Rhythm Creation - Music Production and Sound Reocording

ADSR. You may have seen these letters on synthesizers and samplers. This tutorial is a quick guide to what ADSR is and how you can use this section on your hardware or software to shape your sounds. It is an extremely powerful section, and should be one of the first things you learn when learning how to program synthesizers or samplers.

ADSR stands for Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release and does a very important job of shaping our sound from as soon as the note is pressed until you can no longer hear it.

A is for Attack
Basically this sets the amount of time after a note is pressed that it takes the sound to reach the full volume level, attack starts as soon as a sound plays when a note is pressed. Setting this low will mean the full volume will be reached very quickly, a snare drum has a very quick attack as it reaches full volume straight away. Setting this high will mean the sound fades in slower like for example a cello would. As you can see the attack is a very powerful in shaping the start of your sound.

D is for Decay
As soon as our sound has reached its full volume after the attack, it moves on to the decay. Decay basically sets the amount of time it takes for the volume to reduce to the level of the sustain after the attack section of the sound. If we set this to a low setting (less decay) the sound will minimize in volume slower to the level of the sustain (next section). If we set this high your sound will drop almost instantly to the level of the sustain.

S is for Sustain
ASDR Image - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:matthias Our sound attacks and then decays to the level of volume set in the sustain section. If you set this to nothing, your sound will not have any sustain and so won’t carry on further than the decay section (even though the note is being pressed). If you set this higher your sound will maintain the volume for the amount of time you pressed down a note. A snare drum has no sustain, where as something like a trumpet is being sustained for the amount of time that it is actually being blown into (note being pressed).

R is for Release
As soon as we release our note the release section takes over (provided our sound didn’t die away completely because of a high decay setting) . The release is by how long you can still hear a sound after the note finishes being pressed, if this is set to a very low setting our sound will finish very quickly and no audio will be heard. If we set this to a high level our sound will continue to sound for much longer even though we are no longer pressing down on the note. A Gong has a long release (We are no longer hitting the gong, but it’s still vibrating creating sound)

Quick Recap
  • Attack - The amount of time after the note is pressed it takes for the sound to reach full volume.
  • Decay - The amount of time it takes for the sound to decay to the volume of the sustain section.
  • Sustain - The amount of time our sound stays sounding whilst the note is being pressed.
  • Release - The amount of time we can still hear the sound after the note has been released.
Hopefully after this tutorial you can fiddle around with the ADSR section of your synth or sampler whether hardware or software and visualize in your head the settings you need to achieve the sound shape you require and therefore feel you have much more control over the sound coming out.

Tutorial Written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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