So how do we apply distortion in a creative and musically pleasing way? The most common way is to use it to introduce harmonics to a clean, pure signal.
We’ll start with a sine wave synth. As we can see from a spectrum analyser, this contains the fundamental frequency alone:
We can turn this into something more interesting with distortion. As can be seen in the frequency plot below, we get a far greater number of harmonics (frequencies above the fundamental) as the distortion is increased:
The same thing happens if we start with a sawtooth wave for our bass part. The sawtooth already contains lots of harmonics:
But we get even more if we distort it:
As a general rule – the richer the original sound, the more dense the result when distorted.