As I continue to make music, I look for new ways to produce and create fresh sounds. Sometimes a break from Ableton can work wonders for me. But of course I don’t want to just stop making music. Instead, I find new outputs. What I decided to share today is a list of browser-based synthesizers and drum machines. These are free online synthesizers that are perfect for chipping away at your free time. They’ve successfully ruined my work productivity. I have no regrets. They also happen to be a great solution for whenever you want to step away from your typical producing routines and just mess around with no goals in mind. I’m referring to those occasions when you’re tired of trying to finish that track and you just want to twist some virtual knobs and tinker with sounds.
The list below is by no means an exhaustive one, but I’m confident you’ll find pretty much anything you could want. Whether it’s a modular synth, a drum machine, or a vintage analog emulation, it exists out there in the depths of the internet and I’ve got it all right here in one convenient location. They’re all entirely free, and most are pretty easy to get the hang of. So go ahead, waste the rest of your week playing online synthesizers. That’s what I did.
If you want deep and complex, load this thing up in your browser. It’s chock full of features and tweakable settings, you can adjust the BPM, and there are 125 preset patches. The user interface isn’t the prettiest, but it’s easy to look past that when you’ve got gazillions of sliders you can manipulate in order to get the sound just the way you want it. Oh, and there’s an on-screen keyboard you can play with your actual keyboard. Some of the parameters you can adjust:
- Volume (there’s gain, a limiter, and a meter)
- Effects (compression, distortion, delay, modulation, reverb, and EQ)
- Amplitude (attack, decay, sustain, hold, release)
- Filters (two filters, each with many settings, an LFO, and more)
- Oscillators (there are three, and each have many variables)
If you’re new to synthesizers and sound design, there will definitely be a learning curve. But it’s worth it. This alone could probably consume 50 hours or more of your time. Check it out below!
I love drum machines. And so should you. What better way to spend your afternoons than by crafting intricate drum beats? This virtual drum machine features a kick, snare, hihat, and three toms (low, mid, high). With this particular drum machine, I’m blown away by how many kits you can pick from. The flexibility in setting your BPM and adding swing to your rhythm is pretty awesome too. You can even choose between soft and hard velocity on each note. And if that’s not enough, you can apply effects and adjust the pitch of each channel. Despite the great attention to detail, I do wish that there were more elements. Offering just one hihat is limiting when most drum machines offer both a closed and an open hihat sound.
Plink is a much more casual approach to making music online. It also implements multiplayer functionality pretty well. Plink works like this:
- Enter a nickname and join for free with no signup
- Choose your instrument by selecting a color from the sidebar menu
- Move your cursor up and down to raise and lower pitch (the interface is basically a giant piano roll)
- Click with your mouse button to play a note
It’s really that simple, and it expands the notion of jamming with others to an online realm. There’s something fun about synchronizing your efforts with someone you don’t know to make awesome improvisational tunes.
This synth boasts rich tones, yet a simple interface. Play notes with your computer keyboard and use your mouse to drag some of the faders up and down. It’s supposed to be a replication of the Commodore 64 style of music, but I’m not sure it does a great job emulating it. Regardless, it’s still fun to mess around with the LFO and Echo while playing fat saw wave notes. You can also record what you play and loop it.
This application isn’t really a synthesizer, but I wanted to include it because it’s just so unique. Essentially, you upload your favorite song and then the Infinite Jukebox dissects the song, breaking it down beat by beat and splitting it into many numerous parts. It then jumps around and keeps the song going. Since I’m doing a terrible job of explaining what this app does, I’ll quote their FAQ page directly:
- How does it work? – We use the Echo Nest analyzer to break the song into beats. We play the song beat by beat, but at every beat there’s a chance that we will jump to a different part of song that happens to sound very similar to the current beat. For beat similarity we look at pitch, timbre, loudness, duration and the position of the beat within a bar. There’s a nifty visualization that shows all the possible transitions that can occur at any beat.
The nifty visualization they’re referring to is below. It changes with each song.
And that concludes part 1 of this series. I’ve found so many free online synthesizers that I think it’s worth it to split the full list up into a few different posts. Go experiment with each of these tools and by the time you wear your ears out I’ll have the next post finished and published. Check out part two here.