Synthesizer Sound Design with Live and Reason

A new class this summer at Santa Fe Community College

In electronic music, synthesizer sound design makes the difference between a decent track and a great one. For film and video, learning synth sound design gives you the ability to make sci-fi sound effects. This class will teach you the fundamentals of making original, interesting sounds with synthesizers, including drums, classic trance leads, Skrillex dubstep bass, laser blasts, and sound effects from the Transformers movies and cartoons. We'll start simple and progress to more complex sounds in just four quick sessions.

How to Sign Up

Signing up for classes at SFCC is easy and affordable; anyone who lives in New Mexico can register. If you're already registered at SFCC, you can sign up for the class online. The course number is 10433. It's a four-week class, every Tuesday night in July, from 5:30pm to 8:45pm.

How the Class Works

I'll bring in analog synthesizers to demonstrate them, but we're mostly going to work in Propellerhead Reason, and sometimes in Ableton Live. This isn't a class on how to use either app in depth, because SFCC already has a great class on Reason and Live. Instead, we're going to focus on synth skills.

Reason synthesizers work and look just like real synthesizers do, and Reason's got deep features which allow you to do some advanced stuff which would cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to do in hardware. If you sign up for the class, you get to use Reason in the computer lab for free. Also, check out this image:

There's actually two synthesizers here: one visible, and one hidden. The hidden one has a sound loaded up, and you move the knobs in the visible one so you can make it sound like the hidden one. If you want to cheat, and look at the hidden synthesizer, you can, but the key is to do it by ear, and you'll learn how to do that.

In the first class, the sounds will be very simple. I'll show you which controls to move, and it'll be easy to figure out the sound, even if you've never done it before. We'll add new controls one at a time, and by the last class, you'll be able to figure out more complex sounds. Along the way, I'll explain and illustrate a bunch of key concepts. So you'll learn how to make a bunch of sounds, and you'll also learn how they work.

Sign Up Now!

Classes at the community college sometimes get cancelled if not enough people sign up. If you want to take this class, the smart move is to sign up right away. Also, if I get a full class, which is only 20 people, I'm going to buy a special instructional kit and actually build simple synthesizers in the class, so you can really see how they work. (I might even figure out a way for everybody in the class to get the experience of building a simple synth this way, but no guarantees.)

Your Teacher

My name's Giles Bowkett. I've been making music with synthesizers for 25 years (on and off), and I've even written my own (relatively simple) music software, using the Ruby, CoffeeScript, and Clojure programming languages. I've studied algorithmic music at UC Santa Cruz, and I've taken all the studio engineering classes at SFCC.

I'm a synthesizer nerd, but I'm not going to overload you with jargon. Instead, you're going to learn how to make sounds right away, and pick up just enough theory as we go. Feel free to email me at with any questions. Or, if you want, you can check out some music I've made, over at SoundCloud.