Harmless Tutorials

Attention class! Miss Harmless is ready to start 'Subtractive-Additive Synthesis 101'.


If you open the Harmless presets you will notice a 'Tutorial' category. Here we will explain what's happening with each of these presets.

Filter decay

What you hear: Play a note (C5) and notice the sound becoming 'darker' over time. This is caused by the loss of high frequencies as a low-pass filter cutoff frequency is swept down from high to low as shown by the Wave Candy spectrum analysis below.

How it's done: The filter type has been set to 'Crude low pass', low pass filters allow frequencies through lower than the filter cutoff frequency (freq). In this instance the starting frequency is set by the amt knob, the decay time is set by the dec knob and the final frequency is (largely) set by the filter cutoff frequency (freq). Keyboard tracking, kb.t, is adding an offset depending on note pitch. This can be useful to make higher notes relatively brighter than lower notes.

Harmless fun:

  • Decay time - Try changing the decay knob and notice how the decay-time changes.
  • Decay envelope slope - The Wave Candy display (above) also shows the decay slope. Turn the decay slope (dec) all the way to the right and hold a note. It should sustains, it may take a while, then suddenly drop off. This reflects the rounded slope profile shown below the knob.
  • Attack time - Try changing the attack time, att knob, and notice how you can sweep the cutoff frequency up to a peak then down according to the decay time.
  • Amount sign - The amt control has a positive and negative direction (either side of the 12 o'clock position). Depending on the slope this can be used to invert the envelope shape.
  • Filter types - Experiment with the various filter types selecting them from the drop-down menu.

Key to pulse saw morphing

What you hear: This patch morphs the wave-shape (timbre) from a square-wave at the lowest notes to a saw-wave at the highest notes. It is a fairly subtle difference so you may want to set Wave Candy to Oscilloscope mode.

How it's done: The LFO section has been set to a special pitch mode, that is a modulation value that tracks note pitch (small for low notes, large for high notes). The harmonic mask mix is being varied as a function of note pitch. This is caused by the LFO modulation of the Harmonic mask mix value. In this case the low notes receive more masking and the high notes less masking. You will have to trust us that you can turn a saw-wave into a square wave by masking the even harmonics and sounding the odd harmonics, as set by the mask.

Harmless morphing fun:

  • Modulation source - Select Smooth pulse from the LFO shape/source selector and turn the speed control to the 3 o'clock position and play a note. Now the harmonic mask mix value is being modulated by an LFO waveshape. Try experimenting with the other shapes 'Stairs' is fun.
  • Harmonic mask - Experiment with various mask-slider positions and see how it changes the waveform.

LFO on phaser

What you hear: A pulsing sound 'rippling' through the note. This is caused by a shifting band of frequencies that are removed from the sound. In other words, similar to sweeping a 'cut' setting on a parametric equalizer. Traditionally the phasing frequency loss is caused by 'phase cancellation' when two identical or very similar sounds are delayed slightly and mixed together. By varying the delay by an LFO the phase cancellation frequencies ripple through the sound. Harmless, with its 'subtractive-additive' architecture can dispense with all that mucking about and simply work directly on the harmonics and remove them as follows:

How it's done: Phasing in Harmless is simulated by a harmonic 'mask', essentially a harmonic cut template, that removes a few bands of harmonics. On the spectrograph, (1) shows the original sound prior to any phaser effect. This was achieved by turning the amount control to minimum. (2) shows the static harmonic mask (no movement). This was achieved by turning the lfo control associated with the offset to minimum (12 o'clock). (3) shows the original 'LFO on phaser' patch. The LFO is varying the mask (phaser) offset ofs. The offset just controls where in the frequency spectrum the cut bands appear.

Looking now at the LFO section, note the shape is set to Saw, this describes the repeating LFO modulation pattern. The global switch is off, this means that the phaser lfo 'resets' and start from the same position for each new note.

