I started my modular journey a year ago with zero knowledge of synths, music production or music theory. Everything was kind of esoteric at the time but after reading and practicing a lot I feel more confortable with the synths lingo, now I know what VCO or VCA stands for and I can even patch them to make some noise!

So far I've been practicing by forcing myself to produce full tracks from start to finish, in the last twelve months I've uploaded more than 30 'tracks' to my Soundcloud account. I wouldn't call them 'tracks' really, as they're more like practices or experiments, nothing I would publish on Bandcap or feel proud about. But hey, I'ts been tons of fun so far and I've been learning a lot.

However, for the next months I would like to make an effort to practice in a more focused and deliberate way. Creating tracks from start to finish is cool and fun, but I may end up making the same mistakes again and again and not improving or learning new stuff.

So that's why I'm wondering how do you practice with your modular. If it were a guitar I could easily find practice tips and exercises on the net, practice chords, escales and so on. With modular every synth is different and the kind of practice you do with it is probably different too.

I'm considering this practices myself:

  1. Jam: just jam something like 1 hour and record everything. Then listen carefully and see what mistakes I made and try to make it better next time. This might be slow and difficult, without some kind of experienced buddy who can point out mistakes and ways to improve I could feel a bit lost and not improve at all.

  2. Module practice: focus on a single module, read the manual and all the information I can find about it. Try to patch it in all the ways I can imagine and use all its features. Having a deep knowledge of individual modules may increase the creative potential and make me feel more confident playing with my synth.

  3. Focus on specific techniques: practice on specific techniques, such as drones, percussion and rhythm, acid bass-lines, chords, arpeggios and so on. This will require a lot of research, what makes a good drone? how drum kicks are made? but sounds fun too.

I'm also thinking of throwing in some theory with a couple of books: Music Theory for "Computer Musicians" by Michael Hewitt seems to be an easy introduction to music theory. And “The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook” by Bobby Owsinski, as I find all the mixing and mastering stuff quite hard but very interesting.

How do you approach your learning and practice process? what would you recommend doing first? when you were starting out with modular, what made the biggest impact on your music?

As always, I appreciate a lot your feedback :)


This is a great question to ask, like you @Exposure, I've been jamming a lot, generally alongside 2 and/or 3. I also throw in two other variations:

  1. Try to ripoff someone I like and see how I can reproduce their style in modular. This helps me get away from my typical patterns and think about areas of my synth that I'm not working with as much, or different approaches to modules I'm already using. And of course as you do this you end up adding your own ideas and flair, so it becomes a nice hybrid piece in a way.

  2. Pick some sort of metaphorical idea and aim for that, e.g. "This song will sound like different types of water coming together, or arid fire, or have a particular feeling." This one is a little bit more subjective which makes it harder but I like to throw it into the mix now and then. That said, you can also take a more concrete approach to this, a la James Tenney's Postal Pieces (https://blogthehum.com/2016/05/31/james-tenneys-postal-pieces/) which gives you a chance to provide a framework to work in and then demands you explore it properly.

With both approaches, having a clear goal other than "this sounds good" can go a long way to keeping you learning. It can be a little easy to coast on how good a synth sounds, which is definitely great, but we learn best by continuing to push forward.

Anyway, just my 2 cents!


I've often asked myself this same question. How do other people practice and learn new techniques.

We share a similar beginning, I started getting into synths and effects a couple of years ago, without knowledge of how to play an instrument or write a song. But I read a lot, bought some equipment and began to understand the basics of subtractive synthesis.

Last August I started building a eurorack system. I bought too many modules, way too fast. It's been exciting to get hands on so many great sounding modules, but I've found that my time in front of my system hasn't been very focused, at all. I've been nagging myself to come up with a more deliberate way of spending my time, something more structured, that's building toward achievement of an ultimate goal. I often think it would be easier to stay focused if I had a friend who was also into synths, we could work towards something together. Then I think to myself that I could likely find a bud to learn with online someplace, but I feel like I'm at my best when I interact with other people in person. So I end up spending my practice time doing basically everything you listed, but sporadically and without much focus.

I think all three approaches mentioned in your post are valid and will lead to an accumulation of knowledge, ability and confidence. For myself, I think it's simply a matter of setting specific goals, planning out my practice time, taking notes & recording sessions, and perhaps making more of an effort to meet people online who are also learning and looking for friends. :-)


I try new patches and keep a patch journal/diary as well as read and watch videos and tutorials.
When I find patch combos that make the tone that I like, I record it and try to build on it.


If it's not an aimless jam -- and often it is an aimless jam -- I usually start from just one module or musical element. I often try to get a module to do something new. This is especially true for those modules that can do a lot (looking at you Disting!) For example, recently I've been trying to get the BIA to do many things at once; this means both learning the sounds that it can do, and also how to set up the different modulation tracks to make it happen. Once I'm happy with my "experiment" I usually bring in other elements to build a piece of music around that.

