How Do Synthesizers Work? Definition, History, and Role in Producing Music

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 29, 2021 • 4 min read

For most of human history, music could only be produced in a limited number of ways. Vibrating or striking a string, for example, as is done with a violin, cello, guitar, piano or hammer dulcimer. Or striking a taut object, perhaps—whether that’s a drum, a marimba, or a xylophone. Or even moving parcels of air through a shaft, as is done with brass and woodwind instruments.

In the twentieth century, however, a new method of music production came into fashion that did not require any of the aforementioned techniques for producing sound. This new family of instruments, which remains immensely popular to this day, is known as the synthesizer family.