Updated February 19, 2015
For the quickest possible introduction, watch the Syntheogen Quick Start video, then return here for more detail.
In this tutorial, we will use Syntheogen to create a simple loop, and then we'll use that loop to build the start of a song.
After starting the app, we see the MAIN dialog:
Syntheogen MAIN dialog
To the right is the navigation bar, which provides quick access to different parts of the app. This bar is always visible.
We're going to start by creating a loop, which is a short passage that repeats over time. After pressing the ALL LOOPS button, the ALL LOOPS dialog appears:
ALL LOOPS dialog
This dialog lets you create, delete, or copy loops, or select one of them for editing. Unlike most music apps, Syntheogen does not limit you to working on a single loop or song at a time; every one of your loops is displayed here, just as every song and track is displayed by the ALL SONGS and ALL TRACKS dialogs. This lets you reuse parts and synthesis settings as you produce more and more music.
Notice the question mark button in the upper-left corner; most dialogs have at least one help button like this. The button displays context-sensitive help that explains each control on the dialog:
Example help dialog
To move between help pages, drag left or right; to dismiss the help overlay, press your device's Back button. Each page also includes a GUIDE button that takes you to a page on this site with more detailed help.
We want a new loop, so we press the NEW button:
Creating a loop with the NEW LOOP dialog
Then we tap the NAME box to enter a name; let's call it Dark. We'll also enter a tempo, in beats per minute: 144. We could use the SOURCE control to copy the content from an existing loop, but we'll skip that for now.
We're ready to proceed, so we tap CREATE and find ourselves at the LOOP STEPS dialog:
LOOP STEPS dialog with empty patterns
This is where we edit the patterns in our loop. Unlike most apps, Syntheogen displays all loop patterns together, so you can compose every note of your loop from one place.
When we created the loop, Syntheogen added six loop elements to it, and it also created six tracks, which it assigned to the elements. You can think of a loop element as a channel in an audio mixer, and a track as the input to that channel:
Tracks, loop elements, and loop
Each track has a pattern, and those six empty patterns are what we see in the dialog now.
Tap the LOOP MIX button to view the loop from a different perspective:
LOOP MIX dialog
This dialog is where we will mix the loop. We see the same six elements, but instead of patterns, we find the controls we would expect to see on a mixer. We also see the names of our six new tracks: Dark hat, Dark snare, Dark kick, et cetera.
Tap the track name in one of the elements to display the TRACK dialog:
From here you could assign a different track to the element you tapped; you could even reuse a track that is referenced by a different loop, which is helpful when creating complex songs. You could also create a new track here, and assign that. For now, we're happy with the tracks we have, so we'll press CANCEL.
Press your device's Back button to return to the LOOP STEPS dialog. We saw that the third track Syntheogen created for us was called Dark kick; we'll use that for our kick pattern. We enter the pattern by tapping the first four steps in the blue row. We can zoom in or out from the patterns with pinch gestures:
LOOP STEPS dialog with partial kick pattern
You should hear the kick drum as you toggle the steps; if you don't hear it, adjust the master volume with the VOL knob in the upper-right corner. In Syntheogen, a knob is turned by tapping and dragging in the direction you want the knob to point.
By default, our loop is sixteen beats long. If you press one of the play buttons, you'll hear the four kick beats, followed by twelve beats of silence. We want the kick to play continuously, and we could get that by toggling the other twelve steps, but there is a better way.
Long-tap the element heading on the left to open Dark kick in the TRACK SYNTH dialog:
TRACK SYNTH dialog showing Dark kick
Typically, you will use this dialog to change the synthesis settings that define a track's sound. Right now we want to change the track properties, and we do that by tapping the TRACK SYNTH title bar to display the TRACK PROPERTIES dialog:
TRACK PROPERTIES dialog
From here you can change the track name or transpose the pattern to a different scale. We just want to change the length, so we tap the LENGTH box, enter 4, and press DONE.
Pressing Back returns us to the LOOP STEPS dialog, and there we see our four-beat pattern repeated four times to fill the sixteen-beat loop, with thicker vertical lines separating each iteration:
LOOP STEPS dialog with repeated kick pattern
While we're here, tap the LOOP STEPS title bar to display the LOOP PROPERTIES dialog:
LOOP PROPERTIES dialog
Just as we changed the track length earlier, we could change the loop REPEAT LENGTH here, and all patterns would repeat as necessary to fill the new length. We could also change the loop name or tempo, or we could export the loop to a WAVE file on the device. We're fine with these settings, so we press the Back button or DONE to dismiss the dialog.
