Frequency Modulation Synthesis


Frequency Modulation Synthesis, or FM synthesis, is a method of digital sound synthesis used to create complex waveforms and rich timbres by modulating the frequency of one waveform with that of another. In this technique, a carrier signal’s frequency is altered by a modulator signal, resulting in unique harmonic variations. First developed by John Chowning in the 1960s, it became widely popular through the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and continues to be used in various forms of music and sound design today.


The phonetics of the keyword “Frequency Modulation Synthesis” would be:/friːkwənsi mɑdʒəˈleɪʃən ˈsɪnθəsɪs/

Key Takeaways

  1. Frequency Modulation Synthesis is a sound synthesis technique wherein the frequency of a carrier wave is modulated by another wave, called the modulator wave, resulting in a more complex waveform with rich harmonic content.
  2. In Frequency Modulation Synthesis, changing the modulator frequency and amplitude influences the harmonic spectrum of the output signal. This provides a vast range of possible timbres, making it suitable for creating a wide variety of sounds such as musical instruments, effects, and evolving textures.
  3. Due to its versatility and efficiency, Frequency Modulation Synthesis has been widely used in many synthesizers, particularly digital instruments such as Yamaha’s DX series, and is a key element in the production of electronic music and sound design.


Frequency Modulation Synthesis (FM Synthesis) is a significant technology term in the field of audio and music production, as it represents a powerful and versatile sound synthesis technique.

Developed by John Chowning, FM Synthesis creates rich and complex sounds by modulating the frequency of one waveform (the carrier) with another waveform (the modulator). This interaction generates a wide range of harmonic and inharmonic overtones, which can be further manipulated to produce unique and expressive timbres, such as those found in popular synthesizers like the Yamaha DX7.

Consequently, this innovation revolutionized the world of electronic music and paved the way for the development of numerous digital audio processing techniques, greatly contributing to the diversity and quality of sounds in modern music compositions and sound design projects.


Frequency Modulation Synthesis, or FM synthesis for short, is a powerful technique used primarily in sound design and digital music production. The purpose of this method is to alter and control the timbre and harmonics of sounds, which ultimately results in creating and replicating a vast array of different and unique sounds. This technology is especially popular among electronic musicians, as it enables them to modify and enhance their sound textures extensively.

Additionally, FM synthesis has played a pivotal role in shaping the sounds used in modern-day synthesizers, video games, and electronic devices. It revolutionized the music industry in the 1980s when Yamaha unveiled their now-iconic DX7 synthesizer, which brought forth a new era of digital synthesizers equipped with the versatility of generating a wide range of sounds, including bells, electric pianos, and even realistic musical instrument imitations. The process of Frequency Modulation Synthesis involves using multiple waveforms; typically, a primary waveform called the carrier and one or more secondary waveforms called modulators.

In this method, the modulator waveform modulates the frequency of the carrier waveform, creating a more complex sound. This combination of waveforms results in sidebands, which are new frequencies that contribute to the overall sound spectrum. By varying the frequency, amplitude, and relationship between the modulator and carrier waveforms, a virtually limitless array of sounds can be produced, offering numerous possibilities to musicians and sound designers alike.

Apart from music production, FM synthesis is used in telecommunications, too, specifically as a means of transmitting signals with higher fidelity and lower susceptibility to interference. Ultimately, this technology has profoundly impacted the world of sound creation, enabling unparalleled creative exploration in the field of audio.

Examples of Frequency Modulation Synthesis

Radio Broadcasting: One of the most widespread uses of Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis is in FM radio broadcasting. FM radio stations use FM synthesis to transmit information over a carrier wave to provide enhanced audio quality and minimize noise interference in their broadcasts. As FM signals can carry more data and are more resistant to noise and interference than AM signals, this technology made radio listening a significantly better experience for the listeners, with clearer sound and better reception.

Music synthesis and electronic instruments: In the music industry, FM synthesis is utilized in synthesizers, like the Yamaha DX7, which produce unique and powerful sounds. The technology allows for precise control over sound output by modulating frequency, amplitude, and harmonics, leading to a wide variety of sounds and soundscapes that are popular in electronic music, pop music, and film scoring. Thanks to FM synthesis, musicians and sound designers are able to create and manipulate sounds that were previously impossible to achieve using traditional analog synthesis.

Mobile communication and Two-Way radio systems: Frequency Modulation Synthesis has been extensively used in mobile communication devices, such as walkie-talkies, military communication equipment, and early cell phones, to establish a reliable and interference-resistant connection between devices. In a two-way radio system, FM synthesis is used to encode the voice signal into an audio carrier wave, which can then be received and demodulated by other devices tuned to the same frequency. This technology enabled clear communication over long distances compared to the previous AM systems.

Frequency Modulation Synthesis FAQs

What is frequency modulation synthesis?

Frequency modulation synthesis (FM synthesis) is a sound synthesis technique where the frequency of one waveform, called the carrier, is modulated by the frequency of another waveform, called the modulator. This technique is widely used in synthesizers, electronic and digital music in order to generate complex and rich sounds.

How does frequency modulation synthesis work?

Frequency modulation synthesis works by modulating the frequency of a carrier waveform with the frequency of a modulator waveform. As the modulator waveform changes, the frequency of the carrier waveform also changes, resulting in a new and unique sound. The relationship between the carrier and modulator frequencies determines the overall timbre and complexity of the resulting sound.

What is the history of frequency modulation synthesis?

Frequency modulation synthesis was first introduced and patented by John Chowning in 1973, and it became popular in the 1980s with the release of the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. The DX7 became a commercial success in the electronic music industry and marked a shift from analog to digital synthesis techniques during that period. Since then, FM synthesis has been used extensively in various synthesizers, software, and music production tools.

What are some popular synthesizers using frequency modulation synthesis?

Some popular synthesizers that use frequency modulation synthesis include the Yamaha DX7, Yamaha TX81Z, Korg Volca FM, and Native Instruments FM8. These synthesizers and software have been utilized by musicians and producers to create a wide range of electronic and digital music genres.

What are the advantages of frequency modulation synthesis?

The main advantages of frequency modulation synthesis include its ability to create complex and harmonically rich sounds, as well as its efficiency in digital processing. Compared to other synthesis methods, FM synthesis can generate a wider variety of sounds with less computational power, making it suitable for use in digital music production and electronic instruments.

Related Technology Terms

  • Carrier Wave
  • Modulator Wave
  • FM Index
  • Sidebands
  • Sound Timbre

Sources for More Information


About The Authors

The DevX Technology Glossary is reviewed by technology experts and writers from our community. Terms and definitions continue to go under updates to stay relevant and up-to-date. These experts help us maintain the almost 10,000+ technology terms on DevX. Our reviewers have a strong technical background in software development, engineering, and startup businesses. They are experts with real-world experience working in the tech industry and academia.

See our full expert review panel.

These experts include:


About Our Editorial Process

At DevX, we’re dedicated to tech entrepreneurship. Our team closely follows industry shifts, new products, AI breakthroughs, technology trends, and funding announcements. Articles undergo thorough editing to ensure accuracy and clarity, reflecting DevX’s style and supporting entrepreneurs in the tech sphere.

See our full editorial policy.

More Technology Terms

Technology Glossary

Table of Contents