If you’re a musician, you probably know how annoying it can be to be away from your instrument(s). At times when you can’t have your instrument with you but you feel like you need to belt out a tune or two, perhaps you can seek solace in browser-based virtual instruments.
So, if you ever feel the need to scratch that musical itch, you could do worse than play around with any one of these 10 virtual instruments.
Bear in mind that these virtual instruments aren’t quite ready to replace a good hardware or software instrument. They’re definitely good indicators of what may eventually be possible in the future though, as far as browser-based music is concerned. As you might expect, most of these virtual instruments are synthesizers, but that doesn’t stop them from being really fun.
Besides, who knows, maybe we’ll see a worthy browser-based recreation of an electric guitar in the near future?
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If you’re a child of the 80’s then the WebSID will definitely bring back some memories. The WebSID is a digital recreation of the iconic SID sound chip, as used in the Commodore 64.
It’s very simple and easy to use, with a straightforward interface, and can be played using your computer keyboard. The on-screen keyboard also responds to touch if you’re accessing it on a smartphone or tablet.
WebSID also comes with a built-in delay effect for more sound design possibilities. WebSID is also available on the Chrome Web Store so that you can play the synth offline. Note that since it was built using the WebAudio API, it only works in browsers that support HTML5 audio.
The MZ-101 is a monophonic synthesizer inspired by the monophonic analog synths of the 1970s and 1980s, such as the Roland SH-101. The MZ-101 won’t win any awards for complexity, but it’s worth remembering that a lot of hit records were made using synthesizers with similar features. The MZ-101 lets you load and save presets, and you can even share your presets on Twitter.
You can play the synth using your computer keyboard or by clicking on the on-screen keys. Like most browser-based synthesizers, MZ-101 relies on the Web Audio API and thus won’t work in browsers that don’t support the API.
The Sympathetic Synthesizer System Mk 1 is a simple-to-use synth with a sound that brings to mind the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s videogaming.
It doesn’t try and emulate any particular synth or chip, unlike the WebSID, but the sound it produces is definitely more reminiscent of videogaming than it is of the analogue synths of the same period.
You can play the Sympathetic Synthesizer System Mk 1 using either your computer keyboard or the on-screen keys. The Sympathetic Synthesizer System Mk 1 was built using the WebAudio API, so it only runs on browsers that support the API.
Patternsketch is an audio sequencer and drum machine. You can create patterns or play the drumkit in real time using your computer keyboard.
Patternsketch has a few different drumkits to choose from, ranging from realistic Jazz and Live drumkits to electronic drumkits as well as drumkits based on the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines. Patternsketch also comes with a few premade drum patterns.
You can save and share your patterns, opening up the possibility of collaboration. You can also export your patterns as WAV, MP3 or OGG files for offline listening, and you can even send your pattern directly to Soundcloud. Patternsketch works best in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
TrueGrid is definitely for experimental musicians and anyone interested in modular synths. In a nutshell, a modular synth doesn’t have a predeterimined signal path, and has individual modules that can be linked together in many different ways.
TrueGrid is a digital recreation of a modular synth, letting you patch modules together to create many different types of sounds. While it doesn’t have a keyboard, you can use your MIDI keyboard to play the synth if you’re using Chrome.
TrueGrid is still in beta and still has some limitations. There aren’t that many modules available yet, and you can’t select modules from within the tool just yet. Instead, you’ll have to register on ModularGrid and use the site’s modular planner to create a synth. TrueGrid works best in Google Chrome.
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WebModular is a much simpler modular synthesizer that harkens back to synths such as the ARP 2600. WebModular, like TrueGrid, lets you create your own signal flow, but is geared towards more conventional sounds.
It also has an on-screen keyboard and supports modern Music Macro Language(MML), so you can just write out a melody or riff, or even an entire song, and have the synth play it back.
Patchwork lets you save and share patches. Pressing the Share Your Patch button at the bottom of the screen will save the current patch on the server and generate a link that will automatically open the patch. Patchwork was built using Flash, so it should work equally well in all browsers.
Audiotool is a remarkably feature-rich music making tool that’s more than just a virtual instrument.
Audiotool has four synthesizers and three drum machines. Audiotool also comes with effects that can be used to modify the instruments’ sounds such as distortion, reverb and delay. Audiotool also has sequencing capabilities, so you can sequence and compose entire songs.
If you’re not interested in composing and just want to noodle around playing one of the virtual instruments, pressing Caps Lock on your keyboard will let you play Audiotool’s instruments using your computer keyboard. Audiotool was built using Flash and should play nicely regardless of browser.