Let's accent the first beat. Tapping the SELECT button causes it to light up; if we then tap the first step in the kick pattern, it will be selected. Notice that multiple steps appear to be highlighted; this is because our short pattern repeats four times in the sixteen-beat loop:
LOOP STEPS dialog with selected step
Above the SELECT button you will find the LEVEL knob. Normally, this knob determines the default level for new steps; it was set to 50 before, so the steps we toggled earlier play at 50% volume. When a step is selected, LEVEL can also be used to change that step's volume. Press one of the play buttons to start the loop, then adjust the LEVEL knob to hear its effect. Notice that the bright area within the step grows or shrinks as the level changes.
Set the level of the first step to 70, then press SELECT again to leave the selection mode.
Let's change the sound of this kick drum. We selected the track earlier when we changed its length, and if you look near the bottom of the navigation bar, you'll see the heading over the track buttons still reads Dark kick. Before, we had to long-tap the pattern heading to select and edit this track, but since it is still selected, we can edit it now just by tapping the TRACK SYNTH button. This returns us to the TRACK SYNTH dialog.
We want a deeper sound, so we'll lower the intonation by setting SEMIS to -8. Do this while the track is playing to hear the difference:
Modified Dark kick synthesis parameters
There are other settings here we could use to shape this sound, but instead, let's add some effects. Tap the TRACK EFFECTS button now:
TRACK EFFECTS dialog
You will recall that the LOOP MIX and LOOP STEPS dialogs provided different ways of viewing and editing a given loop; similarly, the TRACK EFFECTS dialog provides a different perspective on this track.
By default, the track contains no effects. Tap PASTE EFFECT to display the PASTE EFFECT dialog, then select Reduction from the TYPE list:
Adding an effect with the PASTE EFFECT dialog
Next, press PASTE to add the effect:
Dark kick track with Reduction effect
If you press play, you will hear the track now has a very different sound. Let's try for something less harsh; we'll set RATE to 8, DEPTH to 24, and MIX to 50. We can temporarily disable the effect by pressing BYPASS; this lets us compare the effect with the unprocessed sound.
Let's add another effect. Tap the background of the first effect to select it, then tap PASTE EFFECT and set TYPE to Reverb:
PASTE EFFECT dialog with additional PASTE options
Then tap PASTE BELOW:
Dark kick track with several effects
Now set SIZE to 150, CLUTTER to 600, FEED to 75, and WET to 50.
Effects are applied in order from top to bottom; in this case, the source sound is passed to the Reduction effect, the 'reduced' sound is passed to the Reverb effect, and the finished output is then sent to the loop to be mixed with the other tracks. Changing the order of effects can produce dramatically different sounds.
Keep in mind that these effects apply only to this track; if we wanted to process all tracks at once, we would add effects to the LOOP EFFECTS dialog instead. If we wanted to process some but not all the tracks with a given effect, we would copy that effect, edit each track individually by long-tapping its pattern heading, and then paste into the various TRACK EFFECTS dialogs.
Tap the LOOP STEPS button to return to that dialog so we can enter a hi-hat pattern:
LOOP STEPS dialog
The first of the default tracks contains a hi-hat sound, so we'll use that. We want something more complex than the whole-beat pattern we used for the kick drum, so we'll need an easy way to enter smaller steps.
In Syntheogen, the default step size is determined by the active guide. When we created this loop, three guides were added for us; press EDIT GUIDES to see them listed:
GUIDES dialog showing default guides
The Length 1 guide is selected, and that is the one we used to enter our whole-beat kick pattern. With this dialog you can create new guides that divide the measure almost any way you want; the quarter-beat guide at the top looks right for us, however, so we'll select that and tap DONE.
The patterns are now divided into quarter-beat steps:
LOOP STEPS dialog with quarter-beat guide
Note that we can also cycle through the guides by tapping the NEXT GUIDE button.
First we'll enter the start of our pattern:
A beginning to the hi-hat pattern
There are many steps in this guide, so instead of tapping each note, we'll copy and paste the ones we've already set. This video shows a step range being copied and pasted:
As you saw, to select a range of steps:
When a step range is selected, new buttons appear that allow us to delete, copy, or paste into the selected range. So, to fill the rest of this pattern, we will select the range we've already entered, press COPY STEPS, select the range we wish to fill, and then press PASTE STEPS to display the PASTE STEPS dialog:
PASTE STEPS dialog
We could use START TONE to transpose the copied steps into a different pitch, but instead we'll just press PASTE. Next, we'll tap SELECT to leave selection mode. As you can see, when a short pattern is pasted into a long range, the pattern is repeated to fill the selection:
The basic hi-hat pattern after copying
Let's change the sound of this hi-hat. Like before, we'll long-tap the pattern heading to open Dark hat in the TRACK SYNTH dialog:
TRACK SYNTH dialog showing Dark hat
First we'll select a different sample. Tap the SAMP box on the left to display the SAMPLE dialog:
Syntheogen includes dozens of built-in samples, and it lets you import your own samples as well. The list on the left shows the samples currently on your device. The list on the right categorizes the samples in various ways, and lets you filter the sample list by selecting or unselecting these categories. Let's try Closed clear synth hihat, which produces a synth hi-hat sound.
We'll change SEMIS to -7 for a thicker timbre, then we'll set BODY LEN to 50, which causes the 'release' to begin when the step is only half done. Because the level envelope is engaged, and because RELEASE is zero, this will cause the sample to stop abruptly, producing a crisp sound:
Improved hi-hat sound
Take a look at the keyboard at the bottom of the synth panel. You can use this to preview the sound while you're editing synth parameters; the hi-hat steps we entered have pitch C4, so if you tap the 'C' key that has a '4' on it, you'll hear the same note. To scroll to a different range on the keyboard, hold the lock button on the left and drag left or right. To make the keys larger or smaller, hold the lock button and pinch.
The keyboard can also be used to record patterns. Tap the record button, then tap either play button to enable recording:
TRACK SYNTH dialog with recording enabled
We don't really want to do this, but if you pressed any keys now, new steps would be recorded into the pattern. When the QUANT button is lit, your input is quantized to fit the current guide. You can select or create guides with the EDIT GUIDES button, or change the LEVEL knob to set the volume of the recorded steps. We'll focus on editing with the LOOP STEPS dialog in this tutorial, so tap the record button again to disable recording.
Press Back to return to LOOP STEPS. We'll make this pattern more interesting by adding a few more steps and accenting in places:
Hi-hat pattern with accents and additional steps
Earlier we changed a note's level by selecting it and adjusting the LEVEL knob; we can also do this by long-tapping the step and releasing to display the NOTE PROPERTIES dialog:
NOTE PROPERTIES dialog
We can also use this dialog to change the note's pitch or its ties, or to assign a start position or length without having to create a new guide.
To move a note within the pattern, long-tap and drag:
Dragging a set step
Let's mix these tracks. Tap the LOOP MIX button to display the mixer controls we saw earlier. In the Dark hat element, set PAN to -25 and LEVEL to 25. In Dark kick, increase LEVEL to 60:
Mixing the hi-hat and kick
Now we'll return to the LOOP STEPS dialog to create a synth part for this loop.
So far we have entered only percussion patterns, and we have not chosen to change the pitch of our steps. We want to enter chords now, so we expand the vertical step range by tapping the pattern heading:
Empty synth pattern with expanded vertical range
Before, only the C4 row was visible; now the entire range can be accessed, from C0 to G10. Tap NEXT GUIDE to display half-beat steps, then enter two C# minor chords by toggling steps at C#4, E4, G#4, and C#5:
Synth pattern with chords
Tap the pattern heading again to collapse the pattern to the shortest range that displays all the steps:
Synth pattern after vertical range collapsed
Now we'll change the sound of this track. Long-tap the heading to open Dark lead one in the TRACK SYNTH dialog:
TRACK SYNTH dialog with subtractive synthesis
This TRACK SYNTH dialog differs from the ones we saw earlier. Syntheogen offers three synthesis types: the 'simple' sampler, which we used before, the 'subtractive' synth, which is displayed here, and the 'hybrid' sampler, which combines elements of the other two. We would like to use the hybrid sampler, so we'll tap the SYNTH box and select it from the list:
SYNTH TYPE dialog
Right away, the sound of our track changes.
We're going to do a lot with this synth. First, in the SAMP section, set SEMIS to -12 and LEVEL to 90.
