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The Four Best Uses of Synth In Music History

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Now ubiquitous, the synthesizer was once exotic and rarely heard. Nova Grace Callen traces its history and gives her take on four of its finest uses.


Korg Voica fm synthesizer

The synthesizer is one of the most iconic and essential instruments in electronic music and beyond. From world-class EDM acts like Avicii to homegrown local producers such as OWLS, it’s responsible for some of the most notable riffs and hooks in music. Whether your genre of choice leans more toward the poppy, electro-house vibes of the former, or the eclectic and gothic beats of the latter, it’s good to learn how synths changed music. Here are some iconic uses of the instrument.

Da Funk - Daft Punk

When you think of electronic music, Daft Punk is probably one of the first names that comes to mind. The duo’s use of synths played a major role in their success during the 90s up until they split in 2021. Their first commercially successful song was Da Funk (1995), which displayed their skill in creating addictive, funky melodies using the instrument. The catchy riff and thumping bass were heavily inspired by American gangsta-funk, using synth to create a hip-hop-like vibe instead of its usual associations with rock or pop genres.

When it comes to synths, Daft Punk has quite an affinity for the Japanese brand Roland, whose instruments have transformed the music industry as we know it. In the 50 years since its establishment, their synths have been integral to Daft Punk and the rest of the electronic scene. Even most of the pedals they use for effects come from Boss, a division of Roland. The bassline on Da Funk was created using the Roland TB-303; this was integral to the UK acid house scene and you can hear it on Acid Tracks by Phuture and Fatboy Slim’s Everybody Needs a 303.

Rhythm is a Dancer - SNAP!

Rhythm is a Dancer by SNAP! showcases just how integral the synthesizer was for 90s Eurodance music. What makes this particular use of the synth so impressive is how they reworked a sample from the song Automan by hip- hop group Newcleus to create the hook. It’s regarded as one of the most iconic songs of the Eurodance genre of electronic music.

The synth you hear on the track is the Korg M1, a quintessential model of the 80s and 90s and the best-selling synth of all time. Its bank of multi-sounds allowed for versatility in the production of a plethora songs, from Madonna’s Vogue to Bon Iver’s Beth/Rest.

The Wind Speaks - Sun Ra

American jazz composer Sun Ra’s experimental music and cosmic persona are perfectly captured in The Wind Speaks. The song’s techy beep-like chords were made possible by the legendary Minimoog synthesizer, the first fully-integrated synth developed by Robert Moog, which was one of the most important developments in electronic music history. The Minimoog paved the way for synths to be used as an instrument rather than a barely accessible professional audio equipment piece. Sun Ra was one of the first to use it, having borrowed an early prototype.

The brand quickly became integral to the genre, even beyond the synths. The iconic Moog pedals became a cornerstone in electronic music innovations. Thanks to the influence of the Minimoog, musicians also quickly adopted these stompboxes into their arsenal. You can hear it on other legendary electronic songs, such as Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, and across genres from disco to rock, including Michael Jackson's Thriller and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

Take on Me - A-ha

It’s hard to discuss the synth's impact without referring to the 1980s. It became a quintessential element for that decade's music, and one of the most notable songs of this era, and the instrument, is A-ha’s Take on Me. The iconic synth riff is one of the synthesizer's most recognisable and iconic uses and became emblematic of the 80s sound.

Though the song is more synth-pop than electronic, it paved the way for new-wave acts and the broader use of synthesizers in mainstream music. The Yamaha DX7 was used in the song’s production, and the glassy chords from this particular synth lend themselves well to the punchy, fast-paced synth riff. The song’s iconic sound has stood the test of time, still appearing in current media like HBO’s adaptation of the The Last of Us.

Piece written by Nova Grace Callen for


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