Synths 101: How Oscillators & Waveforms Work

Whether you’ve got a keyboard synthesizer, a modular, a digital VST, or a really spaced out cat, learning about how oscillators provide synths with some basic waveforms to build custom tones can help you understand your own preferences as a musician, producer, or composer.

Today, we’re diving into how oscillators work.

Synthesizers, um, “synthesize” sounds. That’s what they do. But where does that initial raw material come from?

Before all the filters, envelopes, LFOs, and other processing parameters, an oscillator fires off a simple waveform. That can take the shape of a sine wave or a square, triangle, sawtooth, or other type of wave, and it provides the synth with a foundational tone quality that it can shape through a variety of modulations.

And if you’ve got an analog synth, modular hardware, or even a software synth on your computer, you have control of pretty much all of those options yourself.

Artists today are constantly creating their own custom patches to suit exactly the type of arrangement or sonic backdrop their track calls for — whether its something airy and ethereal, soft and resonant, or gritty and intense — this is just one of the many tools at the producer’s disposal for delivering emotion through music.

Okay class, settle down. Tommy, take that patch cable out of that apple! It’s Synths 101: Oscillators. Let’s get groovy!

Check out our newest video courtesy of Soundfly’s YouTube channel and don’t forget to like and subscribe!

You can continue on this harmonious voyage of yours, learn to create more complex, interesting synth patches and build your favorite artist’s sounds with Soundfly’s Advanced Synths & Patch Design course. (*We just introduced a lower price tier, so don’t miss out!)

Don’t stop here!

Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with artist-led courses by Kimbra, JlinKiefer, RJD2, Ryan Lott, and of course, Com Truise: Mid-Fi Synthwave Slow-Motion Funk

Join our Mailing List

We offer creative courses, articles, podcast episodes, and one-on-one mentorship for curious musicians. Stay up to date!


An Introduction to Sam Amidon — Experimental Folk “Crate Digger”

Some personal notes on the first time I listened to the highly personal, lyrical music of avant-garde folk balladier Sam Amidon.


Themes and Variation S2E05: “Songs About Science”

In the latest episode of Soundfly’s podcast, Themes and Variation, Jeremy, Martin, and Mahea discuss “Songs About Science.”


Themes and Variation S2E04: “Cathartic Songs” (with Lana Cenčić)

In the “Cathartic Songs” podcast episode, Mahea, Jeremy, and guest Lana Cenčić discuss tracks by Baby Huey, Michael Jackson, and Simon Dawes.