Harmless phaser fun:

  • Width - Try varying the width parameter and see how more or less cut-bands affect the phasing sound. You can also put the width under LFO modulation by increasing the value of the lfo knob below it.
  • Phaser type 'Deep' etc. - Changes the shape of the cut mask. Try the other settings to see how the shape of the mask is changed.
  • Phaser type 'Freq' - This one is a beauty! Select it and the section is no longer a 'phaser'. Rather than cutting the harmonics, those that are in the timbre are individually modulated.
  • Speed - Note also that the speed control on the Phaser section is a multiplier to the speed on the LFO section. You should also see in the Hint bar the LFO speeds are shown in tempo units. Meaning the phasing effect can be matched to project tempo or multiples off it.
  • Ups and downs - You can change the direction of the offset (moving up or down) by the direction you turn the speed controls either side of the 12 o'clock position.
  • Global - Turn on the global switch on the LFO section and listen to the way separately timed notes all phase in sync compared to a bit of a 'mess' when it's off.
  • Zap - Set phasers to stun!

Local voice random + unison

What you hear: Each time a note is played the pan position of the voice changes.

How it's done: The LFO section has a special Voice random mode that selects a new random value for each new note played AND global mode has been switched off, this allows the LFO randomization value to be different for all voices. While the purpose of the pan setting on the Unison is to spread the pan position of the unison voice copies, this isn't what is causing the panning effect. pan only affects the maximum possible pan position in this patch. Panning is caused by the lfo on the filter section causing a random cutoff freq setting for each note played as shown in the spectrograph (13 notes shown). The causes the high-frequency cutoff for each unison voice to differ and this is causing the apparent position of the notes to shift.

Harmless random fun:

  • Filter lfo - Reduce the lfo value and notice how the panning effect reduces.
  • Unison pitch - Increase the pitch slider. No it isn't responding to the LFO in any way, it just sounds better.

Voice random

What you hear: Subtle variations in brightness from note to note.

How it's done: This patch is almost identical to the Velocity to filter frequency example, however, the LFO has been set to Voice random that generates a new (random) values at each note-on.

Masked pluck

What you hear: A 'masked' pluck timbre. Notice the extra high harmonics when the masked option is on vs off as shown in the spectrograph.

How it's done: The masking function filters harmonics, and so can be thought of as a specialized 'cut' filter. By selecting masked to the right of the filter, it's actually the reverse of what you may expect, that is the mask is ignored during the 'pluck'. The length of the pluck is determined by the pluck knob setting, left is shorter. The pluck control is a specialized and fast low pass filter designed to create pluck effects (naturally enough).

Harmless masked pluck fun:

  • Pluck length - Starting with the Masked pluck patch turn the pluck knob to the 9 o'clock position and listen to the sound with the masked switch on and off. Notice when it's on the pluck sound has a metallic resonance, similar to a string buzzing on a fret. That's one reason the masked option is there.
  • Harmonic mask mix - Notice that the mix control must be at a setting of less than 100% for the masked pluck to work.
  • Filter cutoff frequency - Notice also that the filter cutoff frequency freq must allow the unmasked components of the timbre for the masked pluck to have any effect. Lower the frequency cutoff while playing notes and at some point the masked option will cease to have a noticeable effect.


What you hear: Pulse Width Modulation sounds similar to 'phasing' with notes morphing from a full to a thin and brittle tone, and back again.

How it's done: This is similar to the Phasing effect as described above. A harmonic cut template (Eggs in this case) has its frequency width modulated by an LFO set to a Saw modulation shape and sync set to Global. This means all notes share the same phase for the LFO modulation. Note the Phaser scale is set to harm, harmonics.

Harmless PWM fun:

  • See the PWM morphing waveform - Open Wave Candy and select the 'Oscilloscope' display. Play a C5 note on Harmless and adjust the update setting on Wave Candy until the waveform stabilizes, somewhere around 12 o'clock. You should see the waveform shape. Note how the waveform periodically morphs between a Saw wave and something more complex. By the way, the Saw shape isn't caused by the LFO 'Saw' setting, the Saw shape comes from the Timbre color setting Saw. Change the Timbre color setting and note the changes in the waveform shape.
  • LFO frequency & shape - Play with the LFO speed. Choose the Stairs shape and you can get an octaving pulse set by the LFO frequency.
  • Phaser type settings - Try the different Phaser type settings, the Condom shape sounds cool since it has very wide cut-bands.

