When talking about music we often describe what a particular instrument is sounding like. For example “that guitar in Santana’s ‘Maria, Maria’ is so smooth”. With electronic music, it’s mostly up to producers to give names to the types of sounds they’re designing and using. For the listener on the other hand it’s kind of hard to express what they like about a track.

We want to make sure that when we’re writing about synth-only music, everyone understands what were saying. That’s why we’re introducing the most important sound ‘categories’ in this post.

Leads

…usually play the main melody in a synth track. Rock has lead guitars – we’ve got lead synths.

Pads

…are sustained tones or chords that would usually represent the string section in a track. They can range from very simple to complex and wildly modulated soundscapes.

Plucks

…originally tried to emulate picked guitars or plucked strings. Nowadays they’ve become an own category.

Basses

…are probably a no-brainer. In many electronic genres, they are some of the most important sounds in a track – with ‘bass music’ they even got their own, rather popular genre.

Keys

…include anything that resembles an (e-) piano – with the difference that synths are not a one-preset instrument.

FXs

…cover all sorts of swishes, swooshes, risers or impact sounds – basically anything that is non-melodic and at the same time no percussion.

Anything else?

This selection is neither exhaustive nor are the above categories mutually exclusive. We hope, however, that this primer makes talking about synth-only music a bit easier. Did we forget anything? Let us know which other categories you find noteworthy!

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