Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Teaching Children Subtractive Synthesis

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am an avid fan of synthesizers.. I suppose that when I was new to the field, I was more impressed by the further reaches of the realms of synthesis such as additive synthesis which held a certain fascination for me because I understood the mathematics and it made music fit into a neat mathematical realm where music in some sense became a giant equation.

Now, some years latter, my belief about synthesis has changed and I believe that music plays us more than we play music. I have had a recent fascination with music therapy and those doctors and others who write about how the brain processes music. I am also ware of my own abilities as a musician and composer and how I got there as well as how music plays me, how I am influenced by all types of music from rock, Celtic, jazz and classical.

What I have realized over the years is how near music is to us. This latest blog is actually an attempt encourage therapists to buy their families at least a rudimentary analog synthesizer. Now that I think about it, a Doepfer Dark Energy might be nice or a micro Korg: - Dark Engery - MicroKorg

The Dark Energy is better for teaching subtractive synthesis in depth but the MicroKorg teaching music. With the Dark Energy you would also need a MIDI controller of some sort.

Kids are wonderfully open to ideas. When we get older we develop significant filters over time but childhood is a great time of discovery. Kids love to play X-Box and games like Guitar Hero but I thought about it and why not, why not teach children analog synthesis or even learn it together as a family. I also think that analog synthesis (and digital) have a lot to offer the music therapy world but I am still working on convincing others to look outside their box (the filters I am speaking of).

But I do believe that music is very near to us and in fact, infants learn subtractive synthesis from an early age and indeed, music. From 30 weeks a fetus can hear. And what does a fetus hear, the beating of the mothers heart around 70 beats a minute. When the mother is at rest, the fetus hears an adagio tempo. Isn't it interesting that 40 bpm is "grave" which in Latin can mean sick which certainly corresponds to the rate of the human heart which would be nearly dead at 40 bpm. I digress but the child before even leaving the womb experiences an LFO, a low frequency pulse.

After the baby is born at about 9 weeks it becomes aware (and delighted I might add) with the world of sound around it. Is it any wonder that those like Pauline Oliveros, a composer, would also be interested in what she coined "deep listening" which is in a sense an attempt to return to our very early childhood and remember the wonder of the sounds we first heard.

First, the child coos and becomes aware of it's vocal chords (let's call it the oscillator). The the begins to use filters. baby phrases like "da da" and "ma ma" are simple exercises in using filters. Then he consonants are used (the white noise generator). The child also begins to form full words by shaping the sounds (envelope).

OK, I could go on here but I think I have made my point. A child at a very early age learns subtractive synthesis. We don't remember how we learned language, in those early formative stages, but we do learn to use the synthesizer that is the human voice. In fact, the child uses the same techniques of feedback that are used in many ways by a musician called muscle memory. Learning to connect movements of the muscles with musical phrases. Children learn music much easier at a younger age (and language as well) because their filter cutoff in their brain is high. The are open to the many connections and discoveries that are part of the process of making music.

So, my hypothesis? That the human person at any stage, understand subtractive synthesis which interestingly enough remains the most common form of synthesis in synthesizers today.

So, to my music therapist friends with kids (or not). Buy a synthesizer. You can get some cheap ones (well, for little more than video game maching and a few games) and you can introduce your children and yourselves to a wonderful musical world of notes and sounds.

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