Recently I watched the excellent "Introduction to Digital Sound Design" lectures by Professor Steve Everett on Coursera. If you have the chance I definitively recommend taking this course if it is offered again. I found the lectures to be very interesting and informative. In week 3 of the lectures we got introduced to a free online synthesizer program called soundation which I liked immediately.
As it is online you don't need to download anything. You can go to their website soundation.com, click on "launch the studio" and start making music. If you want to save your creations you can sign up for free (with the option to upgrade to more features and sounds on a paid version). The disadvantage of soundation.com however is that it is a flash program so in order to use it you need a browser with a fairly recent version of flash and if you have a device like the ipad you are simply out of luck. Soundation.com won't work with it at all.
Enough talk. Let's have a look at the program now.
If you go to soundation.com and launch their studio you get to a page that looks like this:
Listening to the sounds soundation.com offers
Soundation.com comes with a lot of sounds that you can mix and modify. Look at the right side of the page. If you click on "Auto Audition" and choose a free sound from the list (anything other then sounds from the MIDI folder) you can listen to them. If you click "loop" the sound is looped indefinitely and clicking on the loudspeaker item toggles the sound on or off.
Creating your own music out of these sounds
Okay, you have listened to lots of different sounds now but how can you work with them? All you need to do is to just drag and drop them in the lines that say "audio channel" on the left. Now you can rearrange and work with all those sounds as you like. If you run out of audio channels, no problem, clicking on the plus sign at the bottom left corner will create a new one for you.
On top you see the scissors button, with it you can cut parts of your sound into different sections, with the button next to it that has an S on it you can stretch your sound without changing the pitch and with the P button you can change the pitch.
With clicks of your mouse on the track you can select and then copy, cut and paste the selected parts. (You can also do this by clicking on the Edit menu above).
Below your sound tracks you see buttons that you should know from your cd-player etc. Click on the triangle and listen to your music. So you always know how it sounds like.
A nice feature here also is the loop button. Click on it and then with a left click on your mouse on the top line above the tracks you can choose the part that should be looped.
That way you can select the part that still needs more sound and then click on the "Auto Audition"on the right to try out different sounds and hear immediately how they sound together.
Now look at the box that says "audio channel". If you click on the "S" and play your creation you will only hear that channel. A click on "M" will mute it.
With "FX" you can create your sound effects by adding e.g. reverb etc and so change the actual sound of that track.
You can drag and drop midi snippets the same as you did with the other sounds. But as midi data don't contain sound you can't listen to them before choosing a file. And instead of dragging them in the audio channel track they need to go in the track next to the light blue box (the midi or instrument track). Then you need to select something from the menu in that box, eg. the SAM-1. There you can choose a musical instrument and as soon as it is selected (with some clicking and double clicking) you can start listening to your file.
By the way by clicking on the second button from the bottom left (with the plus and musical notes on it) you can get more instrument tracks.
Recording your own sounds
If you have a microphone you can also record sounds or e.g. your voice by clicking on the round button.
Or you can bring up the small piano keyboard (the second most right botton at the bottom) and after selecting a musical instrument (e.g. the SAM-1 piano) you can hit the round recording button and start playing either with your mouse on the keyboard on the screen or with your fingers on your own keyboard. The letters on the keyboard on the screen show you where the tunes are located.
But then you probably need to upgrade to the paid version to get your sound out (I didn't try this yet).
When you are happy with your sound you can save it under "File" --> "Save as".
Putting your sound on your webpage
For this you need to export your sound file as a .wav. Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari all support the wav format but internet explorer unfortunately isn't so you might want to convert them to mp3 or ogg with some other programs like e.g. oggenc which converts wav to ogg or lame which converts wav to mp3 under linux.
So for example if you have your file yoursound.wav you type into a shell:
or for mp3 it would be
lame yoursound.wav yoursound.mp3
Then all you need to do is to put the following in the body of your webpage:
To get an audio control panel where you can click to play and stop the sound you can do the following: