The Synthesizer and its Possibilities
in Music Education

Hiroshi Suzuki 1992 at ISME Korea

The first scene of synthesizer was using it for electronic music studios. It was started at 1955 in USA. At that time synthesizer was a big system for experimental music or modern music.
People had some feeling about synthesizer that it should be an inorganic and mechanical instrument.
The second scene of synthesizer was using it for live performances such as rock music. This time people had another feeling about synthesizer that it is a noisy exiting instrument.
Both feelings about synthesizer are actually correct, because of its lack of cantabile. The sound's characteristics are important for that music. But, for example, in Bach's last composition "Musical Offering", he didn't reserve any instrument for the music. It means that the most important elements of his music were not sounds, but music itself.
The third scene of synthesizer was using it in music education. If synthesizers have enough functions to perform any music, it should be an educational and musical instrument, I think.
Then I initiated some experiments on the synthesizer to find out whether it can be a tool for teaching ensemble in the school music lesson in 1972. At that time, I was a music teacher at Akashi Junior High School attached to Kobe University. It was the world's first trial to use synthesizers in a school music lesson.
Despite unfavorable circumstances, for electronic musical instruments including the synthesizer were rarely recognized, as well as a lack of necessary information, my students pleased me with their enormous progress. Frankly, I was not fully convinced how much educational effect I could achieve though these electronic means, but the result was remarkable, far better than my expection. The students were much inspired and excited with this new way of music learning. I decided to use the synthesizer in ensemble music learning for the following reasons.

  1. A variety of musical instruments are not required in the class since the synthesizer provides a large selection of tone voices and a tonal range to choose from, instead of fixed sounds.
  2. Every score is applicable to a lesson, because transposition is possible by just one touch.
  3. Students can leam their part separately according to their level, with no special change of operation as with the flute and trumpet ,etc.
  4. By the use of headphones, students can learn, without interference from other students and environmental noise.
However, in actual practice synthesizer education did not work out as easily as expected. The problem was worse because the instruments at that time were of the analog and monophonic Voltage Controlled type in the main. Difficulties were found in tuning, in the storage and play-back of sound data, especially in nonlegato, unstable controllers, balance of tone voice and tone volume, coupled use of effects and mixing for stereo output, change of tone voice during performance and conducting.
After numerous trials, errors and experiments over 3 years, I succeeded in acquiring some know- how for a 100% electronic orchestra performance using synthesizers played by 10 to 20 members. To produce the sound of a full orchestra in class, the following conditions are required:

  1. Setting as many different parameters as possible on each synthesizer .
  2. Sending out signals processed with effects, not direct ones.
  3. Producing a fat strings' sound, tuning every synthesizer to a slightly different pitch to be played by different students, and changing parameters including the LFO of each instrument.
  4. Enhancing mid and bass ranges.
  5. Localizing solo parts either on the left or right in stereo mode.
  6. Adding echo effects on the right for left sound and vice versa.
  7. Changing the amount of echo for solo and other parts.
  8. Producing subVe the nuances of each part by foot controllers for students, not by a control on a channel mixer.
  9. Setting of reverb and echo independently.
The technique as a whole is, frankly, a replica of the multitrack recording which lsao Tomita developed. Ten and odd years later, the digital synthesizer incorporating an FM sound system came on to the music scene. I moved from the junior high school to Hyogo University of Teacher Education to teach future music teachers. I am no longer able to do new experiments with the second generation of instruments as I did long ago with my junior high students. Happily though, on the occasion of Tsukuba Science Expo 1985, I was involved in the special opening ceremony program featuring 150 synthesizers played by elementary school children conducted by Mr.Nita. To put it in a nutshell, though the grand ensemble by digital synthesizers with DX7 produced a tremendous visual effect, it was boring musically. In the case of the digital synthesizer an ensemble effect by 150 children is only possible when they press the keys with different timing. Because the instruments are digital, they can not be detuned instantly by ear, nor can the envelope and LFO data be changed quickly. To complement the definition of the ensemble, and to avoid touch delay by the children, I proposed combining two digital sequencers, two FM tone generators and one digital drum machine with the DX7s. The total volume had to be adjusted to the level of 150 players by the mixing desk. Musical excellence in unison or ensemble was missing from the ensemble as a result. The characteristic reliability of digital technology adversely affected the ensemble. A full orchestra sounds beautiful because of the delayed touches of independent players, a large sphere of sound source expanded horizontally with unevenness. The precise sound of the digital instruments is rather preferable for a small ensemble, such as a rock group or quartet, however, it becomes a major drawback for a grand ensemble unless each instrument is set up with the utmost care after calculating its sound and its effect. Ironically, the massive sound of digital synthesizers turned out to be too plain.

Recently YAMAHA introduced a school synthesizer, the SDX2000, an upgraded version of the original DX7. I have found a number of new features including the Micro Tuning, touch controllers, single and split modes, Multi-mode, LFOs, pitch bender, initial and after touch sensitivities, Panning, etc. Here I would like to say that every one of these features is closely related to the shortcomings we felt at the Tsukuba Expo in 1985.

I appreciate very much the Touch Sensitivities when it is used to produce unevenness in the tone range and tone color. Another effective feature for ensemble music in schools is Foot Controllers, which can produce any envelopes matched to the music being played instantly. This gives players many more musical effects, and they are regarded as innovative controllers in the Synthesizer, usable both in music making and education.

The Single and Split modes help produce massive and effective ensemble music by fewer players. Selection of those modes can be loaded in to the Performance data. The independent LFOs give a special effect in the Multi-trigger mode. With this function, vibrato effect is added to each note of the strings section independently. I believe that any player can imagine what kind of effect they give to music.

One notable feature of FM synthesizers is that their tonal volume is not affected by changing the tone voices. With the analog synthesizer, VCFs produce different tone voices by altering amount of harmonic overtone with cut-off frequency. This means that when a harmonic overtone in augmented and the tone becomes brighter, the tone volume increases, leading to a loss of overall tonal balance at the end. With the FM sound system, changes of tone voices do not affect the tone volume at all, because the output of the modulator, which is an operator of the tone voice, has no relation to output of the carrier. The tone volume is only determined by the output level of the carrier.

Unlike ensemble performances using acoustic instruments, students are requested to better identify the difference between 'intensity' and 'volume' when they play the FM synthesizer. This is very useful in music education. Unfortunately, not a few keyboardists of today play the instrument as a professional, quite unaware of this difference. As a result, people have some feeding that synthesizers are not good for beautiful music.

School music has a much more demanding quality of sound today. I have a feeling that besides the acoustic instruments only a digital network music system related to a MIDI can satisfy student's needs. The synthesizer will be a legitimate instrument for creating the sound of a new age, and the MIDI opens up a new avenue in school music education where students can learn and analyze the secrets of master's works. CAPIS, the Computer Assisted Piano Instruction System of Hyogo University of Teacher Education, is able to analyze any performance using MIDI signals.

The time for fitting one's feet to the size of the shoses is over. We now have a large selection of sizes and designs of shoes from which we can choose freely those that fit our feet. Now is the time when real music education can start using the synthesizer.