Level of Musical/Production Knowledge needed for Modular?

Anything modular synth related that is not format specific.

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Esscex
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Level of Musical/Production Knowledge needed for Modular?

Post by Esscex » Wed Aug 16, 2017 11:03 pm

tl;dr - How much previous musical training/experience did you have prior to getting into modular, and how much do you think is necessary before doing so?

Hey everyone, I'm new here on the forums and was wanting to get some feedback from fellow wigglers, both veterans and newbies alike regarding the level of musical and production knowledge many of you had prior to entering the wide world of modular synthesis.

Had you been playing other instruments for years before moving to modular? How many of you have classical training versus being self taught? Were there any of you that jumped straight into modular without previous experience?

I can’t say I have a lot of experience myself, only having taken piano lessons and playing clarinet as a kid, and learning a bit of guitar as I got older. Although I lack a lot of technical skill, I’ve always had an “ear” for music, and been able to jam along with my friends who were way more skilled than me at guitar. I was always more interested in experimenting with my instruments, sticking screws and washers in between the strings of my fender to see what crazy sounds I could get it to make rather than try and learn other peoples' songs, and now I’m messing with tape loops and playing with a microkorg I got a while back. This tendency towards experimentation is what's gotten me so interested in modular synths, as I feel like it's the first "instrument" that speaks to my default approach to music making.

Sorry for the long winded post, (really hope I'm posting this is the correct forum) but wanted to get a sense of how people approached the medium. Thanks!

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noisejockey
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Post by noisejockey » Wed Aug 16, 2017 11:07 pm

Similar: Started with sax in school, learned to read music; left all that for guitar; taught myself piano; had a mentor teach me the basics of synthesis; years in soft synths and old school hardware; sold all the hardware and went all software; started re-buying hardware; modular; end of normal life.

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soggybag
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Post by soggybag » Wed Aug 16, 2017 11:34 pm

I played guitar in high school, and Music 101 in college.

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Esscex
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Post by Esscex » Wed Aug 16, 2017 11:44 pm

noisejockey wrote:Similar: Started with sax in school, learned to read music; left all that for guitar; taught myself piano; had a mentor teach me the basics of synthesis; years in soft synths and old school hardware; sold all the hardware and went all software; started re-buying hardware; modular; end of normal life.
Nice! Do you feel it worth educating one's self on synthesis in general before moving into modular hardware? I'm sure it certainly helps to do so, but is it feasible for someone to learn as they go?

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Dcramer
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Post by Dcramer » Wed Aug 16, 2017 11:55 pm

You'll do great. Experimentation is the key.
Remember, modular (and electronics in general) were originally conceived by some as a way to break through from well used sounds and instruments.
My training helps me, but sometimes it's just helping me categorize what I hear as I experiment. :tu:

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Post by Sonofbatboy » Thu Aug 17, 2017 1:39 am

I played bass in a garage punk group in high school; that's pretty much the extent of it outside of singing in the school choir. Guess I just needed an expensive and time-sucking hobby. :hihi:

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Gizmo
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Post by Gizmo » Thu Aug 17, 2017 6:14 am

An analytical ear and willingness to experiment are a couple of beneficial factors outside of musical training. Also, in the melodic realm, some discerning good taste. Please.

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Post by Just me » Thu Aug 17, 2017 7:32 am

I started with a modular (Homemade) in the 70's. I played Kazoo and Stylophone previously.
If I have water in my ear, is it safe for me to listen to electronic music?

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BenA718
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Post by BenA718 » Thu Aug 17, 2017 8:04 am

The beautiful thing about synthesizers is that you don't need a musical education to be good at it. I would say that having some degree of musical knowhow could be beneficial but that really depends on what you're doing with it.

Modular is also very unique in that your musical knowledge really doesn't mean squat if you can't get sound out of the thing or design a good patch! Electrical knowledge is just as important as musical in this case. :)

All that being said, for my stuff, it's pretty theory intensive, even when I am doing generative compositions.

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Post by Drakhe » Thu Aug 17, 2017 8:14 am

An interest in synthesis and a desire to learn is all you need.