Saw pulse

What you hear: Is a sound changing tone in a cyclic pattern. This tutorial should some as no surprise if you have read the section on Key to pulse saw morphing.

How it's done: The LFO section has been set to Smooth pulse mode. This creates a cyclic modulation value that affects the harmonic mask mix value. You will have to trust us (again) that filtering a saw wave as set by the harmonic mask can cause a saw wave to become a square wave.

Harmless morphing fun 2:

  • Modulation source - Select Stairs from the LFO shape/source selector and turn the speed control to the 3 o'clock position and play a note. Now the harmonic mask mix value is being modulated by a new LFO waveshape. Try experimenting with the other shapes.
  • Harmonic mask - Experiment with various mask-slider positions and see how it changes the waveform.

Unison variation

What you hear: The sound pans left and right when a note is held. All notes are panned in sync, regardless of pitch and the time they are triggered.

How it's done: The Unison order (2 in this patch), generates two voices for each note. It's the subtle variations on these voices that creates interesting Unison effects. Here, the Unison pan spreads the unison voices in the stereo field but the pan control isn't causing the panning effect, only the maximum pan position. Eh? Notice the lfo on the filter section is activated and the LFO section has been set to a sine wave shape. The LFO causes a cyclic change in the high-frequency content of the two unison voices because the Unison var control is adding a unique LFO start offset to each voice. So, it's the cyclic and different loss of high-frequencies from the two Unison voices that causes the apparent position of the note to shift. You can see in the image above-right the Left channel is smooth and the Right channel is a saw shape (has higher harmonic frequencies) and so the pan would appear to be shifted to the Right.

Harmless unison variation fun:

  • Speed & LFO shape - Start with the LFO section, try different LFO shapes and speed.
  • Global - Notice the global switch ensures that all the notes you play are in panning sync. Turn it off and the LFO phase will re-start for each new note, this allows you to have several notes panning in all directions. Chaotic but interesting with the right sound.
  • Unison variation - Turn var to minimum and notice the panning stops, although the filter frequency variation continues. This is because the two unison voices are now identical as their LFO values are in phase. Note how the pan effect is at maximum with var settings of 50% and diminishes to nothing again at 100%. What's up there? Remember the unison variation slider acts as an offset to the phase of the LFO. We are using a Sine wave here, a gently undulating wave. Offsetting a sine wave by 100% (360 degrees for mathematicians) gets you back to where you started. Anyhow, the maximum offset is at 50%, i.e the two Unison voices are 90 degrees out of phase. Other shapes will behave differently, of course, but you get the idea.

Velocity to filter frequency

What you hear: As note velocity increases the notes become brighter, as velocity decreases the notes become duller. In the spectrograph (below) the higher harmonics (frequencies) can be seen increasing as note velocity increases (8 notes spanning the velocity range are shown).

How it's done: This patch has a twist, rather than linking the filter envelope amt knob to velocity by switching VEL on, we have instead increased the lfo value on the filter and set the LFO to a special Velocity mode. This uses note-on velocity as a modulation value. So it is easy, just not what you were probably expecting. The good news here is that this patch shows there are several ways you can modulate targets in Harmless.

Harmless velocity fun:

  • LFO Shape / source & LFO speed - As usual, try selecting some different LFO wave-shapes and play with the speed knob. Hours of harmless fun there!
  • Link velocity to amt - Finally you should try the 'usual' velocity to filter-cutoff method. Turn the lfo knob on the Filter to the 12 o'clock position to stop LFO modulating the filter cutoff freq. Next select the VEL switch below the amt knob to the left of the Filter and turn it fully right. Now note-on velocity is controlling the height of the filter envelope, and so the filter cutoff frequency. Most of the controls for the filter envelope are not shown, left of the amt knob.

Graduation day

So you have completed 'Subtractive-Additive Synthesis 101', congratulations!