Music & Entertainment

Experimenting With Modular Synths


Lesson time 21:32 min

Don't be intimidated by the wall of knobs and flashing lights. For deadmau5, modular synths are all about messing around and finding unexpected sounds. Watch how he builds and tweaks his patches from scratch.

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This is all very intimidating. I think, like, 90% of people who don't know much about audio production that come in the studio and see this wall or walls of just blinking lights and knobs and all this stuff, and get really kind of overwhelmed by the complex look of the thing, but it's actually really not complex at all. All this shit is no different than a VST. In fact, this is what VSTs are built off of, except these wires are basically replaced with on/off switches or toggle this or routing switches or mod matrixes. The thing you should take away is this is called a modular synth, meaning that it's modular. Every one of these panels, some made by the same manufacturer, some made by other manufacturers-- every one of these small little modules has a very specific purpose. So what you have is oscillators, or let's just say sound sources, and then modifiers. That's basically the two things that are kind of happening here. So I have one module that outputs a VCO, which is voltage-controlled oscillator. Voltage plays a huge role in modular synthesis because voltage dictates the pitch of something or the amplitude of something, depending on the voltage it going in. [AUDIO OUT] I'm coming into just a small mixer here, and I'm going directly out to a mixer that's going into the input of my computer. So what you're hearing there is just a saw wave from this one module. And then this knob's controlling the pitch. Now, because it's an analog oscillator, the quality is inherently just going to be better than any digital synth. So that's not very [AUDIO OUT]. Instead of coming out-- these wires are basically just controlling the signal flow of what have you, whether it's the voltage or the audio. So I'm going directly into a mixer and we'll just say this is my computer's input, because ultimately it is. So instead of going into that, I want to go into a low-pass filter. So you could take any filter you like-- let's say this one here. So I'm going to take the output of that saw wave and then insert it into an audio input into that filter. I'm going to take the audio output of that filter and then go back to my output. So now I'm just going from here to there to there. You just follow the wires. So now I'm controlling the filter cut-off. So now I've added a little more kind of depth to that-- well, not depth, but I have a parameter now that I can change. And of course, all these modules have different ways of doing things and different outputs. So what we're hearing with the filter open there is just a saw. But just like flicking a switch on a VST, I can change that from a saw to a sine wave or to a pulse or a pulse where you can modify things like pulse width. But just for argument's sake, let's say I want to use a sine, which is that kind of resolution between the high and the low. That range you're getting is an analog sound, so that-- you can't ...

Make better music

Before he was deadmau5, all Joel Zimmerman wanted for Christmas was old toasters to take apart. Now, you can watch him take his music apart. In his first-ever online class, Joel teaches you how he approaches melodies, mixing and mastering to make unique sounds you can't find in a cookie cutter sample pack. You'll not only get his lessons, you'll learn how to create your own music without spending money on million dollar gear.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Loved this Class, super entertaining and let my thoughts apply what he was saying to my life.

thanks for the class with Deadmau5 I was needing to hear from this guy some advices.

Fantastic course and teacher. Learned a lot of interesting stuff

It helped me find my own sound and not be afraid of pushing the limits


dislokme ..

His muse is not here yet thats why he is doing basics now. He gotta work from 7pm-6am repeating the basics and then around 5am his muse visits then he do advanced stuff i guess.

Mr. M.

How is watching Joel plugging some cables and turning a bunch of knobs while skimming extremely superficially through the concepts of modular synthesis a lesson in a paid for masterclass? If you have absolutely no knowledge of this topic there are countless of excellent free tutorials on youtube that do a much better job explaining the concepts. And if you have knowledge of this topic then you're not learning anything new here at all; especially not learning anything on a masterclass level.


There are so many ways to create new sounds and using analog is just one of them. This was truly a synth geek's wet dream of a utopian analog sesh!

Kenneth S.

In an era of everything digital, it's refreshing to see Joel using a completely analog system! Understandably it'll end up digital, but creating on analog is just good music!

Josh F.

I'm buying my first mod system in March after I buy a Mininova synth keyboard and start working on my next few albums. Since you all came here to create a new way of doing electronic music, I feel like quality topping execution is the number one ingredient to the cake that is your culture as an artist. For me, Dragonite came to my mind when I was thinking about energy crystals that emit electricity and project soundwaves when they light up. With that kind of a visual teasing your mind, you can't help but want to continue to produce real high definition sound. I'm happy to call Joel my mentor, and if you want to find me on Spotify, Amazon Music, Itunes, Google Play and places like that...I'm always producing new content every month. The feedback on top of the support is appreciated.

A fellow student

you should just record 120 minutes of messing around with your modular lol seriously

Jose M P.

Lost on this lesson lol I guess I'll have to come back to this way later to understand what he is doing.

Ron L.

This makes me want to spend all my moneys on modular synths! Amazing canvas.


" i thought i had a reverb.... i don't." hahah on that whole dang wall... this was a fun lesson!


I built a bunch of these from scratch, they are fun, they were all very low voltage, 9 volt, some 12, and some 5 volt, circuit design is easy as legos but intimidating as rocket science. and fun as hell.