There's no need to record unless it's sounding good, although if I've been playing too long my judgement about good and bad can be a bit off :-/


Even if you're doing an "aimless" jam, you're still doing some valuable practice. Since we don't necessarily have an electronic equivalent to Rimsky-Korsakov's "Principles of Orchestration", even random screwing around is going to result in some insights about what patches, textures, etc work together, and which don't. And, of course, even screwing around still hones your patching skills, makes the process of knobs-n-wires more intuitive.

Plus, not recording things can also be a mistake, even if it's obvious that the "screwing around" in those cases is just that. But at the same time, if you have the take in your DAW...well, hell, ANYTHING'S fair game once it's on the hard drive. So it doesn't work in of itself...but what if you dubbed a few more things onto it? Or what if you used it as a layer in some other work? Or chopped it into loops? Or, or, or... This is part of the rationale Brian Eno's used for many years...true, it's resulted in a HUGE library of tapes of all sorts that he keeps track of, but if you know what's on them and how to work with those recordings, they're golden. In fact, whole albums of his have come out of this, with the most notable example being "The Shutov Assembly".


Agree that recording is worthwhile and one reason for my YT channel even if my music is not everyone cup of tea. I learn from it.


If it's not an aimless jam -- and often it is an aimless jam -- I usually start from just one module or musical element. I often try to get a module to do something new. [...] Once I'm happy with my "experiment" I usually bring in other elements to build a piece of music around that.
-- the-erc

That's basically the same I do, I find I learn a lot more if I try to have my patch grow into something more similar to an actual track than leaving it as it is.

So far I've been practicing by forcing myself to produce full tracks from start to finish, in the last twelve months I've uploaded more than 30 'tracks' to my Soundcloud account. I wouldn't call them 'tracks' really, as they're more like practices or experiments, nothing I would publish on Bandcap or feel proud about. But hey, I'ts been tons of fun so far and I've been learning a lot.
-- Exposure

I'm debating wether to upload the results of my patching as I'm not sure it could interest anybody. I don't feel I'm producing anything valuable yet, if not for my own personal learning.

Plus, not recording things can also be a mistake, even if it's obvious that the "screwing around" in those cases is just that. But at the same time, if you have the take in your DAW...well, hell, ANYTHING'S fair game once it's on the hard drive. So it doesn't work in of itself...but what if you dubbed a few more things onto it? Or what if you used it as a layer in some other work? Or chopped it into loops?
-- Lugia

I agree, and maybe a downside of this approach of trying to make anything into a "track" is that many of the sounds I get from patching around could be useful in the future if recorded by themselves.


I usually go to bed thinking about patching ideas and try them out the next day.
"Why couldn't I get that vibrato to work right?" "How could I use a switch to add interest to that patch?" etc.
I'm a big fan of Eno's "Oblique Strategies" too. If you aren't familiar, back in the 70s Brian Eno created a deck of cards with short phrases and single words that are meant to redirect artists out of their comfort zones. When you get stuck, pull a card and contemplate the phrase for a minute or two, then incorporate the idea into your music. It doesn't always lead to something cool, but it keeps you on your toes and shakes up your routine workflow. I believe he has used Oblique Strategies on many (most?) of his great productions including Bowie's "Low" and Talking Heads' "Remain in Light."
Here's a free website with random cards that you can click through:
https://www.joshharrison.net/oblique-strategies/


The Oblique Strategies is an INCREDIBLY useful mind-jogger in the studio. I was introduced to them back during my undergrad by the producer Mike Poole, when we were all at MTSU, back in the early 1980s. I definitely recommend having an offline version, though...try here: http://www.rtqe.net/ObliqueStrategies/ I also think I have a VST plug (or M4L object?) on the multitrack machine that allows you to embed them into your workflow for quickie consultations.


Sounds like a new module idea @Lugia, "press a button and get a random Oblique Strategy" 🤣


Sounds like a new module idea @Lugia, "press a button and get a random Oblique Strategy" 🤣
-- troux

ONLY if the module draws 2A on the +12 rail. If you're gonna use the Strategies, you should have to sort out a technical problem like that first, to sharpen those brain muscles up!


In that case Pittsburgh Modular should put it out to drive purchases of their ridiculously amped cases lol (which I do love for the record).


Oh, yeah...NO argument with those Pitt cabs! Their arrangement with Monorocket has yielded some AMAZING fruit!


  1. Try to ripoff someone I like and see how I can reproduce their style in modular. This helps me get away from my typical patterns and think about areas of my synth that I'm not working with as much, or different approaches to modules I'm already using. And of course as you do this you end up adding your own ideas and flair, so it becomes a nice hybrid piece in a way.
    -- troux

This is a great idea indeed. I've used it many times when I'm trying to learn new stuff but never though of using it for the modular synth. It's really a good way of learning, at least until you can come up with your own original material.