In the OSC section, tap the box that reads Sine and set its value to Triangle. Then set SEMIS to 24 and LEVEL to 12. This adds a triangle wave to the output:
TRACK SYNTH dialog with hybrid sampler
Scroll the synth settings up by tapping the panel background and dragging. Filter the sound by tapping the None box in the FILTER section and selecting Low-pass; then set FREQ to 616, and WIDTH to 0.03. To enter a precise value, tap the edit box next to a knob and type the value with the displayed number pad.
In the LEVEL section, tap USE ENV, then set SUSTAIN to 50 and RELEASE to 6.5:
Adding filter and level envelope
We'll use LFOs to modulate some of these parameters. In the LFO 1 section, tap the box that reads [none], highlight Filter freq, and tap DONE; then set the box below it Sine, and set LENGTH to 1/2 and DEPTH to 8.
In the LFO 2 section, select Osc pitch and Square, then set LENGTH to 1 and DEPTH to 100:
We'll add an effect to this track too. Display the TRACK EFFECTS dialog, tap PASTE EFFECT, set TYPE to Delay, and press PASTE.
Set the delay LEN to 0.5, set OFFSET to 25, and set WET to 50:
Adding delay to synth track
These settings produce strong low-frequency content, so if you hear crackling, lower the master volume with the VOL knob.
Let's return to the LOOP MIX dialog:
LOOP MIX dialog
We don't need the Dark snare, Dark bass, or Dark lead two elements, so we can delete those now. Tap each element's background to select it, press DELETE ELEM'T, and confirm by tapping YES:
Cutting a loop element
Since the tracks referenced by these elements are not used in any other loop, Syntheogen will offer to delete them; tap YES.
If you wanted to add an element, you would press PASTE ELEM'T to display the PASTE ELEMENT dialog:
Adding a loop element with the PASTE ELEMENT dialog
With this dialog you could create a new track for the element, or assign an existing track. You can add as many tracks to a given loop as your device can handle.
Let's use our loop to create the intro for a song. Tap the ALL SONGS button to display the ALL SONGS dialog:
ALL SONGS dialog
This dialog lets us create, delete, or copy songs, or select one of them for editing. Creating a song is just like creating a loop; we tap the NEW button, enter a name, and set the tempo:
Creating a song with the NEW SONG dialog
You could also use SOURCE to copy the content of an existing song, but we don't need that now. Pressing CREATE takes us to the SONG dialog:
SONG dialog with empty song
Just as loops are composed of loop elements that each reference a track, songs are composed of song elements, and each of these references a loop. The elements in a song are played in series to produce verses, choruses, breaks, drops, et cetera.
Let's add an element to see how this works. Press PASTE ELEM'T to display the PASTE ELEMENT dialog:
PASTE ELEMENT dialog
At the top, we see the LENGTH box, which sets the duration, in beats, over which this element will play; 16 is good, so we'll leave that. The DESC box lets us enter a name for the element. Tap that now, and enter Kick.
Below, we see the name of Dark loop we created before; we also see a list of the loop elements in that loop. If we wanted to, we could also tap the LOOP box to select a different loop.
At the moment, all the loop elements are highlighted, which means that all three will be heard when this song element plays. We want to begin our song with just the kick drum, so tap elements one and three to unselect them:
Creating a song element for kick drum intro
Then press PASTE, and the element appears in the song:
Song with first song element
After adding a song element, we can edit it by tapping once to select it, and then again to display the SONG ELEMENT dialog. We could also long-tap the element to open the referenced loop in the LOOP STEPS dialog.
Let's add another element. This one will be sixteen beats long, like the first, but we'll set the name to Hat and we'll leave the first two elements selected so the hi-hat and kick play together:
Creating a song element with kick and hi-hat
When that is done press PASTE AFTER to place this song element after the first:
Song with second song element
Now we'll add the last element. Tap PASTE ELEM'T, set LENGTH to 128, set DESC to Chords, and leave all the loop elements selected:
Creating a song element with kick, hi-hat, and chords
Press PASTE AFTER again to add this element to the end, then use pinch gestures to fit the elements in the view:
Song with last song element
The intro to our song is complete; press either play button to hear it. The song will start with sixteen beats from the kick drum track, followed by an equal length of kick drum and hi-hat together, and then the chords will sound. To play from a particular position, tap the numbered ruler at the top of the view before or during playback.
Now you've created a loop, and you've developed a song from the loop. To learn more, visit the Syntheogen Guide, and don't forget: you can get context-sensitive help almost anywhere by tapping the '?' buttons that are found throughout the app.