The only prior knowledge that could help you is a general understanding of synthesis, so you have at least an idea what modules to get first.

Music training or any deeper knowledge of synthesis or electronics can add to your experience but is not needed, and also depends on where you want to go. Musical background will aid in composition, electronics for when you want to delve into D.I.Y., ...

Myself, I got a headstart by lurking on here and digesting tons of YT video's (I simply started out by looking for video's on synthesis and modular ...) but when I splashed the $$$ I just learned by experience & experiment.

Just remember the golden rules: don't patch output to output and easy on the volume (you might shatter eardrums and/or speakers) and you'll be fine. The world of modular synthesis is filled with sweetspots and happy accidents

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Post by jsco » Thu Aug 17, 2017 8:23 am

i am pretty new to this, but my impression is that the range of answers to this question is going to be even wider than for a normal instrument or style, because you can literally make a modular synth into any kind of instrument you can imagine. for any given branch of theory, you can find people making music that completely disregards that theory.

the thing that pulled me into modular is the knobs: being able to put together a teeny shred of a tune or a beat and then play with knobs to dial in a sound or sometimes follow a trail off into the unknown that ends up somewhere you never expected. throwing LFOs and random sources at a basic patch has also a been a great way to find inspiration, because i'll catch myself grooving to a particular beat or melody or sound and realize i want to expand on it.

so my answer would be, you need enough knowledge to put together the rudimentary building blocks of the type of music you like (e.g. drum loops, arpeggios, chords, scratchy blobs of feedback), and know how to patch them up on your system, and then the magic of the knobs will take over.

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racooniac
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Post by racooniac » Thu Aug 17, 2017 8:25 am

i was actually just about to learn music theory for myself.
then i discovered things like chord memorizers and quantizers.

fuck theory i have machines that can do theory ;)

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Re: Level of Musical/Production Knowledge needed for Modular

Post by Ramases » Thu Aug 17, 2017 8:26 am

Esscex wrote:tl;dr - How much previous musical training/experience did you have prior to getting into modular, and how much do you think is necessary before doing so?
Very little.

None at all. I'd say a basic background understanding of (some of) the electronic principles involved might be useful in terms of realising what's going on when you patch things together. For example, the difference between uni-polar and bi-polar. But other than that, plug things together and see what happens.

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Post by cptnal » Thu Aug 17, 2017 10:03 am

I think "needed" is an interesting word to use.

Obvs there's a lot of professional and semi-pro musicians on the boards and I guess they'll have a more specific idea of what they want from their instrument, otherwise they don't eat.

But for us happy amateurs you can put in and get out as much as you like. Like Racooniac says, there are machines that can do theory. I can get by with no grasp of electrics/electronics at all. A basic grasp of synthesis is useful, but there's always the interwebs...

Soz, not much help that :hmm:

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Post by noisejockey » Thu Aug 17, 2017 10:11 am

I generally agree with Ramases; modular synthesis is one of the best ways to learn the principles of synthesis. But the more you know going into it, the more quickly you'll adapt or get up to speed. It doesn't hurt, but it's not entirely necessary. As in all things modular, though, there is no right way to get into it.

But Ramases and dcramer are both right: Once you're in the game, just screw around. That's what makes modular, and Eurorack in particular (no hard lines between clock, gate, control voltage, pitch, and audio signals) so endlessly fun and interesting.
Ramases wrote:
Esscex wrote:tl;dr - How much previous musical training/experience did you have prior to getting into modular, and how much do you think is necessary before doing so?
Very little.

None at all. I'd say a basic background understanding of (some of) the electronic principles involved might be useful in terms of realising what's going on when you patch things together. For example, the difference between uni-polar and bi-polar. But other than that, plug things together and see what happens.

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Post by Hovercraft » Thu Aug 17, 2017 11:13 am

Played bass guitar as a kid, and some minimal dabbling with hardware/soft synths. So not much musical background before getting into modular. All you need is the interest and willingness to learn (and hard currency) to get into modular. Learning as I go, and picking up the bits of music theory, electronics, and modular practice. Like any musical instrument, it takes a substantial amount of practice to improve and keep moving forward, but still--it's immediately satisfying once you have a basic system together.

