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Great Online Digital Tools & Apps, and they're FREE!

Are you ready to branch out from your stale sounds found inside your DAWs?  Do you want to be free to create your own patches to make your compositions pop.  Do you have a limited budget for plugins and hardware instruments?  Do you want to learn about simple sound synthesis?  Or do you just want to mess around with some free online music gadgets that may open up your mind to further explorations down the road.  Then, look no further than this small list I’ve compiled for you folks at MuTechTeacherNet.com.  

The following online synth and music apps are great ways to get sounds to your DAW from outside the DAW itself.  Just make sure you have multiple browsers that are up to date as a few of these may use Java, Flash, or other programming languages that would be optimized for specific browsers.

When using a Mac, the Soundflower utility may best way to get what you create on your DAW.  For PCs, having your sound set-up to record internally from your PC output would be a good idea.  Some of these apps will allow you to download your creations as a WAV file or MP3—a real plus to getting them in your DAW.

Even if you do not want to use these apps for real music production, the concepts, techniques, and history they strive to emulate can be beneficial and educational for you and your students.  They are also just great fun explore!  By the way, this is not an exhaustive list, but it can get you started.

I have divided the list into synths, drum machines, combination sequencers, and other.

Synths

*WebSID

Chiptune synths and apps are easy to find, but software that specifically emulates the Commodore 64’s SID sound chip is rare. WebSID is a Chrome plug-in that will give you the video game sounds of the early ‘80s computer in your browser, going so far as to replicate the distinctive arpeggio sounds heard in games such as Last Ninja, Dizzy and Bubble Bobble, offering full control over the synth’s envelope, filter and echo. You can also record it and share your creation direct to social media. In short, a dream toy for retro video game fans.

*WebModular

WebModular looks incredibly basic, but what it gives you is a working version of a modular synthesiser in your browser, patch cables included. Featuring all the elements required to create a basic electronic tone and twist it into strange shapes, WebModular allows you to link each module with virtual cables, modify pitch, frequency and tone, experiment with shaping envelopes and more. If you have no idea what any of this means and just want a preset, there are plenty of basic patches you can load that make it easy for you.

Web Synths

A very full featured online synth with some great presets.  Allows for various tuning systems and can be played through QWERTY or connected MIDI Keyboard.  User created patches may be saved locally and uploaded for a special project.  No onboard recording options are available, so any audio would have to be played and recorded via internal output recording (Soundflower, etc.)

Online Synthesizer – Fluoresynth

A simple online synth with limited functions, but allows for basic experimentation with oscillators and envelopes.  Can be used with an attached MIDI Keyboard or QWERTY.

Theremin

This online Theremin has variable waveforms and sound options.  Just click and hold your mouse button and move your way to the crazy sounds of the Theremin.  You’ll need internal recording options as there is only an option to record sound on the downloaded app.

Heisenberg - Audiotool

An HTML5 Synth that has MIDI or QWERTY control.  Many oscillator and control options can be manipulated to produce some great sounds.  You’ll need internal recording options as there is not an option of recording audio from the app.

Web Audio MIDI Synthesizer

This no fuss, straight-forward, synth app will give students and musicians an opportunity to work with all of the aspects of sound synthesis in a small package.  You get modulator wave options, two oscillators, filter and volume envelope controls, master volume controls with some effects, and driven with a MIDI Keyboard or QWERTY controls.  You’ll need internal recording control to capture your creations.

Drum machines

*WebXoX

If you want a simple drum machine that isn’t a Roland, load up WebX0X. It’s only got four drum sounds to choose from, but the amount of control you get over each channel is beyond what you’d get on some physical gear or plug-in software. It’s more of a drum synth than drum machine, allowing you to change the waveform of each oscillator, add noise, and tweak filters, amplitude and pitch to shape the drums to the sound you want. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you can choose from lots of different kits uploaded by WebX0X’s small but dedicated community.

Online 808

The Roland TR-808 is the go-to drum machine for hip-hop.  Here is an online version that creates some realistic emulations of the real thing.  This will bring the bass to your Hip-hop creations.  You will need internal recording options to use your creations in your DAW.

Drum machine online

Does contain some racy patch names, but this simple drum machine has some great features.  Auto shuffle variations, note ghosting, and an onboard simple pattern composer, pad controller, and visual image control options are a few of the features of this online drum machine.   You may export your loop as an audio WAV file.

