Hi all! As promised here is some background on DAWS and how computers make sound. This blog post is a supplement for those of you who read my previous post “Creating a Virtual Piano and Drum Sequencer.” If you haven’t checked that out, be sure to click here!
These days to make music on computers, amateurs and pros alike use DAWs, or Digital Audio Workstations–essentially music making software. One can record with either real instruments or software-based instruments, and then manipulate these sounds with the software.
For instance, one often associates synthesizers and drum pads with DAWs (pictured above), so how do these instruments communicate with computers?
The answer: MIDI—Musical Instrument Digital Interface. Basically, no standard communication protocol existed for musical instruments to connect with each other and computers until the 1980s, when a standard, MIDI, was born.
You may have heard of DAWs like Garageband, Logic Pro, or Reason—pretty popular software. But there are also libraries one can import to DAWs so that one has the instruments for their specific genre. For instance, one can write a symphony worthy of Mahler with a program like Sibelius (pictured below) or Finale, and export this file to a DAW with a classical music library—all without touching a violin.
To make sounds with our own code, we use libraries. For instance, with Processing, we use a library called SoundCipher, which allows us to create sound and mess with it.
In order to synthesize sound, computers use components called oscillator circuits, which make vibrations to produce sound. One of the most basic oscillating waveforms used is the sine wave—the amplitude of the wave corresponds to the sound and the frequency to the pitch. The sine wave makes piano-like tones, whereas other waveforms such as sawtooth and square waves are used for strings and reed instruments, respectively.
Check out these pictures which illustrate some of the different types of waves.
Alrighty, I hope you have a more in-depth understanding of how computers make sound! If you have any ideas or questions comment below!