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Esscex
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Post by Esscex » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:00 pm

Thank you for the feedback everyone, I really appreciate it.

So from what I'm reading, modular synthesis sounds like it really lends itself to a wide range of approaches to making music and experimentation. Sounds like it's right up my alley :mrgreen:

Well I'll definitely have time to learn a thing or two about the ins and outs of synthesis in general while I'm saving up the $$$ for everything.

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Re: Level of Musical/Production Knowledge needed for Modular

Post by gruebleengourd » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:22 pm

Esscex wrote:tl;dr - How much previous musical training/experience did you have prior to getting into modular, and how much do you think is necessary before doing so?
I don't think any is necessary, but I do believe the more experience you have making music and the greater your knowledge of electronic music is, the better your experience with modular will be.

You would have more understanding of how you enjoy making music and a better sense of the tools you'll need to do that. Eurorack modular in particular is so expansive in what is available to buy and what approaches you can take that diving in without a good deal of experience can be overwhelming or frustrating.

I think if you really have no experience, it's probably best to go with a system that is predesigned to a be a complete instrument on it's own. That's one of the big appeals with going buchla or serge or starting off with a complete euro system from one manufacturer.

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Re: Level of Musical/Production Knowledge needed for Modular

Post by gruebleengourd » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:44 pm

double

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CF3
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Post by CF3 » Thu Aug 17, 2017 2:49 pm

IMO, to get the most out of modular or any electronic musical instrument, some basic understanding of sound engineering is important. All of which is easily researched and learned online by watching videos.

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Post by Parnelli » Thu Aug 17, 2017 3:00 pm

No worries; if an idiot like me can figure it out surely anyone can! :bananaguitar:

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Post by witchbutter » Thu Aug 17, 2017 4:40 pm

I think a good amount of theory is helpful if you want to get past noise/ambient although I also think the best ambient has some theory in it too. I think ear training matters more than anything though, that is being able to hear your oscillator is in tune and hear when chords are harmonious. It's good to have a few modules that can do melodic math for you.

After that though the beauty of modular is that anything goes. Modulate all the things. All dem.

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Post by andrewhuang » Thu Aug 17, 2017 6:08 pm

I had a lot of "traditional" musical experience, and some education, across different genres, and also different areas (instrumental and vocal performance, recording, production...)

Modular taps into a kind of mindset that is not present in a lot of other approaches to music. Perhaps more than anywhere else, an understanding of the processes and the relationships between all the musical elements you're using is of huge importance. A working knowledge of basic theory and synthesis will be an advantage, but it's also not a prerequisite. Anyone getting into modular has a world of new things to learn and get acclimated to.

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Post by ugokcen » Thu Aug 17, 2017 6:46 pm

Dive right in I would say. No need to spend time on other synthesizers or acoustic instruments. Modular has its own language and workflow.

Now, this is coming from a guy who's been playing guitar and keyboards for over 20 years. So, having a musical background obviously helps but my point is that there is no need to wait. All you need is curiosity and some patience. And some cash of course!

As much as people like to use modulars for experimental/abstract stuff, I will suggest trying to emulate real instruments at first. It'll teach you the basics of audio and synthesis and also a certain perspective on how to translate the sounds you might be hearing in your head into the language of signals and modulators. Sound on Sound magazine's synth secrets columns are a great resource, definitely check them out.

There are no shortcuts in modular, no presets or templates to give you a head start. If you are looking for some cool sounds to kickstart your next production or project, then modular is not the right avenue. But if you really want to learn synthesis and explore new approaches to composition then you're in the right place.

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Post by trinithis » Thu Aug 17, 2017 8:09 pm

Up until around two years ago (I'm 29 now) I never played an instrument in my life. I have no music background or education of any kind, that is until I decided to get into synthesis (modular). I've spent a lot of time learning synthesis techniques and only now trying to learn the basics of music theory. All you need is drive and an ear for musical taste you enjoy. You decide when you have arrived at a sound you like. That's all you need.

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