ECE4893A: Electronics for Music Synthesis (Spring 2011)

ECE4893A: Electronics for Music Synthesis (Spring 2011)

Electronics for Music Synthesis

When: MWF 12:05-12:55 – Where: Van Leer C240

Office: Van Leer 276
Phone: 404-385-2548 (but it’s better to try reaching me through
E-mail: (by far
the best way to reach me; please include “EMS” somewhere in the subject of class-related
e-mail so I can find it quickly)
Course website:
Prerequisites: ECE3040 and ECE3041 (with concurrency allowed,
i.e. you can
be taking ECE3041 this semester and be OK). Basically, I need some
familiarity with op amps, diodes, and transistors, and I need to make sure that
you have had some experience using a scope by
the time you will to use one in EMS. (Oscilloscopes are
introduced pretty early in ECE3041, which is
what makes the “concurrency” part OK)
Website for previous offering:
EMS (Spring 2010)
will help give you a feel for what the class is like

<!– The photo: Chris Garyet testing his voltage-contolled “wah”
(from Spring 2006) –>


(Note: I often abbreviate the class title as “EMS.” This usage of “EMS”
should not be confused with
“EMS” as in Electronic Music
, the makers of many classic synthesizers such as the Synthis.)

Aaron’s SDIY Pages


  • Homework 1 (due Wednesday, Feb. 9,
    at the start of class)

  • Homework 2 (due Friday, Feb. 25, at
    the start of class)

  • Homework 3 (due Friday, March 18 at
    start of class)

  • Homework 4 (due Friday,
    April 22 at the
    start of class)


Dear readers from outside the class:
If you find these
lectures useful, please consider making a small donation (maybe $25 or
thereabouts, although any amount is appreciated)
to the Georgia Tech Foundation earmarked to go towards
my synthesizer research; the funds will go towards parts and equipment
for student projects.
are instructions on how to donate.

Since this is a lecture/lab class, I will only lecture for 2/3 of the class
periods, and that lecturing will be “front loaded,” i.e. I will lecture for
the first 2/3 of the class, and the last 1/3 of the class you will be just
working on your final projects, with me dropping by the lab to help out as
much as I can.

If you look at the lectures from the
Spring 2010 version
the course, you will get a pretty good idea of what we will cover in the


We will draw material from numerous sources: book, articles, patents,
and particularly schematics and descriptions posted on websites. Think of
google as the main class text. Here’s some
good ones:


Final letter grades
will be based on a series of written homeworks,
a few simple, enjoyable lab assignments,
two in-class quizzes, and
the quality of a final project in
which you will design and build a module for a modular synthesizer. The
final project will permit (and encourage) you to make extensive use of
various existing schematics you might find on the web, in textbooks, or
elsewhere. Details about the final project will be posted at a later date.

The homeworks
are intended to be instructive and enlightening, and in particular
get you looking at schematics of real synthesizers that have been
in production
, and not “textbook” problems. I try to avoid giving
anything resembling “busywork.”

The labs will be brief (less than an hour), fun, and not
have lengthy 3041/3042 style reporting requirements. We will not do many
of these; probably just two, or three at the most. They will be intended
to help you get your “feet wet,” so you will have some more hand-on hardware
experience before jumping into the final project. (Previous versions of
the class just had the final project without any earlier labs. One of the
most common suggestions I received from students was to put in some small
lab components earlier in the semester
so students would feel more confident going into the final

The first quiz
will be given about 1/3
through the class, and the second will be given about 2/3 of the way through
the class. Both will be closed book. The first quiz
will focus on basic
facts about circuits and electronic facts that a designer needs to have
“at their fingertips,” without having to stop and look up, in order facilitate
a smooth creative workflow. I will provide extremely detailed
information about
what I will ask on that quiz. The second quiz will probe what kind of
intuition you have developed concerning the class material; the
questions will be more qualitative in nature (for instance: if the value
of resistor X is increased, will the frequency of this oscillator go up
or down?), in the sense that they will not require tedious calculations with
precise numeric results. Each quiz will be weighted like a homework
(I used to do
only one quiz, but, curiously enough, students told me
I should give more quizzes!) There will be no usual written final exam given
during final exam week.

I consider the final project
to be the most important thing in the class;
hence, your course grade will max out at whatever your project grade
e.g., if you do B work on the homeworks, etc., but turn in an A project,
you might get an A for the class, or you might get a B;
but if you do A work on everything else but turn in B level project,
your grade won’t be an A.

This is a small class, and I will work with you very closely in helping you
with your final project. By the end of the semester, I will have a pretty
accurate feel for what concepts you understand and what concepts you