What is a waveform?

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.

These waves are first created by the oscillator in their most simplest of forms. If you think that sound is a result of vibrations within the air, these oscillators create synthetic vibrations that are sent through to a speaker which then generates the sound.

The oscillator makes these waveforms by cycling up and down between positive and negative voltages. In order for the human ear to hear them, they need to be cycling between 20 and 20,000 times a second. The rate at which they cycle will affect the pitch of the sound.

There are various waveforms and each one creates a different sound depending on the shape of the wave, the waveform shapes that are most commonly used are known as sine, saw, triangle and square.

These are known as synthetic waveforms and are a lot less complex than the waveforms from electrical or acoustic sources. The fact that they are synthetic and simplified to their basic form makes them much easier to start making music from.

Sine waveforms are the most simple as they rise and fall smoothly. Saw waveforms produce sharper shaped sounds, like the teeth on a saw! Triangle waveforms sit somewhere in between the sine and saw sounds. The square waveform produces more of a hollow type sound.