioritize.

If I didn’t have a synth, I don’t think I would be playing anything right now. My experiments with electric guitar quickly run into the ground. And while I had some sort of keyboard for a long time, buying a high-quality ROMpler with some synthesis capabilities definitely inspired me to play better.

where i come from, musicianship is a dirty word usually associated with prog rock. but for you young whipper snappers freed from the cultural baggage of the 70s and prog, i understand musicianship might not seem such a bad thing.

books of chords, scales and theory (cirlce of fifths!) have been the main driver of my musicianship. a cheap old casio with no ability for sculpting sounds or my melodica is just as useful in this regard as my best and most expressive analogue and digital FM synths.

roland XOX drum machines with their four bar programming and chaining of sections taught me a lot about song strucuture, which in music made for dance floors counts way more than musicianship.

I’ve played saxophone for most of my life, and picked up guitar in my late teens… I’ve always been around pianos, but never considered myself a piano player. However, playing anything with a keyboard, or even just having one to look at in the rehearsal space really helps out with chord inversions on the sax… it’s a more clear way of thinking, and helps me wrestle out of patterns I find on the horn.

The other bit I really like about synths/keys is that I approach them differently than a horn. Since I don’t “feel” immediately where i’m going like I can with a sax, I tend to write things I’d never come up with otherwise. Then, I’ll translate that back to another instrument. So… yeah. swapping ideas around instruments, including synths, is definitely something I’d call an enhancement!

Excellent point about playing horn vs. using synth.

I feel the same about playing viola/violin/guitar vs. using synths. Quite easy to fall into habitual playing on the conventional instruments - habitual playing leads to habitual music making. Whereas when I’m messing w/ sequencers I get different results than simply multitrack recording with string instruments.

I started playing the guitar as a teen thirty years ago, reached a certain level of acceptable mediocrity and hit the ceiling there. With the OP-1, I can embrace my beginner status and my absolute incompetence and enjoy the sense of possibility that comes with it.

Also I’ve started to listen to synths more analytically when they used to be boxes that went ZWORP.

It’s funny how interesting threads suddenly pop up again from long ago. This is a question I’m asking myself regularly as well.
Started guitar playing as a teenager with some local punk/rock/jazz success, then switching to double bass classical music. Since very early also lots of reading on electronic music making without listening to much the music itself. I was more kinda amazed by the way the scene is evolving and how much interaction there is between synth-builders and musicians. Started buying some low-budget synths like the korg nts, volca modular, po-28 and sold them all to buy the op1. And although I had a lot of fun with all the devices, there is still nothing I created with them that made me feel as proud as the accomplishments I had with guitar or double bass. This has made me wonder lately if all of this is a GAS-trap, where I’m falling for a well marketed industry. Which promises better results if you buy more.

What I have found to be beneficial about the OP1 is the fact that I can create something on the go (like during commutes) and it forces you to think in different ways about workflow/soundscape/song structure.

For now I’ve decided to stick for it another 4 months until my regular commutes will be over and then decide if I want to continue submerging myself into the magical worlds of synths and such or if I’ll leave the GAS-swamp behind.

Wondering about other members of this forum. Whats your take? Oh and one last thing I like is the ability to share with you guys through this forum. So thank you all for being here.


As a guitarist for 35 years, I have to say that OP-1 and Elektron boxes have been helping me coming up with tracks instead of simple loops, overcoming some creative plateau and enabling me to go further into composing. But it also made me realize I knew nothing about music production. Still on the journey, but what an interesting one!


I came from sampling and trying to make some hip hop tracks to rap on them. So I was always into song structures. Also I appreciated electronic music where people got off the loop/ track thing eventhough I’m listening to a lot of more or less linear tracks.
Since a few years I taught myself some piano and I like the results so far. That means in contrast to the original post, I should be worried of not giving enough focus building tracks with my gear. But I m not worried.I still do and anyways finished enough tracks/songs I’m happy with.
Waiting for the next battle I might participate in!:fireworks:

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world of sound synthesis made me appreciate simple instruments like piano and guitar.
i used to take for granted things like polyphony, vibrato, and note velocity.

now, when i play a note on a piano I realize that every note has 3 voice oscillators, and every note has its envelope with attack, sustain decay and release.

on a guitar left hand is cv and right hand is gate/trig. and every string is an oscillator that you can modulate with your fingers, LFO. your right hand becomes an arpeggiator.

also the way strings resonate in harmony and the way instrument enclosure contributes to the overall sound character… and more…

synths helped me understamd mechanics of sound, and this kind of understanding has enhanced my musicianship.