I often think it would be easier to stay focused if I had a friend who was also into synths, we could work towards something together. Then I think to myself that I could likely find a bud to learn with online someplace, but I feel like I'm at my best when I interact with other people in person. So I end up spending my practice time doing basically everything you listed, but sporadically and without much focus.
-- Footage

Yes, absolutely. It's a bit like when you want to start going to the gym to get fit, it's always easier if you've got a pal who's also doing the same, it's good to have some with whom you can share the experience.

Plus, not recording things can also be a mistake, even if it's obvious that the "screwing around" in those cases is just that. But at the same time, if you have the take in your DAW...well, hell, ANYTHING'S fair game once it's on the hard drive. So it doesn't work in of itself...but what if you dubbed a few more things onto it? Or what if you used it as a layer in some other work? Or chopped it into loops? Or, or, or... This is part of the rationale Brian Eno's used for many years...true, it's resulted in a HUGE library of tapes of all sorts that he keeps track of, but if you know what's on them and how to work with those recordings, they're golden. In fact, whole albums of his have come out of this, with the most notable example being "The Shutov Assembly".
-- Lugia

It makes sense, more so with modular synths as once you un-patch it's gone for good, it's hard to get the same patch and make it sound the same again. I guess I'll be recording more from now on. I'll be also listening more Brian Eno :)

I wasn't aware of the "Oblique Strategies" and I think it's a fantastic idea, I'll make sure to give it a try when I find myself stuck. Thanks for sharing the online version Farkas.


Ableton's 'Making Music' is very good too...

https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/making-music-book-of-creative-strategies/

Heavily focussed on DAWs, but the principles generally translate well and aim to tackle the really difficult points in our music making journeys!

Personally I am a huge fan of 'breaking it all down and starting again', fast and often, picking one, two or even three patch points that I absolutely must NOT use - sub/consciously that can be as excruciatingly difficult or as easy as you want to make it ;)

I am taking commissions for module builds again - finally!! DM for details :)

Tapographic FS or TRADE - whatcha got?

You can find my modular synth album here https://kel-audio.bandcamp.com - enjoy!

I love to try plugging things into different patch points and experiment when I noodle. Helps me learn by osmosis often without even reading a manual or watching a video. I did this tonite with Marbles and figured out how to use it like an LFO and trigger sequencer with Rings, so fun.


A lot of my work starts as various levels of screwing around...sitting down at a keyboard synth and poking around with various parameters until a sound pops out and says "OK...here I am, you bastard...USE ME!" At that point, I'll start looking around the studio and sorting out where complementary sound spectra can be cooked up...both reinforcing and conflicting. Eventually, there's a tipping point of sorts that appears, where the "uphill" of the messing around turns into the "downhill" of a new work coming together.

Where it gets dicey again is when I start to mix down and construct the mix's processing, gain structure, and so on....so there's another shorter "uphill" that happens as I transition the process from the synths to the desk and processors, but just like before, there's yet another tipping point and the mix just starts gelling together.

It's worth noting that this is a method I've used for decades, so I'm very accustomed to the workflow it requires as well as the nuances of the process itself. But I shouldn't think that taking the time to get used to one's own workflow patterns should be considered "time wasted". Instead, it needs to be viewed as just another method of musical practice; mixers and processors don't have "performance practice" in of themselves as a rule, so it's up to YOU to sort out that aspect of your work and make it part of your musical "fingerprint". And if it takes a week of hammering away to suss out four measures in a Schubert lied, it shouldn't be all that surprising that electronic music composition/performance/production ALSO has similar requirements.


Another thing to practice often and early is pressing the red record button.

Sounds easy right, you just press the red record button...

Nope... all kinds of weird things happen in your brain, that wicked lick you practiced to death and get right 100% of the time, not just technically, but with aplomb and verve becomes the most amateurish rendition of the worst musical idea you ever had... the moment you press the red button!

Seriously, really weird sh!t happens... so start practicing now, it can take just as long, if not longer, to master the red button as it does to master the whole of the rest of your instrument ;)

I am not joking! :D

I am taking commissions for module builds again - finally!! DM for details :)

Tapographic FS or TRADE - whatcha got?

You can find my modular synth album here https://kel-audio.bandcamp.com - enjoy!

I'm gonna be a contrarian and chime in to say, not recording can be its own boon too, just let things flow, have fun, keep the patch changing. I personally like to wait to record til I really think I'm ready which incentivizes me not to get stuck on something that * sounds good * but that's really just ok or not where I'm trying to go. This also pushes me a bit to keep improving until I'm really happy with the tune rather than a "ok, got some good sections in there." Anyway, YMMV but my 2 cents.


Aww yeah of course, I am the worlds worst at not recording things hehe :)

I just know from many years of failure that eventually I did need to practice recording, it's a skill like any other! Having invested I don't find it a disruptive thing any more ;)

p.s. I didn't think your post was contrary at all, very complementary in fact!

I am taking commissions for module builds again - finally!! DM for details :)

Tapographic FS or TRADE - whatcha got?

You can find my modular synth album here https://kel-audio.bandcamp.com - enjoy!