*Novation Launchpad Intro

Novation’s Launchpad is one of the most ubiquitous MIDI controllers on the market.  There is a standard version, a pro version and an iOS app, but for those times when you’re stuck at work, there’s a browser version you can use on the sly. It’s limited to just one set of samples, but if you want an introduction to making music with loops (a key part of Ableton Live, GarageBand and lots of other software, it’s a very straightforward way to get started. If you own a physical version of the controller, you can control the session with that as well.  Although, technically not a drum machine, the pad controller concept of loop composition is a good transition to the next selections.

Combination Sequencers

*Sampulator

Samplers are the ideal kind of instrument for browsers, because a computer keyboard is closer to an MPC than a synth panel or even a keyboard. Sampulator is the easiest sampler you can possibly find; it comes with a full set of percussion, keys, guitar and vocals already loaded, cutting out the expense of buying a second-hand Akai unit and removing the hassle of having to prepare your own samples. Hit record, and you can build up a whole song track by track and save it. If the sounds are too limited, you can buy more. There’s even a DJ Khaled sample on board, if you feel like finding your own major key.

*Patternsketch

If you’ve used a Novation Launchpad, Ableton Push or even a Monome, Patternsketch will be instantly recognisable. The interface features eight lines of eight pads, each of which can be turned off or on to trigger a percussive sound. You can set your beat anywhere between 16 and 64 steps, allowing you to create simple or incredibly complex loops using one of nine different kits, two of which are based on the classic TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines. It’s pretty much foolproof to use, and you can export the audio when you’re finished to use in your own software.

*Acid Machine

Making acid house, whether it’s with a real TB-303, replica or plug-in, is one of the most satisfying things you can do with a spare 10 minutes. For those not lucky enough to live a 24/7 studio existence, there’s Acid Machine. Incorporating two mono synths and a simple drum machine, it’s more similar to Roland’s all-in-one MC-303 groovebox than the real TB-303, but it’s one of the most powerful browser instruments on the web. As well as a randomise button for instant acid, there’s an Ableton-style sequencer window, the option to flip between sawtooth and square waves, and knobs for tweaking cutoff and resonance to get that all-important squelch.

Online Sequencer

If you are not already using GarageBand or Soundtrap or another DAW, or you just want to do a little sequence for class.  This Online Sequencer may do the trick.  It allows for several options found on those other DAWs but is free to use.  Only exports as MIDI so to use the sounds found online, you’ll have to record straight to audio.

Audiosauna

Online in free beta mode, this Flash-based analog and FM synth combination combines many elements of a DAW and pure synth.  The piano roll allows for creation of sequences using the patches a user has called up or created.  It also allows for sampling of built in drum sounds or added sounds.  You may also choose to export your creation in audio form as a song or loop.

Other

*Pixelsynth

Even if you don’t know a square wave from a sawtooth, it’s easy to make sounds using Pixelsynth. It’s a visual synth that turns any image into sound; simply select one of the included templates or upload your own, hit play, and the cursor will travel across the screen playing notes as it hits the white parts of the monochrome image. It’s not a tool for creating melodies or chords, but if you want to make glitchy, Raster-Noton style tones with mathematical precision, it’s a better (and easier) tool for the job than most expensive plug-ins.

*Google Chrome Music Lab

If the idea of making music on a computer makes you anxious, Google’s Chrome Music Lab is the place to start. The art style is cutesy verging on nauseating, but the Lab is actually a very sophisticated teacher of many of electronic music’s basic concepts. It will show you how to sequence melodies, play basic chords and lay down a drum beat, and tell you the difference between different oscillators – essential for creating synth patches. Thirty minutes with this and a beginner could open Ableton Live and have enough of an idea of all the core concepts to get started.

DJ Turntable

This is a neat little DJ and scratch rig that you can manipulate actual MP3 recordings.  It features distance, echo, and other effects as well as the ability to virtually “scratch” your MP3 of choice or just use the sample included.

I realize that this list may only scratch the surface, but it may get you started in a new direction.  Good luck and happy creating!

*From: http://www.factmag.com/2016/11/12/browser-instruments-html5-drum-machines-synths-samplers/ Accessed: 1/19/18  11:50 AM

 

David DoverComment