Synth Tutorial: Drawing Distortion with Serum’s Wavetable Editor


Watch Joe Hanley, the creator of Syntorial, as he demonstrates how to draw a distorted waveform in Serum’s Wavetable Editor. In this excerpt from the Serum Lesson Pack, we’ll be taking a look at exactly what distortion does to a waveform’s shape.

Get 4 more Serum videos for free via the Syntorial Demo.


In this video, we’ll be going over how to draw a distorted wave form in Serum’s wavetable editor. So we’ll be looking at exactly what distortion does to a waveform shape. And personally, I find this really fascinating.

Now this video is actually an excerpt from the Serum Lesson Pack for Syntorial. Syntorial is a synthesizer training app that teaches you how to program synth patches by ear. It does this by combining video demonstrations with interactive challenges in which you program patches on a built-in soft synth.

The Serum Lesson Pack adds 55 videos that show you how to take everything you learn in Syntorial and apply it to Serum as well as covering all of the many additional features that Serum has to offer. And you can get the first four videos from the Serum Lesson Pack for free by going to, clicking Try For Free, and downloading the Syntorial demo for Mac, PC, or iPad. This has the first 22 Syntorial lessons but also the first four videos from the Serum Lesson Pack.

Once you download Syntorial, just go into this dropdown, Download Lesson Packs, and you’ll see this Serum Lesson Pack at the top. Just click the Download button. We also have lesson packs for Massive, Sylenth, and a couple others. And I like I said, the demo will have the first four or five videos from each of these packs. When you buy Syntorial, all of the packs and all their videos are included. Alright, on to the excerpt.

Let’s start with distortion. At the end of the day, distortion gives us really two types of sounds. They can create this sort of warm tube saturation distortion, or it can create this sort of nasty, top-end, buzzy sort of distortion. And in order to draw these shapes in, we need to understand better what distortion is actually doing to our shape. So here we have an oscilloscope.

An oscilloscope just shows us the actual wave form of whatever sound that goes through it. So right now I have a plain saw, so when I hit a note, you’ll see saws. So, I’m gonna put on a distortion, so you can visually see what it does to the sound. First I’ll start with some filtering, and let’s do zero drive, what do we get? Okay, so we’ve rounded out those sharp turns. Now watch the shape as I increase the drive. It becomes more square-like. That’s kind of the essence of this sort of warm tube-like distortion. It’s just adding a kind of square tendency to your shape, and it will put in that sort of warm tube distortion.

Let’s try it with a random wave-form. Let’s go in here and I’m gonna freehand. Okay, there’s our sound. Add our distortion, no drive, So look at this big square that was put into it. We still have some other things go on in there, ’cause it’s a way more complex wave form than saw, but again, we have put in a square-like tendency. So if we wanna create a wave form, that’s got some distorted tube warmth in it, we need to draw in this square-like tendency.

So to draw a distortion, I like to start with a square. And then I’m gonna shift it over a little bit so we can see all the edges. And I’m gonna freehand a sort of rounding, of these sharp corners. So now, instead of having this really clean square, we have this slightly rounded square. And it has a nice distorted sound. This is similar to what we got when we cranked the drive into the distortion unit.

Now we can kinda mess with this, and try to create a sound that maybe doesn’t sound so typically square, but still has that distorted body. Like if I kinda take a harder slant here, Now it’s kinda like a distorted saw. Or if you remember one of those end results of that random shape I made, kinda had an extra guy in there like this. So still has that nice tubey squarish body, but now we’re throwing in and editing our highs as well.

And that’s the key here, you know, can you change this wave forward without losing that distorted body? So let’s take that back out. So we have a nice smooth sound. And that second type of distortion, I mentioned that sort of top end nastiness. I find the best way to add that is with just some random jagged shapes.

So let’s take our kind of round and square back. And we can kind of throw in, and we started to get that top end buzz in there. We can actually apply it across the board with this noise here. And when you’re at zero zero, if I just click in here and drag up and down, I’m not getting a whole lot. So what you want to do is kinda shimmy up and down As you go from the left to the right side like this. And if I want more of it, I just wanna shimmy up and down a little higher on the screen like this And that’s drawing distortion. Next I wanna talk about creating 8-bit and Lo-Fi sounds‚Ķ

To see the rest of this video and the 54 other Serum videos, you’ll need the Serum Lesson Pack for Syntorial. But again, you can get the first four videos for free. If you download this tutorial demo here and then in Syntorial, go into Download Lesson Packs, and, Download This Lesson.