Looking to learn more about the language and jargon used for synthesizers? We've got you covered!

We've compiled a list of all the terms you'll need to know to get to know your synthesizer better and use it to its full potential!


ADSR refers to the four stages of an envelope, which are Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release.


The term amplitude is used to describe the volume of an audio signal and is related to how much energy is being transferred. For example, you would find a low amplitude when someone is whispering whereas someone shouting would produce a higher and stronger amplitude.


The term analog indicates that the audio signal is continuous rather than a non-continuous digital signal. Analog signals are considered to be the real-life version, producing a much warmer and natural tone compared to its digitized counterpart.


In its simplest form, an arpeggiator replicates whatever you play into a repeating pattern (usually an arpeggio). The repeated notes can be set at specific speeds and note lengths to create the desired effect.


Attack is the first stage of a synthesizer function known as the ADSR envelope (attack, decay, sustain, release). In summary, ADSR controls how a sound changes over a period of time. The attack stage describes how long a note takes to reach its maximum volume from zero.

Bandpass Filter

A bandpass filter is a combination of both high- and low-pass filters, this type of filter only allows a specified band of frequencies through, restricting the other frequencies surrounding the two cutoff frequencies (high and low).


Bandwidth can be described as the total frequency range that can be passed by a specific filter or amplifier. Bandwidth is measured in Hertz (Hz) and a common bandwidth is 20Hz-20KHz, which is the natural hearing range of the human ear.

Control Voltage (CV)

Control Voltage is a DC electrical signal that is found in analog synthesizers. These signals are used to control the various components such as the oscillators, envelopes and filters.


Decay is the second stage of the ADSR envelope, it is used to describe how the sound will react after the first strike of the key (known as the attack). Like attack, decay sets the duration of time for the sound to roll off from its maximum volume, dropping to sustain, the third stage of ADSR.


Digital sounds are processed and stored as a series of 1’s and 0’s called a binary code. This digital sound code is stored in a memory called a sample. Inside a digital synthesizer is a DAC (Digital to Audio Converter), this takes the binary code and converts it into an analog signal.

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

Digital audio workstations are used to record and produce a wide range of audio formats, mainly used to create music, songs, podcasts, and soundtracks. DAW’s are most commonly found as software programs on laptops or stand-alone computers.

Drum Machine

A drum machine is considered to be a synthesizer in basic terms. It is designed to replace the sound of real drums by creating drum beats and rhythmic patterns. A major component of drum machines are the sequencers and arpeggiators, which are used to store and replay the patterns.


An envelope is a four-stage process that sounds travel through over a period of time, the four stages are known as attack, decay, sustain and release. Envelopes help you to create expression and character within your sounds.

Equalization (EQ)

Equalization describes the process of boosting or attenuating (reducing) the levels of different frequencies in an audio signal, using an equalizer. In basic terms, equalization is about making certain instruments or voices louder or quieter than others.


Filters are used to cut, boost, and pass audio signal frequency ranges.


A Flanger effect is created when two similar audio signals are mixed together with one signal being delayed ever so slightly using an LFO. As the sound starts to swirl around it creates peaks and troughs in the frequency band.

High-Pass Filter

A High-Pass Filter is used to allow all frequencies above a cut-off frequency to pass through, removing all other frequencies in the process. It can also be known as a low-cut filter and compliments the low-pass filter.

Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO)

A Low-Frequency Oscillator is based upon an electronic audio signal that is used to create a sweep or rhythmic pulse, usually set below 20Hz (slower than normal VCOs - voltage controlled oscillator). This sweep or pulse is then used to modulate other components within the synth.

Low-Pass Filter

A Low-Pass Filter is used to allow all frequencies below a cut-off frequency to pass through, removing all other frequencies in the process. It can also be known as a high-cut filter and complements the high-pass filter.


MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and is used to connect various devices that create and process music, this could be anything from synths, computers, samplers to drum machines. MIDI can be used to easily work between different branded machines, because it's universal.


Monophonic is described as music with only one note or voice, so a monophonic synthesizer (like the legendary Minimoog) is only capable of playing one note at a time. This might sound limited, but these synths are capable of huge sounds when used with modulation.


An oscillator is a repeating signal that creates waveforms, like sine waves, square waves, triangle waves, etc. These waveforms can be used to create sounds, or used to control other parameters of the synthesizer.


A phaser effect is very much like a flanger but is considered milder and subtler in its output, you can think of it as having a spacey and swirling effect with a consistent motion, rocking back and forth. Phasers are frequency-based whereas flangers, although similar, are time-based.

Pink Noise

Pink noise refers to noise where the sum of the amplitude of the frequencies in each octave is equal. Essentially, the noise volume gets 3 dB quieter per octave.

Pitch Bend Wheel / Pitch Wheel

The pitch wheel can be found on most modern synthesizers and MIDI keyboard controllers. The wheel is designed so only half of it is raised from the interface. The main use for this wheel is to create smooth pitch bends or to raise/lower the pitch of notes you are playing.


Polyphonic refers to a synthesizer that is able to play two or more sounds at the same time is described as being polyphonic. A digital keyboard is polyphonic as it allows the user to play chords of simple or complex nature. The number of notes are sometimes described as voices.


Portamento is a type of Legato playing style which allows for smooth transitions between notes. The easiest way to imagine this is to think of how someone plays a violin, using the full length of the bow with controlled wrist movements to change notes.


Release is the final stage of the ADSR envelope and results in the sound falling back to silence (zero volts).

Ring Modulation

Ring modulation is an effect where two waveforms are combined to create a new frequency. The effect that this creates is described as a metallic ringing sound used for gongs or bell type sounds, hence where the name ring modulation comes from.


Sustain is the third stage of the ADSR envelope and is the only stage that is not representative of time. In terms of a synthesizer with a keyboard, the sustain is described as the level of volume (amplitude) that the signal remains at for however long the key is being pressed.


A synthesizer (or synth for short) is an electronic-based instrument that is able to generate audio signals. These signals are then processed and converted into sounds. The sounds they produce are wide-ranging and depending on the users' experience, the possibilities are endless


Unison mode is described as multiplying the signal that is being created by the oscillator. This means that multiple notes will be playing the same pitch at the same time, or pitches spread across different octaves. In essence, it makes your sound fuller in a quick and simple process.


A Vocoder is most famously used to make your synthesizer talk and sing. The robotic-sounding voice is common in modern music and was first used by Stevie Wonder in the 1970s.


A Voice within a synthesizer is regarded as a single note that can be played. You will find that monophonic synthesizers are only able to play one voice/note at a time, whereas polyphonic synthesizers are able to play multiple voices/notes at any one time.


VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. These are plugin software interfaces that you can load into your DAW (digital audio workstation) for professional music production. VST plugins use digital technology to recreate the traditional recording hardware that you can find in studios.


Waveforms are digitized recreations of constantly changing electrical voltages over time. They are produced by internal oscillators within a synthesizer, the process is called oscillation. These waveforms are graphical representations of the changing amplitude (volume) of the sound.

White Noise

White noise is a sound that holds all frequencies, of which humans are capable of hearing, at equal amounts of amplitude (volume). This includes all high, medium and low pitch sounds within the 20Hz and 20kHz range.